In a report released March 4, 2022 by the Utah Department of Health, it is estimated that 32% of the population is affected by mental illness in any given year and mental health is one of their “12 Healthy People 2020 Leading Health Indicators”. The UDOH defines mental health as referring to an individual’s ability to negotiate the daily challenges and social interactions of life without experiencing undue emotional or behavioral incapacity. Their report indicates that 21% of adults surveyed in the Richfield/Monroe/Salina area say they’ve experienced seven or more days of poor mental health in the past 30 days (2018-2020) and numbers have only gone up.
In addition to the hard parts of normal, everyday life, there have been some recent tragic events in the community, not even mentioning the chaos in the nation, and what about Ukraine- that can cause tough questions and big feelings for those young and old. So how do we stay mentally healthy and begin to deal with painful tragedies, heavy feelings, and tough challenges?
Page Gurney, Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC) and owner of Rise Up Counseling in Salina, said one thing to realize is that children can sense when their parents or adults around them are anxious and though they don’t necessarily understand the big emotions because their brains aren’t developed yet, they can feel when something is going on and it’s recommended that parents talk openly with their kids.
“I would encourage parents to be open and honest about what’s happening and encourage children to express their feelings about it through talking, drawing, or playing,” said Gurney. “It’s huge for parents to be honest with their children, and I’ve learned that all children need comfort and reassurance that they’re safe, most especially during difficult or trying times.”
As part of the reassurance that children are safe, she said we’re often tempted to say things like, “Oh, that will never happen to us,” or “I’ll always keep you safe”, but that false hope isn’t necessarily the best thing to offer, rather reassure with statements such as “you’re safe now” or “we are working hard/doing our very best to keep you safe”.
She said that as parents we may not have all the answers or completely understand everything ourselves, and that’s OK to share that with our children, it’s healthy and acceptable to say I don’t know, because the unknown is something we all will deal with throughout our lives. In addition, keeping to a routine can help create the sense of safety children crave.
During extra hard times Gurney said that though adolescents and teens are more capable of understanding what’s going on, they too need the reassurance that they’re safe, and she also recommends monitoring their media usage.
“I know when I scroll through my social media all I see is Ukraine or the recent community tragedy,” she said. “It’s pretty easy to be down and dreary when that’s all you’re seeing, so I’d really Teens and adolescents are likely to turn to friends more than their parents, and that’s normal at this stage in their lives, but teens that are already struggling with depression or other mental health challenges may be more easily triggered, so she said parents/caregivers would be wise to be extra aware of them during trying times.
“Ask them how they’re feeling, check on them, and be open and talk about things,” she said. “By having frequent, open discussions about difficult topics, kids are more likely to feel comfortable coming to their parents when they do need help, especially more so than if a topic has been taboo in the family.”
She stressed the importance of being open and honest with teens and said if you’re not going to be straight with them, they’re going to find out some other way, so just be open with them. Have the conversations and instead of denying, be open.
And, she said, acknowledge that things are heavy, and hard, and recognize that it’s OK to have those sad feelings, then realize it’s abnormal to live on it forever, and that at some point we’ve got to pull our selves out of it. There’s also the anxiety method of dealing with situations, by saying things like “I’m never going hiking again”, but that’s not healthy either. Instead, she recommends practicing mindfulness, self-care, and even distractions such as working in the yard or watching a favorite TV show, something to help you not stay in that heavy place.
“For adults I’d say we too should limit news/media/social media/radio, however you get your information,” said Gurney. “It’s heavy however you’re getting it.”
She said we also need to recognize that a lot of things are out of our control, but community support is a huge thing. Donating or supporting can help if that is something people want to do; many feel comfort in knowing they’ve helped somehow.
“These ideas are a good start, but we want to have a positive presence in the community and if there’s anything we can do to help, please, reach out,” said Gurney.
She and her team can be reached at 435-201-9779 and are located at the corner of State and Main in Salina.