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5/19/19blog post

preventing mental disorders

We pay a high cost for treating mental disorders. The expense goes beyond the billions of dollars spent on treatment. Kids, siblings, and parents experience lots of pain and the rest of society has to figure out how to manage disruptive and dangerous behaviors.

There is a better way. Maybe we should focus more attention on preventing these problems before they occur, rather than just responding after they develop.

Some solutions may be remarkably simple.  Olivia Loewen and her colleagues just published some fascinating research in the journal Pediatrics that guides us in promoting positive mental health.

The researchers surveyed ten and eleven-year-old youngsters and then monitored their compliance with a variety of lifestyle recommendations over the next four years. The guidelines focused on diet, physical activity, sleep, and technology usage.

While only 20% of the teens made at least seven of the nine recommendations, they had a 56% reduction in mental health visits compared with kids who only met one to three of the guidelines.

These results are not surprising to parents. We know our kids do better when they get adequate sleep and exercise, and when they are responsible digital citizens.  However, parents may be unaware of the tremendous impact that these lifestyle factors have on their children’s mental health.

The tough part is how to get from knowing to doing. Parents know what to do, but don’t always do what they know.

  • Start early.  By the time your child is a pre-teen, family traditions and habits are well established. The lifestyle patterns related to mental health should be initiated when your child is a toddler, not a teen.
  • Make it a family affair. We are our kids’ most important teachers, and they imitate what we do rather than listen to what we say.  The same factors that affect our children’s well-being also affect our own health.
  • Stop allowing yourself to be a victim. I get a bit weary listening to whiny parents who blame society for their children’s ills. While much is beyond a parent’s control, there are many factors we can influence.  Adequate sleep is perhaps one of the more important factors affecting our mental health. Focus on what you can accomplish rather than complain about what is out of your control.
  • Start small.  Many guidelines about diet, exercise, and sleep seem impossible to achieve. The key to changing your life is to focus on something modest that you can easily accomplish. Begin with a limit on technology, or simply going to bed 15 minutes earlier.

Establishing lifestyle changes today for your kids will decrease the likelihood of developing mental health issues tomorrow.