Boost Your Family’s Mental Fitness With These Simple Activities

Celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month by focusing on family mental health. Kevin Fischer at NAMI Michigan sheds light on why being proactive is important.

Here’s some good news: your child’s generation is more open and interested in discussing mental health needs than previous generations. Generally speaking, they’re less stigmatized and more fearless about having honest conversations, says Kevin Fischer, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Michigan. 

Unfortunately, stigma still exists among parents — to the extent that some still want to sign permission slips before Fischer speaks at a school assembly — prompting Fischer to become proactive to make parents feel more at ease. 

“I will put on a mini-presentation for the parents before I present to the kids so they understand and have some level of comfort,” he says. “Parents are still very tentative about having this conversation but they understand the importance. A number of them say they just don’t know how to start the conversation with their child.”

Keep mental health top of mind for your family

We’re becoming a smarter society by realizing that we can live a more fulfilled life when we address our mental health, just as we do with our physical and nutritional health. 

“If a child comes home limping or bleeding or complaining of an ache or pain, we have no issue taking them to urgent care or the ER or to their primary doc. But if we notice the child is acting differently, says they have suicidal thoughts or their eating or sleeping habits have changed, are more anxious or withdrawn or depressed, we have a tendency to look the other way and just say it will get better tomorrow and that everybody has good and bad days,” Fischer says.

CCBHC Can support your family health. Learn what, who, where, how to find and where

When these behaviors persist for two weeks or more, that’s when it’s time to get an evaluation. “We don’t want to think our child might have a behavioral health care issue,” he says. “We don’t want our coworkers, neighbors, people we worship next to at church to know.”

Because we have experienced adolescence ourselves, we might believe we know exactly what our kids are going through. But the world is different now and kids have different pressures, says Fischer. “I’ve heard Director (Elizabeth) Hertel at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services speak publicly and she says everybody in her family has their own therapists. She, her husband and all her children have their own individual therapists. That’s proactive,” he says. (If you’re on board with this but worry about the cost, check out the resource box below.)

Simple family mental health activities to try

Just as you prioritize your family’s physical health through exercise and healthy eating, you can be proactive and promote strong mental health. Fischer offers these suggestions for family mental health activities:

1. Be fearless and talk about mental health

“Have the conversation and make it a normal activity,” Fischer says. “Have a dinner table conversation with your kids and the earlier you start, the better.” Encourage everyone to talk about how they are feeling. Ask your child if they feel bullied or if they feel pressure to perform academically, socially or athletically and how they might be handling these pressures. Then let them know you are there if they want to talk.

2. Find ways to connect

Fischer encourages sports and activities for his kids because he appreciates the life skills they teach. And, he always drives them to and from practice, just for the opportunity to connect. “My primary reason was to build a relationship with my kids. The ride to and from practice was a time to talk about school, about religion, about work ethic, about girls. We talked about all kinds of things in the car,” he says. “I never really wanted to be a coach, but I did all that to build a relationship with my kids.”

3. Prioritize sleep

“One of the most important things we can do to protect and improve our behavioral health is sleep and make sure our kids are getting a good eight, nine hours of sleep,” Fischer says. He suggests from personal experience gathering devices at bedtime because the honor system may not work.

4. Unplug and get into nature

Value green space as a place to unplug and reconnect with each other. “There’s nothing better,” says Fischer. “Put the phones down, unplug and enjoy. Go for a walk. Go for a picnic or a hike or a family bike ride. Make those human connections.”

5. Protect your (mental) health

Fisher is very clear: there’s a difference between mental health and mental illness. “I think the lines get blurred and I encourage families to value mental health and to protect it because in doing that, we can prevent mental illness,” he says.

Content sponsored by The Ethel and James Flinn Foundation. Visit flinnfoundation.org.

Claire Charlton
Claire Charlton
An enthusiastic storyteller, Claire Charlton focuses on delivering top client service as a content editor for Metro Parent. In her 20+ years of experience, she has written extensively on a variety of topics and is keen on new tech and podcast hosting. Claire has two grown kids and loves to read, run, camp, cycle and travel.

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