“Who does depression hurt?” the narrator asked.
You’ve probably heard it a million times - - the popularized Cymbalta commercial advertising antidepressants for depression relief. Like this commercial and many others, you find that the actors are often adults.
What happened to everyone, though?
I believe our society places a lot of emphasis on adults’ mental health wellness but what about our children? Many adults diagnosed with mental health illnesses displayed symptoms and red flags during their childhood that were overlooked, not properly addressed, and/or completely ignored altogether. Can you imagine if their challenges would’ve been catered to at the root? What if the proper help had been given to them in their youth?
How do we cultivate mental health wellness in our young girls and boys?
When I reached out to Akshita of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated about the opportunity to create a collaborative blog post, I was excited to find that she was totally game for it. When she suggested the idea of teaming up to write on the subject of mental health and young children my wheels started turning.
As a mom, I thought about my own son and his unique challenges as a male - - a black male. What am I doing to make sure that he is not only physically taken care of but that his mind is healthy, too? I then began to think about myself and other adults of all races. No matter who you are, a lot of your thought processes stem from the fundamental ground work laid in your adolescent years. In other words, who we are today as adults have a lot to do with how our mental processes shaped our behavior as children.
What if you could go back in time and speak to your younger self on a rough day? Maybe it was a day in your younger years when you didn’t feel the prettiest or smartest. What would you say?
Your mind is powerful and your thoughts manifest into actions. Read on as Akshita and I write our open letter to all young girls and young boys. Hopefully you’ll find that mental health in children is a very relevant topic and use it to encourage a child today.
Akshita: Open Letter To Young Girls
Dear Young Girl,
You are smart, you are strong, and you are powerful. Life has a way of testing us sometimes and you may not always feel like you are the wonderful creature that God made you to be. It is in those trying times that you have to hold on tight to the things that bring you happiness, the things that make your soul glow. What makes you smile? What can you lose yourself in for hours on end yet emerge rejuvenated? Look around, explore! And once you have found that thing, hold on to it. No matter who may or may not support you, no matter what obstacles may get in the way, hold on to it. Take care of it and let it grow, for that is when you are unapologetically and irrevocably you. That is something that is your own and that will carry you through all of life's hardships. Love it, care for it, and cherish it because while you do so you are loving, caring, and cherishing you.
By the age of puberty young girls are twice as likely as their male peers to develop mental disorders. Why is this so? Brain scans have shown that boys and girls process stimuli differently. This can be attributed to the fact that girls go through the emotional developmental stages of their lives much earlier than boys. As result, their sensitivity to their own emotions as well as other people's emotions at such an early age can result in mental health issues if they are not given the proper tools to cope with these emotions.
As adults, there are a number of things we can do to help a child develop mentally healthy habits that not only allow them to cope with stress but also teach them to love and appreciate themselves. The latter is particularly important in girls due to the fact that the develop body dysmorphic disorders at higher rates than boys. Adults must be loving and accepting such that a child never feels uncomfortable or judged for who they are. In addition, it is important to expose a child to various forms of expression particularly those that serve as an outlet for the child. These various forms include but are not limited to singing, dancing, painting, playing sports, volunteering, and reading. Whichever method of coping or expression a child chooses, one must be careful to encourage them to stick to something of the child's liking and not accidentally force them to do something they may not like. This can be easily done by keeping open lines of communication between a parent and child.
SimplyMei: Open Letter To Young Boys
Dear Young Boy,
You are intelligent. You are handsome. You are a leader. Hey, I even think you are the world’s coolest little Superman. I know that you possess secret powers- - the super-eater in you can stuff down 7 pizzas quicker than anyone, the super-builder in you can make creations out of blocks like never seen before, and the super-speed in you helps you outrun all of your school friends during P.E. How awesome are you?! - - but guess what? I have a secret that I’d like to share with you. It’s something I remember reading somewhere and internalizing a long time ago.
Superman isn’t always Superman. In fact, sometimes he removes his superhero cape… and underneath the cape he’s a boy just like you. Did you know that his real name is Clark Kent? Clark Kent knows that he doesn’t always have to be the strongest, fastest, or smartest superhero. He knows that even without all of his superpowers, he is still a pretty amazing person.
Young boy, I know that life gets hard sometimes yet you still try to be Superman. Other little boys may tease you some days and other days you may not always feel like “the best superhero” out of the bunch. At times you may want to cry but you don’t want to feel like you’re being a little girl. You’re so confused on how to manage your emotions and you don’t know how to express yourself or reach out for help because boys don’t do that . Boys just man up - -or so you’ve been told by your parents, your friends, and/or society period.
If anyone has ever told you to act like a boy, you tell them that’s what you are doing. Even Superman, one of the greatest boys, felt sad some days and reached out to friends like Batman for help. It is okay for you to do the same. You, too, are human just like Superman so it is okay to remove your cape sometimes, feel emotions, and seek support when you need it. We all desire to feel loved on those low days.
When things get rough, as they will from time to time, understand that it is okay not to have it figured out all the time. The beauty of life is learning and growing. You are so special - - born with your own unique superpower. One day you will grow into a man and you, too, may find yourself encouraging another young boy.
But until then… If no one else tells you, then I’ll be the one to tell you that you don’t have to act like anyone else but yourself. Blossom, young boy.
With light and love,
Being a mother of a son has opened up my eyes to so many things. I used to find myself in limbo when it came to disciplining him. At times I thought I should be “tough” on him because I had heard so many people remind me, “you’re raising a man.” At other times, the natural nurturer in me wanted to coddle him and just talk it out. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what form of discipline was “most appropriate” for a boy specifically.
As I have evolved as a parent, my point of view on discipline has changed. What I have come to realize is that gender alone should not dictate how I react to every situation. Just because I’m raising a boy, “tough love” does not always have to be my reaction to everything. I’ve learned to first assess the situation, whatever it may be, and then decide my approach from there. What difference does this make?
Many times parents and other authoritative figures in a boy’s life have this idea that the only way to raise a boy is through tough love. It is these individuals that tell young boys to “man up”, tell them not to cry, and give them no ideas on how to cope with their emotions appropriately. A boy in this situation may be suffering from true anxiety, depression, ADHD, and other types of mental illnesses but feel scared to speak up about how they are feeling. They don’t want to go against the assumed status quo of what a boy should be. Ultimately, if a mental illness is not recognized, it is left untreated.
But why let childhood issues spiral into adulthood?
Yes, I know that men are often time viewed as providers and many feel that we should groom our boys to fulfill that role one day. That is okay. However, it is also okay to teach a young boy how to acknowledge and manage their emotions instead of bottling it up. It is also okay for a young boy to receive help if they are suffering from mental health issues. This will only help them become better men in the long run.
If you know a young boy and he is acting out, trying to harm himself, consistently sad and withdrawn, and/or has sudden changes in behavior please pay attention to him. (NAMI). Sometimes he can’t just man up. Realize that he is STILL a boy and a GROWING one at that.
Mental Health Wellness: Akshita and SimplyMei Takes To The Streets To See What People Are Saying
Whether it is singing, dancing, DJing, writing, filming, exercising, blogging, and so forth it is important to find the coping method that works best for you - - one that’ll serve as your outlet and genuinely evoke joy in your life regardless of what anyone else may think!
Don't know where to start? Don't worry! Read on to uncover the thoughts of several successful people that were interviewed. These interviewees are individuals who have been blessed to find something that they truly love and were willing to share their thoughts on mental health!:
"A creator like me has no other way of expressing herself other than through cinematic digital mediums. My love, passion, and drive to tell the world stories from script-to-camera-to-screen are the most beautiful way to emote all shades of emotion and feelings.” - Bhavna Singh - Film Director, interviewed by Akshita
"To maintain my mental health and keep it on a positive level I always make sure I have another goal to attain after one is met. By this I mean, I set small goals to accomplish on a daily basis; from making it a priority to finish a piece that I've started or multiple pieces or even something as small as cleaning up my house or organizing the work load. The satisfaction of reaching one goal and completing it fuels me to go on to other tasks. I also pray daily to keep my faith at a high level. Exercise is a huge part of keeping my mental health