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Recap: #CABHSummitChat provides supportive discussion for those caring for children with mental health challenges

On Wednesday, March 31, The Children’s Foundation brought together speakers from the 2021 Child & Adolescent Behavioral Health Summit for a Twitter Chat to discuss the importance of self-care and mental health for parents, teachers, and providers who care for children with mental health challenges.

Highlights from the conversation are available below; click the question to read all corresponding responses or visit #CABHSummitChat on Twitter for a complete review.

If you haven’t yet reserved your tickets to the Child & Adolescent Behavioral Health Summit, grab yours now. 

Q1: The critical work of parents, teachers, healthcare providers and social workers has continued on throughout a year of unknowns. How can we all check in with our own mental health?

  • Anthony Muller: This year has been unprecedented and this question is spot on. I like the analogy, “you can’t pour from an empty cup”. We must take the time to reflect and be aware of changes in our thoughts, behaviors and emotions. We often become so focused on helping others that we forget we are most helpful when we can offer them the best version of ourselves. Investment in self pays dividends to others.
  • Elizabeth Koschmann: Validate your own emotions by recognizing and naming the emotions you are experiencing. Check in with yourself, just like you would for a friend. There is no right or wrong way to feel, so give yourself permission to feel your feelings, whatever they may be. Recognizing what we are feeling is the first step in good self-care, and is key to helping us to take a compassionate approach to ourselves and those around us.

Q2: Teachers have been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis, adjusting to a virtual or in-person environment for their students. How can the community (parents, school administration, etc) help care for teacher’s mental health as they support our students?

  • Koschmann: School staff are in a uniquely difficult position as a result of the pandemic – it’s important that we are responsive to their needs, and provide the necessary tools to allow them to continue to support their students while maintaining their own self-care. The last thing these staff need is another system to learn or additional work. If we’re going to provide tools for teachers and support staff to use with students, let’s make sure they are easy to use.
  • Hilinski’s Hope: The mental wellness of our coaches, administrators, athletic directors & teachers has been taxed, they are trying to take care of so many. Reaching out to them to let them know how much they matter & how much you care about them can go a long way. We are all in this together.

Q3: Just as teachers have supported students throughout the pandemic, parents are playing a more active role in their children’s education out of necessity. How can parents manage their mental health while working and schooling from home?

  • Arash Javanbakht: First, understand this is very tough time, and they are doing so much. Adjusting to their work changes, spending more time at home, financial difficulties, and spending all the time with the kids can be too much. It is okay to feel tired and frustrated. Lower expectations from self and kids, knowing kids are also stressed; do not be too idealistic in a not at all ideal time. Make sure to make time for self, away from the kids, and if needed from the partner. We all need some alone time, even just 20 minutes a day.
  • Hilinski’s Hope: Finding little moments of time for yourself is key and stringing those moments together throughout a day or week can add up…laughing with and hugging your family helps too. Family exercise sessions are a great way to relieve stress and enjoy one another.

Q4: When a child is diagnosed with a mental health disorder, parents may experience a wide range of emotions. What advice would you give to a family that is learning about a new diagnosis?

  • Anthony Muller: Great question! Parents often have responses that range from relief to denial, to fear or anger. It’s normal to have multiple emotions that can even be at odds with other emotions. These may be the same feelings your child is having. It is important to know that a mental health diagnosis will look different for every person. Look at the symptoms vs. the diagnosis and work towards identifying and addressing the source. Remember to have hope and find support.
  • Hilinski’s Hope: Tyler wasn’t diagnosed with a mental disorder. Losing him to suicide has taught us so much, we often use the phrase “patience, grace, love & understanding”. It has kept our family together as we deal with our grief & may also help families whose children have been diagnosed. Talk, listen to them & listen to your gut, get them to a mental health provider that can support & counsel them. I would have gone to the ends of the earth to help & save Tyler, if he were diagnosed with cancer I would’ve done the same. There should be no difference in caring for our mental health.

Q5: What have you learned about either your work in mental health or your own mental health throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic?

  • Michigan State Collegiate Recovery Community: While supporting college students navigating recovery during the pandemic, it confirmed the importance of a routine, being intentional in daily self-care, allowing for flexibility and practicing self-compassion.
  • Javanbakht: We are a lot more capable than we think. We all went through tremendous changes in a short time and survived it. In one turn our whole world was upside down and we still did it. Learned what is important and what is not worth stressing over.

Q6: The need to care for mental health is universal – regardless of age, gender, race, socioeconomic status or profession. How do you, personally, care for your mental health?

  • Anthony Muller: I take a holistic approach: a balance of relationships (wife, 4 boys, friends, family), physical activity (lap swim 4-5x a week), competitive hobby (disc golf), volunteering (coaching soccer, mentoring), and my faith (prayer and reflection).
  • Dawn Kepler: I had to create a new self-care routine. Before the pandemic, I would practice breathing & mindfulness exercises in the car to/from work. I now schedule self-care times in my day & have added gratitude journaling along with a weekly workshop on coping skills.

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