May Is Mental Health Awareness Month
Children and adolescents thrive in today’s world, despite the many challenges they face. Fostering positive relationships, developing resiliency as a response to adversity, and increasing the capacity to cope are essential elements of good mental health. Adults play a critical role in fostering assets that lead to positive mental health in children. Mental Health Awareness Month is a great time to review ways adults can help.
The Fairfax County Youth Survey provides a wealth of information about a variety of topics related to our youth, from sleep and nutritional habits to protective and risk factors that influence their physical and mental well-being. Substance abuse behaviors, symptoms of depression, levels of stress, bullying, and suicidal thoughts and feelings are also reported. The survey has identified the following school, home, and community-based assets as being associated with reduced symptoms of depression in youth and lower participation in risk-taking behaviors: having high personal integrity, performing community service, having teachers recognize good work, having community adults to talk to, participating in extracurricular activities, and having parents available for help.
Our “Three to Succeed” message and data from the Youth Survey show how having just three assets dramatically reduces risk behaviors in youth. For example, 35% of youth with zero assets reported drinking alcohol in the last thirty days, versus only 17% who indicated they had three assets, and only 10% of students who responded as having six assets.
All adults can foster certain protective factors, whether they are parents, school staff, or community members.
- Having parents available for help - Be available after school and/or on weekends.
- Parents knowing children’s whereabouts - Asking them let’s them know you care.
- Family members are respectful to each other - Handle differences with respect.
- Feeling safe at school - Provide a caring and secure classroom environment
- Having the opportunity to talk to teachers one-on-one - Offer sign-up times for meetings with students.
- Teachers recognizing good work - Take the time to identify what a student did well.
- Having adults available to talk to - Be available whether you’re a neighbor, coach, or faith leader.
- Participating in extracurricular activities - Offer to be a parent volunteer, or organize a fundraiser or volunteer activity.
Resiliency is the capacity to overcome adversity by responding in healthy and productive ways to successfully meet life’s challenges. Fairfax County Public Schools believes that all youth have the capacity for resilience. We believe it is important for our schools, families, and communities to provide needed supports for youth that foster resiliency to support them now and in the future. Building resiliency in our youth is critical to their ultimate success and enjoyment in life.
Similar to the assets identified in the Fairfax County Youth Survey, research by Nan Henderson, founder of Resiliency in Action, offers six resiliency builders or external protective factors that all adults can foster in children.
Increase pro-social behavior - Provide opportunities for positive connections with adults and peers. Encourage children to participate in group activities that they enjoy. Volunteer to be a coach or mentor.
Set clear, consistent, boundaries - Set rules at home and school. Children do best when they understand the limits within which they can operate.
Teach life skills - Model and discuss how to handle conflict respectfully, how to persevere when problem-solving, and how to stand up (advocate) for themselves.
Set and communicate high expectations - By setting realistic, yet challenging goals, you are telling a child, “I believe in you.”
Provide caring and supportive adult relationships - Whether you are a parent, neighbor, coach, relative, or faith leader, all adults can be a caring, trusted adult for youth.
Provide opportunities for meaningful participation - Let youth have a voice in setting classroom rules or choosing what’s for dinner.
Visit the Fairfax County Government's web page for the Fairfax County Youth Survey for more information.
Healthy Minds is for parents, educators, and community-based providers who are interested in supporting student mental health and wellness. It represents a collaboration between FCPS’ Office of Intervention and Prevention Services and the Fairfax County Government. SUBSCRIBE to Healthy Minds and receive a monthly digest of our most recent articles.