Mental Health Blog
Back to School Mental Health TipsPosted by Alicia Kirkman on 9/9/2020
Back to School Mental Health Tips
As we begin the new academic year, parents, students, teachers, and school staff are faced with uncertainty and worry. Whether you are starting school in-person, online, or in a hybrid model, there are added challenges that can affect your mental health. Here are some tips from our clinicians on how to support your mental health during this challenging time.
Fear/Anxiety Surrounding Contracting COVID-19 – Keep following the good measures that you have been practicing to keep safe (wash hands, wear a mask, socially distance). Limit the information you receive. Too much news can be overwhelming, only take in what is needed from trusted sources. Also, sticking to routine (which includes some time for fun) and maintaining healthy behaviors such as getting enough sleep and eating healthy is important.
Online Virtual Learning
Increased Screen Time – Time staring at a screen is not good for our mental or physical health. However, increased screen time is a necessity for online learning. Set boundaries regarding screen time, such as no screen usage 2 hours before bed or for every one hour of screen time, get 10 minutes of physical activity.
Isolation/Peer-to-Peer Interactions – Keeping relationships with friends and family is so important while we socially distance. They are your support systems and even small interactions can help to combat feelings of isolation/loneliness. Stay connected virtually by planning an online game night, or after school homework session.
Hybrid Model (part in-person, part online)
Routine Changes – Routine is so important to good mental health. Having established bed time and wake times will help you to sleep better and have more energy throughout the day. Keeping the same routine both when you are doing online and in-person learning will help your mental health immensely.
Coping with Change – Going from time together in school to online classes can be hard. Acknowledge this challenge and talk with a trusted person about your feelings surrounding these changes.
FamilyMeans Counseling & Therapy can help to support the mental health of individuals and families no matter what challenges the new school year brings.
Did you know that FamilyMeans Counseling & Therapy provides school-based mental health services in 5 school districts on both sides of the St. Croix River?
Stillwater 834 | North St. Paul/Maplewood/Oak Dale 622 | Hudson | New Richmond | Prescott
Supporting the mental health of students is more important now than ever before.
Back to School Tough DecisionsPosted by Alicia Kirkman on 8/11/2020
Tough Decisions and the Emotions That Come with Them
August always has a buzz about it. We all are trying to cram in those last summer activities; stores bustle
with shoppers buying school supplies; and sports/clubs begin meeting to prep for the new year. There is
excitement and anticipation in the air. But, this year is different and promises to be like nothing we
have seen before. As parents, we are feeling stress and anxiety as we try and answer the questions: Do
we send our kids to school? Do we keep them home? Do we juggle a hybrid option? What if I send my
kid(s) and they get sick? What if I don’t send my kid(s) and they get further behind in their studies? How
am I supposed to work with the school schedule in flux? How do we all keep our sanity?
These are tough questions, and it is overwhelming. You are not alone. Every student, parent, teacher,
and school staff person is feeling the same way as the school year approaches. There seems to be so
much pressure to get schools open, yet how are we going to do this safely and productively? How are
you going to make the best decision for your family?
The FamilyMeans Counseling & Therapy team urges you to take on these challenges one step at a time.
You don’t have to make every decision at once, and looking at the bigger picture can be overwhelming.
Start by gathering information on your specific district and building. Understand the facts and
requirements, then think about/discuss with trusted others how do you really feel about sending your
kid(s), or ourselves, back into the building. Trust your gut. No matter what decision you make –which
feels best for the moment-- you are brave and strong to carry out that decision.
When it comes to other people’s decisions, be mindful. Each family is faced with these tough decisions,
and you don’t know all the deciding factors for different families. Maybe there is an underlying health
condition. Maybe there are older family members for whom they care. Maybe there is fear and anxiety,
or even anger No matter what the reason for a family’s decision, it is their choice and what works for
them. Honor it and understand that there is no one-size-fits-all option.
If you or your family are struggling with these decisions, or the emotions that come along with this
difficult situation, FamilyMeans is here to help. Our clinical staff can provide individual, couple, or family
therapy sessions to help you work through life’s challenges such as this. Learn more or set-up an
appointment today by calling 651-439-4840 or visit FamilyMeans.org!
Written by Melena Nelson
Mental Health Guide to ThrivePosted by Alicia Kirkman on 7/15/2020
Mental Health Guide to Thrive
Express appreciation, journal, 3-5 positives a day.
Move your Body
Dance, run, walk, sports, yoga. Get Moving!
Develop a Family Media Plan.
Develop daily schedules for meals and sleep.
Choose positivity, self-reflection, active listening.
Meditate, calming breaths, listen to music.
Stay in relationships with friends and family.
School-based and outpatient Counseling & Therapy services are currently being provided via telehealth by FamilyMeans. If you or your child are in need of support, please contact the School-Based Supervisor, Diane Cragoe at 651-789-4054 or DCragoe@FamilyMeans.org.
Anxiety. Depression. Suicidal thoughts. Isolation. Family pressures. Stress. Real Life Issues.
Support is here. Contact us today. Insurance or payment plans accepted. No one turned away
FamilyMeans.org | 651-439-4840
Mental Health in the SummerPosted by Alicia Kirkman on 6/11/2020
Mental Health in the Summer
Last month we talked about checking in with your own mental health and the mental health of your children. As we move into summer, we often see kids, teens, and their families take time away from counseling to enjoy the summertime. But, let’s be real. This summer is like no other summer past. You’ve been cooped up since March, trying to juggle life, work, distance learning, and all that is going on in the world. And the things we normally look forward to in the summer are now either restricted or canceled. Can you say “bummer”?! This summer is the perfect time to focus on the mental health of you and your children/teens.
There is a lot of anxiety, worry, stress, feeling hopeless or down, disrupted sleep, and lack of social engagement. These are all symptoms of bigger mental health conditions if left untreated. Clinicians at FamilyMeans are equipped to handle these types of topics, along with many others, in order to help you and your loved ones feel better, even during this most unsettling time. This summer is especially a great time to help children and teens work through any anxieties they may have about the world or the thought of going back to school in the fall. Good mental health takes time and dedication, and in the summer your child might have more time to focus on their mental health. Summer is a perfect moment to begin good practices that will help in the school year ahead. They will be ready to jump in when it is time and conquer anything that life throws them. Please contact us today to set a telehealth appointment, FamilyMeans.org or 651-439-4840!
Bonus: Routine is key to good mental health, especially for developing minds. While at home this summer here are some tips for keeping a normal feeling routine:
- Have some structure to your day – kids need structure (which a school day usually provides). Keep it loose and flexible but predictable at the same time. If your kids are into artwork – have them help you create a fun artistic calendar for the family.
- Get a library card and use curbside service
- Try out the many trails we have here in Minnesota and Wisconsin
- Build a fort inside on a rainy day
- Find new virtual tourist attractions and learn about a new place together
- Be active – get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day – have a dance party, go for walks, go to the park, play sports, learn a new sport, investigate nature, etc.
- Play! Do something fun for yourself, or with your kids – be goofy and run around together
- Get outside–each and every day–make it a family outing. Create a scavenger hunt to do while on a walk or watch for birds, plants, or bugs. Make it a game of whoever spots the most wins a prize or the pride of winning.
- Limit screen time to two hours or fewer – use these hours wisely. Help teach your kids how to spread out their allotted time throughout a day – if they are younger – create a fun and artistic schedule for them on when they want to use their screen time.
- Keep your therapy appointments. Telehealth calls are available until in-person appointments can resume.
- Let yourself or your kids have an ‘off’ day – we’re all human and have bad days once in a while – let them have one and work it out of their system. Help them create ways to improve their mood – what makes them happy? Excited? Create a ‘mood box’ of items around the house that helps them improve their mood so when they need ideas they can go to this box for inspiration.
- Break the rules! Okay, not all the time, but once in a while. Let your kids see that there is some flexibility within your rules on occasion.
- Keep all the rules that you set out for your kids for yourself too – model the behaviors you want them to do – it will be hard but you can do it!
Supporting the Mental Health of StudentsPosted by Alicia Kirkman on 5/13/2020
Supporting the Mental Health of Students
As we all continue to work through these challenging times, the mental health of our students remains a top priority. The transition to virtual learning, changes in daily routines, the inability to hold special events like prom and graduation, and more, are producing many new and challenging emotions in our students such as anger, disappointment, and anxiety. Helping them to work through these emotions is important for their mental health.
Did you know that New Richmond Schools have school-based therapists available to provide mental health counseling? And that they are available via tele-health services to provide mental health support to you and your children in the comfort of your home? Contact your student’s guidance counselor for more information and set-up an appointment!
Advice from our specialized therapists on ways to support your child’s mental health.
Focus on Self-Care
Changes in routine has likely impacted your child’s self-care practices. Are they getting enough sleep, eating healthy, exercising, spending time off screens, and getting outside? This can be difficult to do! Try out our self-care challenge, a printable guide to help you improve your mental and physical health, great for all ages!
Re-Imagine Special Events
As the school year comes to a close many of the usual special events have been postponed or canceled. Your child may be missing out on a traditional prom, graduation, or simple end of year celebrations. This likely has them feeling disappointed and sad. Get creative in finding ways to celebrate and have fun to help ease the emotions they have. Host a virtual celebration with family/friends, get dressed up and take photos or drive-by family/friends, and create new traditions such as a special meal or outing.
Arrange Time with Family and Friends
Social distancing is hard. Your children may be feeling isolated and lonely. It is important that they find ways to safely connect with people that they are not quarantined with. Help to set-up video calls with their family and friends, encourage letter writing or crafting that they can share with others.
Be Open about Your Emotions
Much of how your children learn to manage their emotions come from watching you, especially at a young age. As age-appropriate, discuss the thoughts and feelings that you are having during this challenging time. It can be helpful for your child to know that you are sad, disappointed, or having anxiety too, and how you are working through these emotions as well.
Speak with a Counselor
Sometimes you need the support of a professional. School-based therapists can help your child in individual sessions, or your family in a group session, to work through the emotions that come with the changes in our world today.
May is mental health awareness month, and a great time to focus on your family’s mental health. As a mental health support provider in our schools, FamilyMeans provides excellent resources and support to New Richmond families. Find additional resources and learn more by visiting www.FamilyMeans.org.
Guide to Thrive During COVID - 19Posted by Alicia Kirkman for Family Means on 4/6/2020
FamilyMeans continues to provide mental health counseling to students and their families using telehealth while schools remain closed. Reach out to your student’s counselor if you are interested in your student being referred to the school-based therapy program.
Mental Health Guide to Thrive During COVID-19
Before reading this, please take a moment, to check-in with your present experience. Close your eyes, take a deep breath in and let it out, shift your weight from side to side, and scan your body from head to toe. What physical sensations do you notice in your body? How is your posture? What emotions are you holding? Do this practice throughout your day. Take a pause and check-in with your current state.
During this uncertain and challenging time, supporting the mental health of yourself and your child is very important. Many are noticing an increase in stress, tension, fear, worry, anxiety, loneliness, and grief. Others are noticing an opportunity to slow down, the gift of time to connect with those most important, to embrace what is, to be productive, and how Earth is healing. Welcome it all as part of the human experience.
To truly thrive during this time, you must be mindful of your daily practices. FamilyMeans Counseling & Therapy has created a daily worksheet to help you and your family practice mindfulness and support your mental health during the COVID-19 crisis.
Click here for our daily mindfulness worksheet.
The worksheet will help you to focus on the following essential topics:
GRATITUDE: Practice daily. Shift your mindset, look for the positives. Be of service. Be kind and patient.
MOVE YOUR BODY: Every day. More than 1x a day! Dance, walk, run, sports, yoga, any exercise.
LIMIT MEDIA: Check-in with reputable news sources 1-2x a day. Be informed, not obsessed!
CREATE ROUTINE: For you and your family. Write it down. Hold a schedule.
BE INTENTIONAL: Have daily goals. Write to-do lists. Choose positive influences. Look for silver linings.
BE CREATIVE: Daily do art, crafts, make music, cook, bake, write, or journal.
GROUND/RELAX: Deep breath. Get outside. Take a salt bath. Exercise. Read. Hug. Laugh. Essential oils.
HOME BASE: Make home enjoyable. Tidy up. Create separate spaces for work and home school tasks.
BASIC NEEDS: Sleep more. Drink water. Eat foods rich in nutrients and low in sugar. Take supplements.
CONNECT: Daily check-in or connect with others. Neighbors, friends, family, and colleagues. Pray.
KIDS: Give direct, honest, and developmentally appropriate information. Answer questions. Validate. FamilyMeans has parent resources to support you as you work with your child here.
Remember, this situation is temporary. Take it day-by-day. The Counseling & Therapy Team at FamilyMeans is here to support via teletherapy. FamilyMeans is following the recommendations of the CDC and local authorities to maintain safety. Please join us in following those recommendations.
We are all in this together!
Learn more at FamilyMeans.org
Link between Sleep and Your Child’s Mental HealthPosted by Alicia Kirkman on 3/5/2020
The link between Sleep and Your Child’s Mental Health
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine encourages teens (ages 13-18) to get 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night, and grade-schoolers (ages 6-12) to get 9 to 12 hours nightly. Studies show that children who are getting enough sleep have a healthier immune system, perform better in school, and are cognitively healthier than those who do not. Children can bounce back from a few missed hours here and there, but regular sleep deprivation will lead to difficult behaviors and health problems. If your child is irritable, has difficulty concentrating, depressed, obese, or prone to headaches, sleep deprivation could be the source.
When you sleep your brain is reenergizing the body’s cells, clearing waste from the brain, and supporting learning and memory. These processes are especially important for children as they learning and growing. When a child cannot go to sleep at night or wakes up frequently this essential development cannot occur. Some common reasons why a child cannot go to or stay asleep are fear of the dark or nightmares, unwillingness/ability to relax for sleep, or anxiety.
FamilyMeans Counseling & Therapy provides tips to get a good night’s sleep and support cognitive health.
1. Foster a Good Sleeping Environment
- Remove distractions, including cell phones, televisions, and electronic games. Make it a rule that the bed is for sleep only. Studies show that removing electronics at least one hour before bedtime promotes better sleep.
- Be sure that the bed/bedding is comfortable.
- Keep the noise level down. Play light, relaxing music or no noise at all.
- A dark space promotes sleep and production of melatonin (the hormone that regulates sleep and wakefulness). Turn off the lights and draw the curtains closed. For children who may be afraid of the dark, use a small, dim night light.
- Turn down the heat. Cooler temperatures help to promote deep sleep.
- Essential oils can help to soothe and comfort, lavender and chamomile scents are recommended.
2. Establish a Bedtime Routine
- Go to bed at the same time each night. Your body will recognize this routine and allow you to go to sleep faster and deeper if you stick with it!
- A warm bath or shower within an hour of bedtime can warm your body passively, making it easier to get comfortable and fall asleep faster.
- Reduce stress by meditating or reading something calming or uplifting.
- Keep a journal. By writing down thoughts, feelings, or stresses you can get them off your mind and leave them for later.
*Avoid using a cell phone, tablet, or television to help your child go to sleep. Try some of the activities listed above such as reading, meditation, or journaling instead!
3. Support Sleep While Awake
- Limit naps to 45 minutes.
- Exercise for 60 minutes each day. Limit intense exercises in the evening and instead practice yoga or other slower activities.
- Limit food consumption within two hours of sleep.
- Talk with your child’s clinician about sleep concerns.
If you are worried about the amount of sleep that your child is getting, how to better promote sleep, and/or if behaviors/change in mood are related to sleep, contact FamilyMeans Counseling & Therapy. A mental health assessment of your child can help to determine the root causes of sleep deprivation and how to make improvements.
Written by Melena Nelson
FamilyMeans School-Based Mental Health
Learn more at FamilyMeans.org
Winter Blues vs. DepressionsPosted by Alicia Kirkman on 2/5/2020
Winter Blues or Depression?
It’s cold and dark outside, the sun hasn’t shined in days, and you are feeling sad, uncomfortable, and down-right irritated. You can see these same frustrations in your child and after weeks of sluggish behaviors and grumpy conversations, you begin to ask yourself “Is this the winter blues or something bigger?”
In children, just as in adults, it is very common to feel a change in mood and energy levels during the winter months. Shorter days mean less sunlight, causing internal clocks to get off. This can effect sleeping habits and energy levels. In addition, chilly temperatures often mean staying inside and swaying from regular schedules. And, if done frequently, can negatively affect mental health.
So, how do we decipher if these changes in mood and behavior are your average winter blues or something more? FamilyMeans Clinical Director, Erin Rowlson says “Many of the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal depression, mirror those of the winter blues. These symptoms can include irritability, changes in sleep habits, difficulty concentrating, changes in appetite, social withdrawal, and more. I recommend having a conversation with your child. Do you get a sense that they are just having an off day(s) or do you sense hopelessness or uncontrollable emotions? As a parent, it is important to trust your gut. If you think your child may be depressed, set-up an appointment to be seen by a professional”.
Not sure where to start? Try some of the tips below to help minimize the effects of winter weather on mental health. If you are still seeing signs of depression in your child, set-up an appointment with a therapist.
Tips to Combat Winter Blues
- Exercise: Keeping active is very important. If you can brave the outdoors to get your daily 60 minutes of movement that is even better!
- Eat healthy: A balanced diet is key in keeping a healthy body, and that effects the mind! Be sure to stay away from sweets, and choose fruits or vegetables.
- Use lights to mimic sun: Turn on lights when getting up in the morning and keep a brightly lit home throughout the day. You can also purchase specialized lamps that provide a glow to give you/your child a daily dose of sunshine.
- Stay social: Attending school, work, and social obligations can seem like a pain on frigid winter days, but getting out of the house, conversing with peers, and staying active can help to combat depression.
- Open up: Talk to your children about how you are handling the winter and feelings you are having. They may be feeling the same way and you can help each other work through it.
- Fun at home: Getting snowed in is a perfect excuse for family time. Plan a movie night or work on a home project. Don’t feel trapped inside, instead find ways to have fun together!
FamilyMeans Counseling & Therapy provides school-based mental health services in New Richmond Schools. This means students and families can see a therapist at school, at a time that is convenient for them. Get back to happy. Set-up an appointment today by contacting your child’s school counselor.
Written by FamilyMeans Counseling & Therapy
Screen Time and Mental HealthPosted by Alicia Kirkman on 1/2/2020
The US Census Bureau says that 20% of teens spend seven or more hours on screens each day. These teens are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression or anxiety in comparison to teens who spend just one hour using a screen each day. In addition, prolonged screen time has been linked to sleeplessness, obesity, and emotional instability. There is no denying that children could benefit both mentally and physically by decreasing the amount of time they spend in front of a screen. However, this behavior is difficult to change and is often met with tantrums, no matter the age of your child.
Support the mental and physical health of your child by making steps to decrease the amount of screen time they participate in each day. Here are some tips to get started.
1. Be a good role model!
Limit your screen time when your children are present. Be aware of using your phone/computer/tablet when your child is speaking to you. Put your phone away and make eye contact. This reaffirms that they are more important than anything that is going on the screen. Get outside and play, read a book, or take a hike. Show your child that there is life outside the screens!
2. Do not give your child a screen to prevent a tantrum.
Your children will have tantrums. Sometimes these tantrums will occur during inconvenient times, when it could be easiest to calm them down by handing them a phone or tablet to distract them. Instead, help your child learn to better manage their feelings by acknowledging these feelings and helping them to work through them.
3. Have clear limits and rules!
Having an established screen free time is important. Set the rule that dinner is screen free. No television, no phones at the table, no responding to texts or calls.
Stick to these rules! Consistency is important!
4. Bedrooms are screen-free zones.
Sleep is essential for the good mental and physical health of your child. Screen use in the bedroom has been proven to cause issues going to sleep and staying asleep. Do not allow your child to have a television in their room. Require all family members plug in their phone and tablet in a common area away from their bedroom. This will decrease temptation to use.
5. Use media with your child.
Show your child how to use technology responsibly. Read a story online together and then discuss it. Show your children how to use affirming applications and learn how to spot the apps that are not so positive.
Screens are here to stay, and each year children and teens are spending more and more time fixated on these glowing lights. It is essential that parents set boundaries and teach responsibility when it comes to these electronics so that their children can grow into healthy and successful individuals.
FamilyMeans Counseling & Therapy understands that this is hard work. This is why we are here to support both parents and children through life’s challenges. Visit Familymeans.org or call us at 651-439-4840 to learn more ways to support your child’s mental health.
Understanding TraumaPosted by Samantha Burke on 11/26/2019
“Trauma” is a big word. To put simply, trauma is any life event that may be violent, cause a sense of danger/fear, or poses a threat to a person’s life; even witnessing such an event can instill these emotions. Almost any experience can be traumatic, especially to a child. If your child has experienced a traumatic event, how as parents do you support them?
Here are common suggestions for supporting your child if they have experienced trauma:
Understand what trauma is and could be
Know your children well enough to recognize when changes occur in their moods, behaviors, and overall interactions with you after a traumatic event
Model healthy ways to cope with difficulties
Talk about things openly (at your child’s pave and developmental level)
Be present for them
Ask them what would be make them feel safe (they have great ideas!)
Continue with ‘normal’ life activities
Provide daily structure
If you need more support than these suggestions, reach out to your child’s school counselor to set-up an appointment.