Health & Psychology

FEELS GOOD! A checklist to support young people’s mental health 

By Dr Michelle Wright and Dr Mecky McNeil

When someone says physical health, we tend to think of all things healthy. However, when someone says mental health, we often think about illness and distress. ​At HealthFirst, we like to view mental health positively because the fact is that we all have it, just as we all have physical health as well.​ 

Mental health is so much more than just the absence of mental illness. If we look at a definition of from the World Health Organisation, they define mental health as:​ «… A state of well-being, in which a person realises their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to their society».​1

In the same way that we can take steps to look after our physical health, there are things that we can do to strengthen our mental health and reduce the chance of becoming unwell. ​

That goes for our young people too. Having good mental health helps children and adolescents develop resilience and grow into well-rounded, healthy adults. So, with this academic year in full swing, perhaps it’s a good opportunity to reflect on what we can do to strengthen our mental wellbeing, including that of our young people. Remembering that, as adults, we are important role models and need to ‘walk the well-being talk’ ourselves.

Obviously, there are lots of things that can help safeguard a young person’s well-being: being part of a family that gets on well​, going to a school that supports the well-being of its pupils​, being in good physical health​ and feeling safe and understood​, to name but a few. But attending to self-care ​is also important. To help get this message across, we have put together our ‘FEELS GOOD! Strategy’ – a checklist of 10 important well-being wins to support young minds. Help the young people in your lives support their well-being by sharing these with them. 

1. Friends matter – Connect with others​

Connecting with other people can lift your spirits. You feel more accepted, you can share your experiences together, and you can offer each other support. ​Take advantage of this by​ organising a nice activity with your friends or family, catching up with a friend you’ve not seen in a while, or even meeting new people by joining a club or group. 

2. Exercise – Let’s get active​

Regular exercise can boost your mood and self-confidence. It increases your energy levels​ and helps you sleep better. ​It’s important to try to move more often. ​Every little bit counts – from going for a short walk, taking the stairs instead of the lift, having a kick around with friends, or going for a bike ride, run or swim​. Or how about a team sport like netball or football? There are plenty options for you to get your body moving, whatever your ability. ​

3. Eat well​

​Healthy eating and drinking is also good for your mind. It gives you more energy and helps you sleep better. ​It’s really important to eat a balanced diet to ensure your body is getting the energy and nutrients it needs, particularly if you’re vegetarian or vegan. And don’t forget those fluids: drink plenty of water to keep hydrated. But do try to keep down the amount of sugar and caffeine in your food and drink.​ If you have any worries about food, it’s a good idea to talk to a trusted adult before changing your diet.​

4. Learn new things

​Learning new things can be a great way of improving your confidence and giving you a sense of achievement.​ It could be anything from learning a new instrument, sport or language, trying out new recipes, or starting your own DIY project. Maybe visiting a local library, museum or gallery could give you some inspiration. 

5. Sleep well​

​Getting good sleep can help you have more energy, feel more positive, and feel less stressed. ​But sometimes it can be difficult to get to sleep as a teenager. If you are struggling, here are a few tips that can help:​

  • ​Set yourself a good bedtime routine that you stick to most nights of the week. Going to bed at the same time helps to reset your day and night body clock.​
  • Cut down on screen time before bed. The blue light on screens blocks an important sleep hormone called melatonin and can put back the onset of sleep by a couple of hours.​ Using a blue light filter or night mode on your screen in the evening can help with this. Or better still, take a break from your screens altogether. Try reading a book or listening to relaxing music instead. 
  • Take a warm, relaxing bath as part of your bedtime routine. ​
  • Make sure you don’t eat your dinner or drink sugary drinks too late.
  • Avoid strenuous exercise in the evening. ​Anything that puts up your heart rate, puts back your sleep.​

​6. Get creative

Doing something creative can help boost self-esteem and relationships. ​It can also help you feel less stressed and be a way to express yourself. ​There are so many things that you could try:​ drawing, painting, photography, creative writing, singing, playing an instrument, dancing or drama​. Let those creative juices flow! ​

7. Open your mind – Do things to help you relax​

​Relaxing gives you time out – a chance to feel less stressed, to feel peaceful and calm, and to clear your mind. ​How about spending time in nature, or with friends, reading, listening to music, or watching a film? Some people find that relaxation exercises, meditation, or religious prayer helps them too. 

8. Offer help to others 

​Helping others can make you feel happier, ​give you a sense of achievement,​ increase your self-worth and boost your relationships. ​Perhaps you could offer help to a neighbour or family member or volunteer your time and skills to a local cause that matters to you​. Or you could simply ask a friend how they are, and truly listen to them. ​

​9. Do things you enjoy​

​Time spent doing something you enjoy can make you feel happier and more relaxed. It can also be fun, ​can boost your relationships with others, ​or help you develop new skills. ​What things do you love doing: a hobby, playing sport, watching films, or even gaming? Invest in your favorite pastimes. 

​10. It’s OK to not be OK

​​It can be normal as a young person to want to deal with things on your own. But if you can open up to friends, family or someone else you trust about things that are troubling you, this can help you feel supported.​ 

About the Authors

Dr Michelle Wright is a British-qualified General Practitioner. Before moving to Switzerland in 2004, she saw patients with physical and psychological problems and spent time in community psychiatry. She continues her patient contact and clinical practice work in the International Labour Organization, Geneva.

Michelle helped bring the validated ensa Mental Health First Aid training in English to Switzerland which HealthFirst delivers to companies, schools, and organisations.

She broadcasts a weekly show, Health Matters, for World Radio Switzerland. 

Dr Mecky McNeil is a British-qualified General Practitioner, experienced in looking after adults and children with psychiatric illnesses, including anxiety, depression, eating disorders and schizophrenia, and caring for suicidal and acutely psychotic patients. 

She is a qualified health coach and helped to develop the ensa Mental Health First Aid English courses in Switzerland.

Mecky 
currently collaborates with UNICEF and Z Zurich Foundation on a global project aimed at supporting young people’s mental health.

References

  1. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-strengthening-our-response 
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