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Supporting family's emotional wellness during Mental Health Awareness Month

Intelligencer Journal - 5/3/2021

With the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine, there has been a renewed sense of hope and a slight easing of anxiety. While we still have a long way to go to end this pandemic — keep wearing your mask!! — it is a good time to think about next steps. The effects the pandemic has and will have on our mental health are unclear, but one thing is certain: A little education and prevention can make a big difference.

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and May 7 is National Child Mental Health Day. This month of awareness and education is a great time to do a few things for your own mental health and the well-being of others. It is estimated that one out of every four of us will deal with a mental health issue. The below ideas are a few of the many ways to turn the trend from mental illness to emotional wellness.


Know your ACE score

Based on a study from Kaiser Permanente, we know that certain “household events” during childhood such as abuse, divorce, poverty and death contribute to a person’s long-term mental and physical health. The ACE (Adverse Childhood Events) score is a research-based scoring system that allows a person to understand their risks. An ACE score of 4 or more has been shown to put someone at greater risk for depression, anxiety, heart disease and suicide. ACE scores, however, are not a foregone conclusion. They are simply meant to provide awareness to the importance of prevention and self-care.


Change your language

The way we speak about mental health and illness contributes to negative stigma and serves as an obstacle to intervention. Consider becoming more mindful of the way you speak about mental health issues.

For example, a person is not depressed, they have depression. Never use words like crazy or psycho when discussing someone with mental health challenges. Avoid using expressions like, “I am going to kill myself.” Stop saying “committed suicide,” instead saying, “He died by suicide.” The way we speak matters, and it is time to evolve.


Read a book about the subject

One suggestion: “Permission to Feel,” by Mark Brackett. This book spells out an easy way to promote emotional intelligence and mental wellness using the acronym RULER (Recognizing, Understanding, Labeling, Expressing and Regulating). And a good children’s book that provides age-appropriate insight into mental health is “Ruby Finds a Worry,” by Tom Percival.


Watch a movie that sheds some light on mental health experiences

Some suggestions:

• “Of Two Minds,” a documentary that gives the sometimes raw but real experiences of people living with bipolar disorder.

• “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” a comedy about a teen who gets placed in the adult psychiatric unit after having suicidal ideation. While this is not entirely realistic, it is still worth it because it highlights some of the challenges to mental health recovery and focuses on the people rather than the illness.

• “Inside Out,” an animated film for the entire family about emotions, which brings normalcy to not always feeling “perfect.”


Acknowledge the good in a child

Whether it be your own child or one in your community, it is easy for us to focus on negative behaviors and miss the good ones. Yet, our kids do great things every day. Did they get dressed and ready for school independently? Were they able to stick with a math problem when it got hard? Did they stop to check on a friend who was feeling sad? The small things are worthy of our praise. Proper praise shows approval, describes the action and gives a positive consequence of the action: “Thank you for picking up that trash in our lawn. I know it is easy to keep walking by it, but you saved me the trouble, and you took pride in our home.”


Practice gratitude

Gratitude has been shown to be causally linked to happiness.

Taking time each day to acknowledge gratitude to ourselves and others reduces negative emotions and promotes emotional health. Write a list of things/people you are grateful for, meditate about it or verbally express it to another. There are many ways to make gratitude a more regular part of our lives.


Seek connections

Connectedness to our fellow humans is the number one determinant of both physical and mental health. This does not mean how many friends you have on Facebook! Instead, connectedness refers to positive interactions with people that allow for expression of emotions and support. Research supports that one of the best things you can do for your own health is to go for a walk with a friend. But even more “shallow” forms of connection are beneficial, such as chatting with the store clerk, a funny one-on-one text conversation with a friend or a conversation across the street with a neighbor.



The definition of play is “to engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.” Make time in your life for the things that do not seem to have a purpose, because we know that their purpose is to keep your brain healthy, creative and confident. There is really no purpose more important than that.

Happy Mental Health Awareness Month! What a great time to educate ourselves and advocate for those affected by mental illness.

And just as important, it is a wonderful reminder to prioritize the things that promote mental wellness in our lives.

For more information on:

• The ACE Score, from, visit

• Summertime as playtime, from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, visit

• Mental Health Awareness Month, from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, visit

Dr. Pia Fenimore, of Lancaster Pediatric Associates, answers questions about children’s health. You can submit questions at

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