Mental Health is Important and That’s Why We Have First Aid Kits For It
By Janice Quirt
Photo © tdyuvbanova/Twenty20
Sep 11, 2019
I’m no doctor, but I’m handy with a Band-Aid, and can probably even get my hands on a tube of Polysporin at a moment's notice. One of my greatest medical achievements was removing a gigantic splinter from my daughter’s knee without either of us passing out. Blood doesn’t get to me, and I’ve taken my fair share of first aid courses over the years.
One area, though, has passed me by. My family’s mental health first aid kit is sadly lacking. And that’s a shame, because I can’t think of any school supply more important than those that promote mental wellness. Perhaps part of the reason it was so easy to forget was what I've noticed is a hesitation to talk about it. So, yes, let's talk about it.
University of Waterloo student Tina Chan made headlines last year when she developed her own mental health first aid kit to help her get through her panic attacks during first year. Other universities and colleges are following suit and distributing the kits. And at some high schools, students are being trained in mental first aid and serve as a resource for anyone going through a tough time.
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I hope that soon these initiatives will be picked up at the elementary school level. I know that some kids are having panic attacks at the bus stop, while others are experiencing anxiety and depression well before their teen or even tween years. They may not be able to verbalize what they are experiencing, but it is happening.
Parents do tend to be closer the younger that kids are. However, parents can’t be there for every flare-up of anxiety or panic attack. And while they are often a phone call away, sometimes worry, anxiety, panic and depression happen in isolation, before help can arrive. Or perhaps the episodes sadly occur often enough that kids could be encouraged to develop some rescue mechanisms that they can implement on their own.
So this brand new school year, in addition to making sure their pencils are sharp, I’m planning on working with my kids to build our own mental health first aid kits, or survival kits as they’re also called. Yes, I said we, because I’m making one for myself as well. Here are some suggestions of items that we're going to place in our kits:
Phone and Charger
If at all possible, kids who might be susceptible to anxiety or panic attacks can benefit from having a phone (and a charger handy to make sure it can always work) so that they always have the ability to contact friends and family. A quick text back from family or friends could help someone in crisis feel supported and less alone. Kids can also look at photos that make them happy on their phone to help get through some tough moments. Even a calming meditation app could be a good go-to for a few moments or breaths.
Crisis Line Pamphlets
The hope is always that a parent, teacher or other supportive adult can be found, but it’s important to have contact information for crisis lines handy. Just in case. Some, like Kids Help Phone, offer a texting crisis line.
Stress Ball or Other Fidget Device
When in doubt, squeeze or fidget it out. These items can help with nervous energy and anxiety and the increased blood flow can lessen anxiety. If fidget devices aren’t allowed, even a pen that can be clicked or a bracelet can work as a worry piece.
When and where allowed, headphones can help when external stimuli is just too much and/or you’re feeling overwhelmed. If you have a phone or iPod, you can even put together a soothing playlist and play it when you’re in need of a reset. Other ideas are to record voice notes from parents, family or even yourself affirming that it’s going to be OK.
The U of Waterloo PASS (panic, anxiety, stress support) kits designed by Tina Chan contain evidence-based, reviewed and referenced RE+Minders: flash cards to help kids get through stressful situations, and they’re now available for purchase. You could supplement these with some written personal reminders, affirmations or mantras that could help break through a tough time. Or just make your own flash cards!
Colouring Book and Markers, Papers and Pen
Sometimes the meditative act of colouring can be a good distraction, and it's the same for drawing or writing. These creative and expressive acts can be grounding, and perhaps they could revolve around a theme of gratitude, or observing interesting or wondrous things around you. Just jotting them down or sketching them out can bring some calm. On the other hand, the writing or drawing could be completely free flow, stream of consciousness style. You choose.
List of Goals or Actions
From time to time, merely thinking about getting through the whole day is daunting. Breaking down the different sections of the day into small goals, like “have breakfast,” “go to first class” and so on can be helpful, especially if they are written down as reminders on cards to serve as a visual cue. You can also have a written list of positive actions to help get through a bad time. For example, a reminder list to find a friend and tell them how you’re feeling, to play a favourite song or to take a deep breath could be useful.
Chewing Gum, Water Bottle and Healthy Snack
Taking a couple of slow sips of water can sometimes help to regulate breathing, and the hydration can help as well. Nibbling on a nutritious snack can be a boon, as sometimes poor hydration and nutrition can lead to negative impact on mental health. Chewing gum can be a good distraction and serves as a fidget device for the jaws.
A Book, Puzzle or Comfort Toy
This can be up to personal taste, but reading a few pages of a favourite book or comic could be soothing. Maybe trying a puzzle would be a welcome distraction. Perhaps giving a small stuffie a big squeeze gives comfort.
Feel free to switch up the items in a Mental Health First Aid Kit, and encourage their use. Talk about what is working and what is not. Because as great as sticky notes and multi-coloured pens are, I think we also want our kids to have supplies to sustain positive mental health.
What would you put in your mental health first aid kit? Tell us below!
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