On HOPELINEUK, we often remind our callers of the importance of looking after their physical health due to its direct impact on their mental health when they are experiencing thoughts of suicide. This is something that we always incorporate into a person’s suicide safety plan as the two things go hand in hand.

This is especially important in children as they grow and develop into young adults. Often, children may be unaware of the relationship between their physical wellbeing and their mental health which is why it is imperative that they are reminded of it. Although looking after a child’s physical health will not completely resolve any mental health issues that they may experience, it can certainly make their mental health concerns more manageable.

So, how can this be done? This article will look at ways we can encourage children to look after their own wellbeing by taking into account both their physical and mental health.

A Good Night’s Sleep

Although it is not always easy to sleep when we are experiencing thoughts of suicide, it is really important that we try. This is especially important for children as their sleeping patterns can greatly impact on their emotional wellbeing. There are ways in which we can try and help children with insomnia or difficulties sleeping:

  1. Encourage them to go to bed at the same time each night and keep to a routine.
  2. Create a safe and comfortable sleeping environment for them.
  3. Cut back on sugar and caffeinated drinks that they have throughout the day.
  4. Ensure that they exercise regularly.
  5. It is always best for children to eat their last big meal 2-3 hours before they go to bed.
  6. Allow them to write in a diary or journal, or have a chance to talk about their worries, before they try to sleep.
  7. Turn technology off an hour before bed and focus on something relaxing such as reading or listening to relaxing music.
  8. Encourage them to have a bath or shower 90 minutes before they try to sleep.

Have Healthy and Regular Meals

Studies have shown that poor nutrition, for example diets containing lots of saturated fats or processed foods, can have a negative impact on a person’s mental wellbeing – especially in children and adolescents. Contrastingly, diets with a high contents of fruit and vegetables and high levels of Omega-3 (which can be found in nuts, fish and plant oils) are said to have a positive impact on a person’s mental health and reduce the risk of suicide. This is why it is really important that children who are experiencing thoughts of suicide try and eat at regular mealtimes throughout the day. It is also vital for children to maintain a healthy, nutritional and balanced diet as they are developing into young adults.

Drink plenty of water!

Being hydrated is vital for physical health, however, it can also really affect brain function and energy levels for individuals. Being mildly dehydrated can impact on a person’s mood. This is why it is imperative that children are drinking enough water. According to the organisation Healthy Kids, 5-8 year olds should have 5 glasses (or 1 litre) of water per day, for 9-12 year olds it should be 7 glasses (or 1.5 litres) of water and, finally, children over the age of 13 should have 8 to 10 glasses (or 2 litres) of water per day. Although being hydrated cannot resolve all mental health concerns, it can have a positive impact on a child’s mood and energy levels which can therefore also have a positive impact on their mental wellbeing.

Exercise                     

For children, as well as adults, exercise is vitally important. Physical exercise is proven to have a positive impact on our wellbeing, it improves our mood through the release of the ‘happy’ hormone – endorphins, it also reduces stress and it increases our self-esteem. Children between the ages of 5 and 18 should have at least 60 minutes of exercise per day, this can range from moderate to rigorous activity.

Medication 

Children can be prescribed medication for a variety of different medical reasons. It is important to be aware of the medication children may be prescribed and the side effects they may have. Some common prescriptions such as acne medication, some contraceptives and a number of antibiotics may have suicidal ideation as a side effect. Hence, this is why it is vitally important to check the information leaflet that comes with the prescription; it is also necessary for the child or young person to have regular medication reviews with their GP.

Fresh Air

Research shows that experiencing fresh air and being surrounded by nature is proven to be really beneficial for mental health. Low levels of Vitamin D have been known to correlate with depression in young people; this, therefore, shows the importance of getting outside. For children and young people who are struggling with thoughts of suicide, playing out, going for walks or visiting the local park are really positive ways to improve their mental wellbeing – getting children off their technology and into the great outdoors can have many positive consequences for their overall wellbeing.

Generally, these little differences in our physical health can have a direct, positive impact on our mental health – thus, it is essential that the younger generation learn about this relationship and its importance. This could lead to a much happier and healthier generation.

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