Dr. Preeya Alexander is a mum of two and a GP. She’s passionate about doing what she can to help children thrive—both physically and mentally—and has recently partnered with Smiling Mind and DECJUBA Foundation as an ambassador of the Smiling Mind Generation.
We often as parents focus on physical wellbeing; waiting for our kids to crawl, pull to stand and walk, using measurements like length and weight to confirm that they are in fact growing. What we don’t often talk about is mental wellbeing for children and that resilience building and prevention when it comes to mental health starts really (really) early in life.
As a GP I see everything (that’s one of the wonderful aspects of my role) and a big part of my job is supporting parents and children to thrive and whilst yes, I talk about vaccination, starting solids, reducing the risk of food allergies, screen time, sleep problems; I also talk about ways to help children build their mental fitness, de-stress, unwind because the benefits can be significant.
As a Mum (my daughter is 7 and son is 3) I try to do lots of the stuff I prescribe my patients. My husband is a big believer in mindfulness and before a big day of operating (he’s a hand and paediatric plastic surgeon) I often find him doing his 3-5 minutes of mindfulness beforehand; to him it’s just as important as his morning run. Mental fitness is a thing in our house. I hate to admit this (and let’s keep this between us) but he’s much more diligent about the mental fitness side of things. He’s the one who introduced regular mindfulness activities with the kids before bed using the Smiling Mind app (we have used it for years, well before I partnered with the organisation). Our kids have been doing the “Smiling Star Fish” and “Teddy Bear Breathing” meditation for a long time. My daughter is a big fan of the “Sleep for Kids” program and will often turn to her favourites “Golden Glow” and “Floating on a Cloud” to unwind before bedtime. She implements mindfulness herself now, she knows keeping her brain fit, unwinding before bed, getting a good night’s sleep makes her feel better. Without being too conscious of it she looks after her mental wellbeing proactively.
I’m incredibly excited to be part of the Smiling Mind Generation which is a social movement attempting to ensure all Australian children are mentally fit, able to thrive and provided with the stuff they need (a seriously loaded toolbox) to support mental wellbeing throughout life.
What happens in childhood when it comes to mental health has an impact in adulthood. Research led by the Murdoch Children’s Institute (and published in Neuroscience and Biobehavioural Reviews) found that having mental health symptoms before 14 was a predictor for adulthood mental health disorders. They found that children with anxiety were up to 10 times more likely to develop an anxiety disorder as an adult and for children with depressive symptoms they were 28 times more likely to develop depression as an adult. Supporting mental wellbeing in childhood, helping children navigate mental fitness and wellbeing can impact their health trajectory later in life. This stuff is really important.
I often tell my patients that being physically active in childhood (with running, walking, cycling, swimming, whatever the heart desires) reduces the risk of heart disease and certain cancers in later life. Mental fitness is no different. Having the tools to identify feelings, navigate periods of stress, build resilience in childhood has an impact in later life.
As a GP I can tell you that mental health disorders can happen to anyone, none of us are immune. Periods of stress are part of life (I’m sure you can attest to that!). Every child deserves to be equipped with the skills to look after their mental wellbeing, navigate the bumpier patches of life. Every child deserves to have a full toolbox when it comes to resilience building and mental health. That’s why I’m incredibly stoked to be part of all this – because I believe in it on a small scale for my own family and patients and can’t wait for this to be for every Australian child.