In the weeks after my daughter returned home from an inpatient mental health treatment early this year, she and I spent a lot of time by the stream that curls through my apartment complex. There, she began to rediscover some of the simple joys she once loved as a curious, carefree child. We turned over rocks in a stream to see the life in miniature living beneath, pulled up some wild onion grasses, and took samples of everything back home to look at under a microscope.
There was something essential in these mental health awareness activities, in the science, the learning, the wonder, and in the grounding of her and me together. There was something profoundly human about reveling in the everyday parts of nature that we come to overlook when our lives get too complicated and hurried. Here are other May mental health awareness month activities you can try with your kids, or alone, as needed throughout this month and beyond.
Walk in the Sunshine
With healing properties (killing bacteria, reducing high blood pressure) and vitamin D, sunshine gives us so much, often in as little as 10 minutes a day. But putting aside the quantifiable results of time spent beneath the sun for a moment, simply walking outside in nature as it is being woken up in the spring, as it grows strong again, and as it radiates in the sun’s glow can transfer all of those effects to us! One of the simplest but most beneficial of the many mental health awareness month activities you can do anytime...providing the clouds part overhead…is taking a walk in the sunshine.
People often find it difficult to articulate their feelings and emotions verbally. This is true of adults, but especially so in the case of kids who are struggling with anxiety, depression, and sadness in general. One of the mental health awareness month activities for high school students that may help is journaling. Writing down thoughts and feelings can be beneficial but making it a nightly practice may unburden kids from the emotional pains they are experiencing. If they are having negative thoughts, one of the helpful mental health awareness activities my 15-year-old learned about is to write it all down and then cross it all out. "Erasing" the negative in this way in a journal can tell the brain that these thoughts aren’t true.
The healing properties of fishing, thanks to the calm and quiet that’s inherent in the activity, make it one of the great mental health awareness month activities. The better weather and longer days of May don’t hurt either! Encourage your child to join you on an excursion to a local fishing spot this spring to drop a line in, talk (or not), and be still in a world that is often spinning out of control. Catching something would be a bonus, but when it comes to activities for mental health awareness, this one is all about slowing down the mind and body.
Crank up the tunes and let your kids dance away their negative emotions this month! School is tough, with body image issues abound for girls and boys, bullying, the pressure of getting good grades, and more, so it is more important than ever that we grown-ups create a safe, loving, and comfortable space for our kids to be in at home. A dance party may be one of the mental health awareness activities for students that help to break them out of a funk or help them destress before or after a big test. Whether it’s Taylor Swift and boygenius, or The National and Childish Gambino, play it loud and dance, dance, dance inside or out in the yard on a beautiful day!
A Tree House Escape
Whether it’s a future spring break trip, a Memorial Day getaway, or a planned summer vacation escape, one of the fun activities for mental health awareness can be staying in a tree house. A tree house escape, at The Mohicans tree houses in Ohio or the Klickitat Treehouse in the PacNW, is one of the most magical mental health awareness activities you can do together with your grade school or high school-aged children. By disconnecting from the internet, and therefore, from the too-loud, oft-angry world at large, while up off the ground in a treehouse or even in a silver bullet vintage Airstream trailer in a tree, you can, ironically, set down roots in the things that truly matter: togetherness, conversation, nature, and love.
Bake & Picnic
This indoor and outdoor combination mental health awareness activity is delicious, fun, and essential to spending quality time together with your elementary and high school kids. Use a favorite recipe or try something new, let those baked good cool, then head outside for a picnic.
Spending a night outside, beneath the stars, and in the fresh air is among the best mental health awareness month activities for kids and adults of all ages. You may only leave your door by taking a few steps into the yard, but by reconnecting to the outdoors, you’ll leave the world's worries behind. You probably won’t need a spring camping checklist when you could just run back inside to get whatever you need, but in case you decide to head out to one of the best campsites instead, you’ll be ready!
Word Games and Other Puzzles
After spells where she explored nature and played solitaire and taught herself how to shuffle cards, my youngest kid, a high school sophomore, has landed on playing Wordle every day and doing puzzles to help with her mental health. These are both great mental health awareness activities. She’s also having a positive impact on her friend group, getting them to play word puzzles and having discussions to help each other solve them at the cafeteria lunch table, meaning that she’s sharing mental health awareness activities for high school students that may help them too.
What do fidget toys, aroma therapy through scented hand lotions, and ice cubes have in common? Each are useful activities for mental health awareness month that can help a child, young adult, or grown-up cope with the stress of everyday life. Finding ways to safely self-sooth is essential for many people to get through each day.
Kayaking and Boating
Water isn’t just the essence of life on our planet, it can also have a healing effect on us when we are going through a difficult time mentally. Kayaking and boating activities can boost your mental health, and refresh your body, mind, and soul.
Check out these additional outdoor activities for mental health awareness month if you need a healthy break from your everyday routine