“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” Maya Angelou
When my sons were little, after evening stories and a lullaby rendition of “Jesus Loves Me,” after one more drink of water or scurry to the bathroom, after the final kiss good night, I would close their bedroom door and pause. Laying my hand on the door, I would pray for them, thanking God they were tucked up safe under their covers, asking for them to become the men God created them to be.
Years later, I would go to bed after my “door prayer,” and wet my pillow, because Nicholas’s room had become a place where he was not always safe. The danger in his brain from bipolar depression sometimes made it the place of his greatest temptations, as he struggled there with dark thoughts running in a loop, insomnia, self-harm urges, and suicidal ideation.
I’ll never forget the ache I felt at the thought that my boy was not safe in our home.
While we waited and prayed for treatment to do its work and help Nicholas stabilize, we tried to learn how to make our home a haven as much as possible. We wanted to provide an environment where wellness could increase and be nurtured. Nicholas’s condition was our motivation, but taking steps to make our home more conducive to mental health benefited all of us.
Tips from The website Taking Charge of Your Health and Wellbeing, from the University of Minnesota:
1. Go for comfort
We humans all have a strong need for safety and security and look for those attributes in our environment. We also look for physical comfort, such as an environment with the right temperature, and psychological comfort, where there is a mix of familiarity and stimulus.
2. Cut the clutter
Visual “noise” increases stress. A cluttered, dirty, or confusing environment can cause us to feel worried, sad, or helpless.
3. Delight your senses
Choose colors that you find appealing for your walls and furniture. Place photos and objects with special meaning to you where you see them often.
4. Enhance the light
Natural light is associated with improved mood, enhanced morale, lower fatigue, and reduced eyestrain.
5. Bring nature in
Studies show that even a short contact with nature can significantly reduce stress, reduce anger and fear, and increase pleasant feelings.
6. Reduce the roar
Be mindful about your personal noise production.
7. Don’t forget the garden
Research point to the many benefits of having a garden, and the closer it is to your house and the more you visit it, the more positive effect on stress.
8. Start small
One way to start is to choose a room or corner that you can make into a healing space. If you already have a favorite place that you can use, wonderful. If it has good natural light and a view of the outdoors, even better. Then consider what activities you find most healing and adapt the space to them.”
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extra measures to keep our kids with mental illness safe when they are symptomatic.
With the advice of our kids’ therapists, we may need to consider:
1) Locking up “sharps” (knives, scissors, razors, some tools, rope, pencil sharpeners, etc.).
- Recognize that locking up sharps is a deterrent and commitment to helping kids take time to choose better coping techniques or other help. It is never a guarantee that they will not hurt themselves. If they are determined, they will find a way, and that’s not because we didn’t try hard enough.
- Rubbermaid and other companies sell sturdy cabinets that can be secured with a padlock.
- Try to find a location that is accessible but out of the way for this cabinet.
2) Removing firearms from the home.
3) Moving all screens, phones, computers, iPods, etc. to communal areas of the home.
4) Revamping kitchen and eating environments for kids who struggle with disordered eating.
5) In more extreme cases, installing cameras or locks to keep family members and their belongings protected. These should not be secret, but part of a holistic plan that includes everyone.
6) Going through the kid’s room with him or her. Tina Yeager, LMHC says:
“There’s a point where you’ll say to your child, ‘I love you so much. We’re going to go through your room, not because I don’t trust you, but because I love you. I want you to work with me and we’re going to find things that might be a temptation for you to cause yourself harm.’ Some kids, teenagers especially, are going to be very resistant, but just try to do it as reassuringly as possible.”
None of these tips will cure mental illness that needs medication and other treatment. But a home environment can support healing and recovery. Home can also help parents maintain our own wellness while caring for our kids.
Remember that even when, despite our best efforts, the place we live feels chaotic and stressful, we still have a home in the arms of God. We can always run there for peace, healing, and a loving embrace.