Half of all lifetime cases of mental illness start by age 14, according to the Archives of General Psychiatry. And some scientists believe that changes in the body leading to mental illness may start even earlier, prior to any symptoms appearing. Habits and life routines clearly affect our mental health and well-being; so what can we do to create a better mental health for the children in our community?

There are multiple lifestyle factors that have been identified by research to support overall mental health. The following is a list of important lifestyle variables that affect mental health, according to the National Association of School Psychologists, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and other organizations:

Create an atmosphere of acceptance and belonging: Ensuring all children feel welcomed and accepted results in better self-identification and increased trust within each child. Help build solid, positive relationships between students, staff, and parents. For ideas on how to create an inclusive classroom environment, click here.

Create a safe environment: Providing a safe and secure environment is essential to children’s mental health. This should include a “no-bullying” mandate. “Make sure students interact safely. Monitor bullying ‘hot spots’ in and around the building. Students may be at higher risk of bullying in settings where there is little or no adult monitoring or supervision, such as bathrooms, playgrounds, and the cafeteria,” according to StopBullying.gov. For ideas on how to create a safe learning environment for children, click here.

Promote positivity: Let the children know that you expect them to act with kindness, respect, and responsibility when interacting with others. Tell them that bullying and harassment of others is not acceptable, and spell out the consequences of such actions. Researchers have found that a positive environment can cut down on bullying and disengagement, as well as lessen cultural and socio-economic differences among children, according to Great Good Magazine. The effects of a positive school climate are documented by the National School Climate Center here.

Talk About Diet and Sleep: Do you offer helpful hints that teach children about the importance of eating a balanced diet and getting enough sleep? For more information on a healthy and balanced diet, click here. For a list of suggested hours of sleep based on age, click here.

Encourage Physical Activity: Are there regular opportunities for children to exercise while they are in your care? Good physical health supports good mental health. For more information on physical activity and guidelines, click here.Spend Time Outdoors: Does your organization plan for outdoor activities that include spending time in natural sunlight and away from electronics? Explore outdoor fieldtrip opportunities with the help of San Antonio’s Parks and Recreation Department. If you are interested in programs regarding nature and science within the parks system, please  click here.

Implement a mental health program for children: According to the American Psychiatric Association, “Research has linked these programs to such benefits as reducing anxiety, improving reading scores, reducing bullying at school, and lowering rates of substance abuse in young adulthood.” Find out more about the types of programs organizations offer — including programs aimed at positive behavior, emotion/coping skills, social skills, and self-esteem and self-control — by clicking here.

Encourage resiliency and competency: It’s also critical for good mental health to develop resilience and competency in children. Doing so increases self-esteem and the ability to better handle stress and difficult situations. It also promotes feelings of connectedness with others.

Make it a priority to ensure that your school or organization promotes an inclusive atmosphere, ongoing supportive relationships and programs, and connection with the community. Doing so can improve quality of life while helping to prevent mental health problems for our children.