Speaking With Your Children About Mental Illness

Speaking With Your Children About Mental Illness

Posted by Daniel Wittler on 17th Mar 2020

We are in a day and age where it is well established that mental illness is a major problem in America. There has been some light shed on it, people under the spotlight of fame have come forward about their struggles mentally. These cases are far and few between but are major strides of eliminating the major stigma mental illness has in 2020.

Why do we need avocation? The absolute worst thing for a person suffering from a mental disorder to do is to try and handle it themselves. Many struggling choose to keep from reaching out for help in hope of fixing it themselves and the results can become devastating. There are many steps our society can take to help fight the stigma of mental illness, I’m going to talk about a specific one today.

For parents, it’s a wonderful thing to be able to show your children all the good that life has to offer and how beautiful the world is. However, it is just as necessary to introduce to them some of the darker realities in life as well. Sheltering your child from things like mental illness or drug addiction can hurt them as they grow older.

The CDC estimates that:

  • 4 percent of children aged 3 to 17 years (approximately 4.5 million) have a diagnosed behavior problem.
  • 1 percent of children aged 3 to 17 years (approximately 4.4 million) have diagnosed anxiety.
  • 2 percent of children aged 3 to 17 years (approximately 1.9 million) have diagnosed depression.

So, of course, the statistics for children isn’t staggering, but inevitably your child will someday come in contact with someone suffering from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or many other disorders. For them to have an understanding of mental health problems before dealing with it themselves or being around someone that has one can be a great advantage for them.

This is a delicate topic that should be treated very seriously as you are preparing to talk about it with your children. It is important to show them that while mental illness is a real thing that many suffer from, it can be dealt with and people can still live a very happy life while battling it. There are many specialized mental health programs available today to those that need it.

Finding Information

There are a ton of opinions and misinformation out in the world today on the topic of mental health. It is imperative to do your homework before having a talk with your kids and establish fact from fiction. There are several great organizations whose main priority is to educate others on the complex topics of mental illness. Some include:

AACAP(American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry)

SAMSHA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)

NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness)

Remember, you are simply looking to introduce the concept of mental health issues with your children, there is no need to get too specific or graphic. They simply need to hear things they can easily process and understand.

For some parents, you may have been living with mental health issues your entire life and have found a way to live with it. This is an excellent time to inform your kids about your struggle and how you persevered. For them to know their own mother and father, who they love dearly, lives with a mental illness and are happy people is as powerful as an example can get.

Initiating The Conversation

It is up to you as a parent to decide what age is the right time for you to bring up this sensitive topic to your kids. Children mature at all different levels at all different ages so there is no formula or research for when is the perfect time to broach them with this topic.

Some pointers to remember:

  • Keep the conversation simple and straightforward
  • Answer all of their questions, if you don’t know something, don’t guess just inform them you will have to look into it and come back to them
  • Stay aware of your child’s body language, their reactions should be able to determine how you navigate through the discussion
  • Make it clear that they can always come back to you if they have more questions in the future
  • Inform them that there is plenty of help for people who are struggling

Once you have had the conversation, it’s time to reflect on how it went and where to go from there. Again, there is no formula or map for how often you should talk about mental illness, it’s up to your parental intuition on how future conversations should go.

For those parents who are living with mental illness, it can also be a time to shed some light on how you got help yourself if that feels like too much information for your kids to process then hold it back. The key is to let your child understand that if they feel different from their peers or find themselves unhappy, that it’s okay and they should inform you of that. Transparency between child and parent is maybe the most important thing to have in the world.

There is no disputing that the way we choose to raise our children as a whole will affect how their generation handles issues in the world when they are older. Educating them on a serious topic like mental illness can normalize it for them so when they have to deal with it or know somebody struggling with it, they won’t be so confused about it. Eliminating the stigma of mental disorders can begin with teaching the future generations, now. 


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