Saturday 7 March 2020

Talking to Your Children about Mental Illness

By Daniel Wittler

We are starting to shine the light on mental illness in America. It’s always loomed and people have been aware of its existence but unfortunately there is a stigma with it as well. The problem with stigmas is that it can hinder people who are suffering heavily from seeking help or admitting it to anyone.

The worst thing for a person with a legitimate mental illness to do is try to handle it by themselves. The stigma needs to be eliminated. How can we as a country eliminate that stigma? By teaching our younger generations about mental health issues in a healthy way.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that:

  • 4 percent of children aged 3 to 17 years (approximately 4.5 million) have a diagnosed behaviour 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

While the numbers are staggering, they are there and represent a good number of children in our country. Even if your kids aren’t diagnosed with anything, it is inevitable that they will have someone suffering from mental illness in their life throughout school or into college. Arming your kids with the facts before they move out of your house can prove to be extremely beneficial.

Of course, there are few better things in life than showing our children all the good things life has to offer, but it is imperative to show them the dark realities as well. It’s difficult to navigate but should be treated very seriously.  

Do Your Research

There are a lot of opinions on mental health which produces a lot of misinformation. Getting your information from official websites is an important move when doing some research before talking to your children. Some high quality resources include:

  • SAMSHA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)
  • NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness)
  • AACAP (American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry)

You don’t need a PhD in mental health to have a talk with your kids about it, but you want to be armed with the facts. Misinformation can go a long way for a kid who is young and soaking everything up around them.

Planting the Seed

Remember, when deciding to first talk to your kids about mental health, you are just opening up the avenue for discussion. Specifics are not necessary and you can stay surface level at first.

Some other tips to remember:

  • Keep it simple and straightforward
  • Make sure to catch your child at a good time, if they are having a bad day or not in a good mood then it’s probably not the best time
  • Stay aware of body language and reactions, let it navigate your discussion
  • Make the information easy to process for your child, getting to in depth may not affect them, but it can confuse them

Once the initial discussion has happened it’s up to you as a parent to carry on the conversation in the future. This isn’t a one-time thing, it’s completely opening up a discussion with your kids about deeper personal issues that you should carry on the rest of your lives. If your kids are growing and feeling different than their peers in a negative way, they need to know it’s okay to voice that concern to their parents.

By starting the discussion of mental illness you can later begin to discuss things like drug addiction with your kids. Addiction and mental illness are a common thing in this country these days, they are referred to as co-occurring disorders.

Mental illness can completely dominate someone’s life if left untreated. Since we have become more aware of its prevalence, we now know that it can start at a young age. Only you as parents can gauge your child’s behavior and overall mood.

If you feel something isn’t right with your children then it’s time to look into it. Opening up a conversation is the first step into tapping into the state of their mental health.

About the Author

Daniel Wittler is a writer in recovery and mental health advocate. He has been living with depression since he was a teenager and has found ways to live and thrive with it. Daniel is a regular contributor to Pax Memphis.


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