Today is Bell Canada’s Let’s Talk day…a day designed to get people talking about mental health. Today, for every text message sent, tweet or long distance call, made by a Bell subscriber, Bell Canada will donate 5 cents to organizations that work to support Canadians affected by mental health issues. A pretty easy way to donate to a very important cause. You may, or may not know that before having children I worked as a mental health professional. I worked with people living with various mental health issues…helping them lead fulfilling lives. I have never shied away from talking about mental health. In fact, when my parents separated and divorced, I met with a therapist. When I became my mother’s caregiver, after her diagnosis, I joined a support group. And, after my mother’s death, I joined a bereavement group. So, as my daughters grow and become more aware human beings, I have been thinking a lot about how I can help them understand that mental health is as important as physical health. That struggling, needing help and reaching out for that help is okay.
Talking with kids about mental health
Age appropriate conversation about mental health
The age of your child will very much determine what a conversation about mental health will look like. Pre-schoolers need only a few, brief details. While school aged children will have lots of questions…so be prepared and be honest. Teenagers will also have plenty of questions and will be looking for complete honesty. Teenagers will, more than likely, be sharing your conversation with their friends…your words will go a long way.
Make mental health part of everyday conversations
Mental health was traditionally something that was only discussed behind closed doors. That attitude lead to individuals with mental health issues feeling ostracized. If we can make mental health part of our day to day conversations with our children, we can remove the stigma and the fear. An example, might be talking to children about your experience and struggles with your mental health. It doesn’t have to be anything major; what did you do when you had a hard time coping with a particular situation in the past. How did you handle the situation? What do you wish you had done differently.
What is mental health? What does it look like?
What is mental health? That might seem like a pretty easy question…but it’s not. First, it is important to help children understand that mental health issues effect all types of people; women, men, children, old, young, different ethnicities, different socio-economical levels…everyone. Second, mental health cannot be seen like a physical illness. It’s pretty obvious when a person has a broken leg. When a person is struggling with mental health issues, you might not be able to “see” anything different about the person. Mental health is more about how a person is feeling inside…which is why it is so important to share how you are feeling with others.
Look to books
There are many great books to read with children that deal with a variety of mental health issues. From the very general to very specific mental illnesses.
Author Lynn Steffy has written an amazing collection of books “Felt Feelings” created for children dealing with anger issues, dealing with family conflict and more.
Kari Dunn Bruno is an autism educational expert who has written a book for kids with dealing with anxiety disorders, “When My Worries Get to Big.”
“Can I Catch it Like a Cold? Coping with a Parent’s Depression” by Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
There are also a lot of books for parents to read, about mental health issues children might be dealing with.
“The Bipolar Child: The Definitive and Reassuring Guide to Childhood’s Most Misunderstood Disorder” by Demitri Paplos & Janice Papolos.
“Talking Back to OCD” by Dr. John March & Christine M. Benton
“The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Child” by Ross W. Greene
Talk with an expert
Mental health has been pushed out of the mainstream for so long now, there is a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding floating around. If you don’t have the answers, seek out those who know. A trip to your family physician is a great first step. A conversation with a school councillor is another place to start. Reach out to a mental health organization in your area.
Whatever the reason might be for starting a conversation about mental health with your children, I hope that you will start that conversation. The discussion you have will build trust, lead to greater understanding and lessen the fears around mental health. Beyond that, each conversation opens the door for a child to reveal any struggles they might be experiencing; leading to early diagnosis, treatment and better mental health for everyone.Disclaimer: This post is not intended to be medical advice. Please seek out the assistance of a medical professional if need be.