How to talk about mental health with your child
Earlier this week we revealed that many parents avoid talking about mental health with their children as they don’t know how to address it. Using advice from Time to Change, we look at ways you can do this.
Firstly, it’s worth noting that the discussion needn’t be a long formal conversation – casual, short chats often make a big difference. In many cases, simply showing that you would be happy and willing to talk about the subject is key. If you are worried about bringing up the topic because you feel you know little about it, there are plenty of places you can find out more about mental health, including the Counselling Directory.
Why do I need to talk about mental health?
Around one in four of us will experience mental health concerns every year. One in 10 will do so before they turn 16. Talking about mental health reduces any stigma, encouraging young people to look after their own mental health and ask for help when they need it. As with many health problems, the earlier help and treatment are received, the better the chance of recovery.
Being open about the subject and opening the lines of communication can really help, even if your son or daughter isn’t currently experiencing any mental health problems. Having it as part of everyday conversation means that should they experience any issues in the future, they will feel more comfortable coming to you for support.
What do I need to know about mental health to discuss it?
You do not need to be an expert to be able to discuss mental health. Showing that you care and are open to talking will in itself mean a great deal to your family. If a member of your family is going through a specific mental health problem, you may want to learn more about it to help you understand what they are going through (we offer fact-sheets on mental health conditions in our ‘what’s worrying you?’ section).
If the opportunity arises to talk (and remember, there may be times when your child does not want to talk), the following tips may help:
- Listening should take priority. Simply listening to your child without judgement is often the most important thing you can do.
- Informal talks can help. Bringing the subject up in less formal settings can help to make it more of an everyday occurrence.
- Put experiences in context. Just like physical health, we all have mental health and having mental well-being doesn’t mean we have to be happy all the time.
- Depersonalise. When talking about mental health, you may find it easier to talk about hypothetical situations instead of asking direct questions about your child’s feelings. For example, you could talk about experiences a TV character is going through, or something general like ‘Exams can be very stressful, can’t they?’.
- Hear what is true for them. Even though you may not understand or agree with your child’s feelings or point of view, it’s important to realise that they are true for them in that moment.
Being open to talking, listening and simply being there means a lot. Using everyday words like ‘feeling low’, ‘stress’ and ‘depressed’ can help too, and remember you don’t need to be an expert on mental health. Perhaps you and your family could learn more together?