The Importance of Talking to Your Kids About Mental Illness

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The Importance of Self-Love and Self-Acceptance

“No one would feel embarrassed about seeking help for a child if they broke their arm – and we really should be equally ready to support a child coping with emotional difficulties.” –Kate Middleton

There are many awkward (yet very important!) topics that every parent needs to talk about with their kids: sex, abuse, periods, racism, homosexuality, divorce, death, and… mental health issues. Yes, mental illness is one of those topics that are worth discussion.

Experts say that modern children are at higher risk for mental issues than previous generations because of social media pressures, cyber and offline bullying, and body image concerns. The statistics on children’s mental health are shocking:

  • 1 million U.S. kids received an ADHD diagnosis
  • 5 million kids have a diagnosed behavior problem
  • 4 million kids have diagnosed anxiety
  • 9 million have diagnosed depression.

Do you still doubt that you should discuss mental health issues with your kids? Here are four reasons that will convince you to overcome the awkwardness and start a conversation today.

Safeguard a child’s mental health

According to World Health Organization statistics, worldwide 10-20% of children and adolescents experience mental disorders. It’s known that half of all mental illnesses begin by the age of 14 and three-quarters by mid-20s. If kids do not receive adequate treatment, mental illness negatively affects kids’ educational attainments and their potential to live fulfilling and productive lives.

As a parent, you can prevent your child from having mental health problems if you stop avoiding uncomfortable conversations about mental issues. You will help your kids a lot if you address their worries and explain the following:

  • Mental health issues are as real as physical illnesses like cancer or stomach flu, and that they’re very common among kids and adults.
  • Mental illness can be treated with the help of specialized therapy and pills, and most people do get better.
  • Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. Your child should never feel ashamed of seeking psychological help.

Besides, you should explain to your kids that they shouldn’t bottle their feelings. If they feel sad or depressed, they should find someone to talk to. If they don’t want to discuss a specific topic with you for some reason, they should speak to their friends, school counselor, or relatives.

Help your child to stop feeling guilty

If you, or your spouse, or another close family member has mental health issues, you should talk to your kids. Here is why.

Firstly, truth, openness, and honesty are always the right choices. Secondly, if you decide not to disclose the diagnosis, your children may develop worries that can be much worse than the reality.

Besides, your children may blame themselves for the illness of the person they love. They may think that if they had behaved better, studied harder, and helped more around the house, their parents wouldn’t be so sad or angry.

If you don’t want your kids to suffer, you should do the following:

  • Reassure your kids that the illness of the close person is not their fault. They shouldn’t blame themselves or feel guilty.
  • Explain to your children that they shouldn’t take the bad words or anger expressed by a mentally ill person to heart.
  • Reassure your kids that you love them no matter what and apologize for your (or your spouse’s) inappropriate behavior caused by your illness.

Prevent youth suicide

You should understand that the mental illness of your child or family member may cause many problems in your life. But the worst thing is that mental health issues may drive your child to suicide.

Teens who struggle with mental health disorders, or whose parents have mental illness tend to commit suicides more often than other teens. And the only right way to prevent suicide is to be open with your kids and to answer all the questions they have related to mental health.

“If you teach your kids to acknowledge their positive and negative emotions and to share their worries with others, they will have more strength to go through difficulties. They will less likely think about committing suicide, and more likely to ask for help,” says Joanne Denney, a psychology writer and editor.

Raise tolerant, inclusive kids

If no one in your family suffers from mental health issues, that’s great. But it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t talk to your kids about mental illness. If you want to raise tolerant, inclusive kids, you should discuss this important topic.

First of all, you should explain to your kids that it’s impossible to catch a mental illness from another person. So they shouldn’t be afraid to communicate with kids who have mental health issues.

Secondly, you should ask your children to treat ill people with respect. Even if mentally ill kids or adults behave weirdly, it’s not allowed to laugh at them or bully them.

Thirdly, you should encourage your kids to look out for their friends and provide them with moral support if necessary.

Ideas to encourage conversation about mental health illness

If you don’t know how to start an uncomfortable conversation with your kids here are a few tips for you:

  • Invite your kids to watch a movie that features a character with mental health issues – that will be a good conversation starter.
  • Get kids off devices. Make sure that nothing distracts them from the conversation.
  • Choose the right words to describe people who have mental health issues. Do not use and don’t allow your kids to use such words as “crazy”, “psycho”, or “nutter”.
  • Gift your child a book that addresses mental health issues, for instance, “Up and Down the Worry Hill” by Aureen Pinto Wagner, or “The Princess and the Fog” by Lloyd Jones.
  • Encourage your kids to ask more questions. Be open to new conversations.

As a parent, you should help your kids should learn more about mental illness. So don’t hesitate to start the conversation right now! Provide your children with all the information today – and they will know how to overcome the problems in the future.


Guest Writer Bio


Daniela McVicker is a psychologist and family counselor. She is also an experienced writer with a degree in social psychology from Durham University. Daniela is primarily focused on writing about self-improvement. She has authored a number of insightful and motivating articles like “Making The Right Choices Every Day” and “7 Steps To Open Yourself To New Opportunities & Possibilities”. You can also check her last review of Grabmyessay.

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