May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Pathway joins the national movement to raise awareness and understanding about mental health. Below is information for you to support you and your family to fight stigma, provide support, educate those around you about mental health.
When speaking to your child about mental health as a whole:
- When explaining to a child about how a mental illness affects a person, it may be helpful to make a comparison to a physical illness. For example, many people get sick with a cold or the flu, but only a few get really sick with something serious like pneumonia. People who have a cold are usually able to do their normal activities. However, if they get pneumonia, they will have to take medicine and may have to go to the hospital. Similarly, feelings of sadness, anxiety, worry, irritability, or sleep problems are common for most people. However, when these feelings get very strong, last for a long period of time, and begin to interfere with school, work, and relationships, it may be a sign of a mental illness that requires treatment. (from American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry)
- School-age children: Older children may want more specifics. They may ask more questions, especially about friends or family with emotional or behavioral problems. Their concerns and questions are usually very straightforward. It is important to answer their questions directly and honestly, and to reassure them about their concerns and feelings. (from American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry)
- Teenagers: They are generally capable of handling much more information and asking more specific and difficult questions. Teenagers often talk more openly with their friends and peers than with their parents. As a result, some teens may already have misinformation about mental illnesses. Teenagers respond more positively to an open dialogue which includes give and take.(from American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry)
- Model positive sharing about emotions and challenges: Children, especially when young, will model the behaviors parental figures demonstrate. By being consistently open about the existence and importance of mental health, you can lead by example. Show your child it’s okay to acknowledge feelings by talking about your own. (from NBC News Better: 5/20/19)
- Be transparent about your own mental health issues: If you take as prescribed medication for depression, or see a therapist, or even if you just do yoga to stay sane — share that you do this with your kids to stay mentally fit. (from NBC News Better: 5/20/19)
- Ask questions even when nothing is wrong: While you’ll certainly want to up the ante if your child is showing any of the mental health warning signs listed below, you should be asking your kids questions about their lives every day. The more specific the better. Opt for open-ended inquiries. (from NBC News Better: 5/20/19)
- Resist the urge to fix it: Parents are often quick to offer a solution and want their kids to know that they are eager to help. However, kids are often more committed to a solution if they come up with it themselves. If you jump right to advice, you could shut down the conversation. Ask if [your child] has done anything to improve his/her situation and compliment him/her on their effort. Follow that with a few questions that put him/her in control, such as ‘What else can you try?’. Remind your child that you’re there to help her manage their mental health, and can always speak to their teacher or doctor about the situation. (from NBC News Better: 5/20/19)
When speaking to your child about their personal mental health:
- Make sure you are communicating in a straightforward manner, but at a level that is appropriate to their age and/or developmental level.
- The topic of mental health should be explored when your child is calm and feeling safe/comfortable. Their mental health should not be discussed when they are dysregulated and/or currently struggling to manage their social/emotional needs.
- Listen openly and let your child discuss his/her feelings and/or worries.
If you need help starting a conversation with your child about mental health, try leading with these questions/points:
- Ask your child if they can tell you more about what is happening and how they are feeling. (from MentalHealth.gov)
- Ask if they have experienced feelings like this in the past. (from MentalHealth.gov)
- Let your child know that sometimes they need to talk to an adult about their feelings. Let them know you are here to listen and ask: How can I help you feel better? (from MentalHealth.gov)
- Ask your child if they feel like they want to talk to someone else about their problem. (from MentalHealth.gov)
- If warranted, tell your child that you are worried about their safety and ask if they’ve had thoughts about harming themselves or others. (from MentalHealth.gov)