How do I talk to my kids about mental illness?
It is no secret that I struggle with depression. For years I fought it without any help trying to be strong. However, I learned last year that it was time for me to quit trying to be super mom and own my depression. As I have shared about it, I have had parents ask “How do I talk to my kids about mental illness?” I’m going to answer that in a few ways.
Talking About Mental Illness with kids
Before I continue, if you or someone you know is considering suicide please call the suicide helpline. In the U.S. the number is 1-800-273-TALK. Suicide.org has a list of lines for other areas in the world. You can also text the crisis text line. Text HELLO to 741741 to speak with someone. Right now, this post is not the answer you need if you are in the middle of a crisis. Reach out to someone who can help you. You are not alone.
If you are the one with a mental illness.
It can be so hard to balance homeschooling and a mental illness. Not only are you trying to balance the education and emotions of your children, you are working through your own mental health struggles. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Let’s talk about medication.
It’s important to talk to kids about the medication you take for your mental health. Help them to understand that this is just like taking a medicine for any other health condition.
** Educate them about medication adjustments
One of the hardest things about choosing to work with medication to treat your mental illness is the initial adjustment period. It can be very hard and can put you on an emotional roller coaster before things get better.
Take the time to talk to your kids about what they can expect in this season. Don’t burden them with your mental health but prepare them for any emotional shifts. I am currently adjusting to a new medication and it has me really weepy. I have had to explain to my kids that it isn’t their fault, it’s nothing they did, and most of the time, I’m not even sad.
Instead, my body is adjusting to these new medications and I’m working to adjust to them and sometimes crying is just a way my body lets go of confusing emotions.
Own your weaknesses.
With mental illness, it can be easy to blame everything on your diagnosis. What I mean is, “It’s just my depression. It’s only because of my anxiety.” Sometimes as parents we make mistakes. We make big ones and small ones. It can be easy to you use your diagnosis as a copout. I want to challenge you not to do that.
Your mental illness is a part of you but you still have the ability to control how you handle certain situations. If you make a mistake, apologize. Own it and show your kids that even with mental health issues you can still apologize and own your choices.
Don’t overburden your children.
Sometimes parents can overshare about their struggles. Share enough information to help your child find peace but be careful not to overshare. Knowing too much can be scary and overwhelming for children. Feel free to answer questions they have but don’t go beyond what they are ready for.
Teach them how to handle others with mental illness.
One of the hardest things to do as a parent is to teach children how to handle other people who struggle with mental illness. It can be easy to look at anything new or unknown and laugh at it or mock it. Instead, teach them to lead with kindness. If a friend of theirs is struggling with mental illness, they need support more than anything else. Teach them to be the smile in someone’s day. My favorite Doctor Who scene is so relevant here.
Teach them when to speak to an adult.
Our children will encounter people who are struggling with big things that are too big for them to help with or understand. Teach your child when it is important to reach out to an adult. If a friend is in danger of harming themselves, make sure your kids know that they don’t have to keep that a secret. You can also show older children the crisis hotline text number to help them help a friend. In the U.S. the number is 1-800-273-TALK. Suicide.org has a list of lines for other areas in the world. You can also text the crisis text line. Text HELLO to 741741 to speak with someone.
Create an open conversation about mental health.
It can be so hard to talk about an issue as heavy as mental health. Make it safe for your child to come to you if they are concerned about you or about their own health.
Dumbledore says in Harry Potter, “help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it” Do your kids know that of your home? Do their friends know that with you?
How do you address the issue of suicide?
With suicide rates rising drastically in this country, the topic of suicide may come up with your children. Our family lost someone very dear to us due to suicide and I am a suicide survivor myself. It’s important to have an honest conversation about suicide and let kids know they are able to get help if they need to. It’s also important to let them know you will take them seriously if they are having suicidal thoughts and get them help.
I am not an expert!
Please note that I am not an expert. If you are concerned about yourself or your children, reach out to someone for help. You are not alone.