Talking to Kids on Mental Health

Being a kid is the time when you begin questioning everything around you like if a person is exhibiting unusual behavior. They may be afraid to talk to you about what they have seen or things they have heard of. It is important to be as open with your kids as possible so that you can educate them on mental illness and for them to grow an open mind.

Your child may have seen someone showing some unusual behavior like if someone is talking to themselves or having a panic attack in front of everyone. Or maybe your child has noticed something different about a relative of theirs and does not know how to react or what to say. You also could have heard your kid calling someone crazy. There is still a big stigma when it comes to mental illness with one of the reasons being that adults as well as kids are misinformed about what it means to have a mental illness. It is important for you to feed your children the right information of mental illness. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, one in five adults have a mental illness as well as one in five youth ages 13-18. With such a high amount of people, chances are that your child will one day meet someone with a mental illness and will need to be educated.

It helps for parents to be knowledge about mental health so that they know what to tell their kids. You should be able to tell your child what a mental illness is, who gets it, what can cause a mental illness, how a mental illness is diagnosed, and what treatments are available. It also helps to educate your kids on offensive names like calling someone “crazy,” “wacko,” “disturbed,” “spastic,” “nuts,” or “psycho.” If you hear any of your kids say those names, let them know how wrong it is to say that to a person’s face or behind their back as it is never anyone’s choice or fault that they have a mental illness. People with a mental illness go through a hard time so calling them names will only make it harder for them.

If your kids do not understand the seriousness of a mental illness, it is best to compare it to having a physical illness. When you fall and sprain your ankle, you feel severe discomfort that you cannot ignore. If it gets worse, you can get stretched or torn ligaments as well as develop early arthritis. If a doctor told you all of this, you would not let this sprained ankle go untreated if it can develop long-term treatment. Same goes if you are diagnosed with cancer. You would not let your cancer get worse if it meant you were going to die. You would go through chemo, radiation, or any other type of treatment. Whenever you have a serious illness, it involves going to the hospital. The same thing should happen if you are diagnosed with a mental illness where you see a therapist or take medication for it. Let your children know that mental illness is just as serious as a physical illness and needs to be treated the same way.

You should also let your child know that experiencing anxiety and depression is different than feeling sad or nervous. It is experiencing emotions more intense than what anyone else has felt. These feelings are different than what others feel in that they last a long time and can interfere with work, school, and relationships. It is best not to corner your child into talking about mental illness as they may not want to hear it. You should ease your way into the conversation by mentioning a movie character that the both of you saw on TV that was portraying someone with a mental illness or if a celebrity comes out on the news about their mental illness. You can ask your child how they feel about what they have seen and if they have any questions. If they look up to that celebrity or are really taken with that movie, they will want to know more about it. First it will be about that celebrity or movie character and next, that conversation will have room to grow.

It is also important that you keep in mind how old your child is. Do not go into the biology and science of mental illness if they are too young to understand and do not be quick to assume your child cannot understand mental illness if they are old enough to understand the complexity of emotions. If your child is of school age, make sure to answer any questions they have directly and reassure them that you understand their confusion in what they have heard or seen. If your child is a teenager, engage them in open dialogue. Do not set them aside for a lecture as they will feel like they are being made out to look like the bad guy. Just have a casual conversation with them without expecting anything from your child. Even when it comes to heavy subjects like suicide, do not dismiss the subject if your kids are old enough to understand death. It is important for kids to understand mental illness now so they can develop knowledge and sensitivity towards the people they meet who have a mental illness.

Located in Tacoma, Washington, Bayview Center’s mission is to offer clinically-driven programs and services to treat a number of substance abuse disorders along with anxiety and depression using cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, trauma therapy, yoga therapy, and more for a successful recovery. For more information, please call us 888 570 7154 at as we are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.