Although it’s completely up to you when and who you talk to about your mental health, it can be helpful and rewarding to talk about it with your kids. It’s a personal decision, and it can be helpful to ask yourself:
What am I worried about?
- What are the good things that will happen if I talk with them about my mental health?
It’s very common to want to protect your children by avoiding talking about your mental health – you don’t want them to feel stressed or burdened. But when kids know what is happening, it helps them to cope better and to understand that if you’re feeling overwhelmed, sad or anxious – it’s not their fault.
Helping your kids develop the skills to be able to talk about mental health means that if and when they face challenges in their own life, they’ll have the tools to be able to talk about it and get support if they need it. Your kids are learning from you every day and by modelling positive support seeking and communication you can make a big difference.
How to talk about it
Think about what you are going to say first and about what they might ask you. Depending on their age, your kids will have picked up what has been happening around you and your home – they can be observant!
The Children of Parents with a Mental Illness (COPMI) website is a fantastic resource where you can find information on how to talk to your child by age.
COPMI suggests three steps to having a conversation with your kids.
Open up – “you might have noticed…”, “you might have been worried about …” Follow with: “This is because I have anxiety/depression/a mental health condition”.
Invite your kids to share their concerns: “Are you worried about anything?” “Have you seen anything that you are worried about?”
Follow up with: “You can talk to me at any time about how you’re feeling and if you don’t want to talk to me about it, that’s okay, you can talk to…”
Keep building on these conversations. You don’t have to talk about it constantly, but be open to answering questions as they arise and talk openly and acknowledge if you’re not having a great day.
Be prepared that your kids might feel embarrassed or awkward about your condition or your behaviour and they might be unsure about how to tell others or invite them into their life or home. One of the main concerns for kids is whether they will develop the mental health condition, although they may not discuss it openly. Again, keeping the door for conversation open can help calm these concerns.
You might need the support of a professional to help you navigate these conversations.
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