Talking to Kids About Mental Illness
Many people aren’t sure whether or not to talk to kids about mental illness. When I was younger my aunt had frequent hospitalizations due to mental health issues, but I was told she had a sore back. I guess my family thought mental illness was an inappropriate topic to talk to a child about. In hindsight, I think it could have been a positive conversation if I had been told about my aunt’s mental illness — here’s why.
Talking Can Normalize Mental Illness for Kids
I had never heard of mental illness when I was a child, and this made it hard to identify my own symptoms of severe anxiety when they reared their head in my teenage years. When my anxiety got very bad at age fourteen, I didn’t feel as if I had anyone to talk to about it and turned to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as substance abuse. Perhaps if I had known that my aunt had experienced the same thing, I might have been able to open up to her. Talking to kids about mental illness gives them the tools to examine their own mental health as they grow older.
Because my aunt’s mental illness had been kept so quiet, I internalized the assumption that mental illness should be a secret. When my brother was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, I tried to keep his conditions hidden from those around us. I realize now that this need for secrecy was not motivated by a desire to protect my brother’s privacy (as is his right), but actually because of stigma against mental illness. Talking to kids about mental illness gets rid of the sense of shame that can hang over mental health diagnoses, and makes them as normal as any other condition.
Talking to Kids About Mental Illness Gives Them Hope
I found out a few years ago that my aunt received fantastic treatment for her chronic depression during her inpatient stays, and now considers herself to be in full recovery. Her story is a hopeful one that I wish I had fully known when I started experiencing anxiety, and when my brother became ill. Hearing about the experiences of others makes us feel less alone in our struggles and takes away some of the scary unknown of mental illness. Talking to kids about mental illness can teach them at a young age that a diagnosis does not mean the end of the world, and there are options for mental health treatment.
I passionately feel that we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of talking to our kids about mental illness. What are your thoughts? Share them in the comments.