Tomorrow marks the start of Children’s Mental Health Week 2019. This week was established by Place2be (a charity raising awareness of children’s mental health) in 2015. The work they do is so important as many people don’t realise that as many as 1 in 10 young people have a mental health problem and half of all mental health issues begin before the age of 14 (Mental Health Foundation). Now think of the statistics we hear all over the media in regards to adult mental illness. How many children are growing up living with, or having regular contact with, a member of family experiencing a mental illness? This only begins to justify the importance of discussing mental health with children- but what is the best way to do it?
What do I say?
It’s difficult to talk to children about topics that can be upsetting as we naturally want to protect them. Parents in particular want their children to grow up in what they think is a ‘perfect world’- but it is essential that mental health is discussed at an early age to ensure that children feel comfortable talking about their emotions and begin to understand reasons why we may feel different depending on the circumstances. When talking about mental health ensure not to generalise this as always negative. It’s equally important to talk about good mental health and self care as well as mental ill-health. We all have mental health which fluctuates on a daily basis (at least!). Similarly, children should be aware of the difference between natural emotions and mental illness. Examples may be teaching that nerves are OK, anxiety is OK, being sad is OK- it’s when these feelings start to alter the way you live and seem to be over-whelming that we may need to look in to this further. Despite this, if children learn from a young age that we are accepting of all emotions- they will feel comfortable talking about it whether they are worried about the feeling or not.
Children will often approach you to discuss mental health. Although It may be difficult, especially if you have an emotional attachment to the child, make a conscious effort not to react or act shocked at anything they say. Ensure they feel listened too and don’t try to solve the problem. Don’t be judgemental and answer any questions truthfully. As my Mam always said, “If you’re old enough to ask the question, you’re old enough to know the answer”. Remember that simply by allowing them to have that conversation has already helped more than you’ll realise.
How do I say it?
When talking about mental health with children don’t over-complicate it. Don’t use technical terms or names of diagnosis’ unless they already have this knowledge (or have heard it and want it to be explained). Use age appropriate terminology and adapt your approach depending on their level of understanding. You could raise awareness of mental health in ways that would attract their attention- such as using examples involving characters from their favourite films.
If the topic of conversation makes you uncomfortable, or may make the child feel uncomfortable, you could talk about this informally whilst involved in another activity. This leads to less pressure and allowing everyone involved to feel more relaxed.
When do I have the conversation?
Talking about mental health shouldn’t be a one-time thing. You should talk openly about mental health, including how you’re feeling and why. Children will pick up on this and reflect what they see- hopefully by naturally beginning to talk about their emotions too. Talking about mental health daily will normalise it and give your children a head start in maintaining their own positive mental health throughout their lives. The earlier they understand, the earlier they can develop their own helpful coping techniques. Lets end the stigma before it begins.
This year, ‘Place2be’ have a Child Mental Health Campaign of ‘Healthy: Inside and Out’- reinforcing the significance of mental health as well as physical health and outlining how they are closely linked. Visit their website by clicking here to see resources for schools, assembly guides, group activities, information for parents/carers, posters, bunting and social media posts.
You can also find more information and resources useful for children on the following web pages:
Let’s raise as much awareness as we can for Children’s Mental Health Week (starting tomorrow!).
Until next time,
Love, Kayleigh Rose x