How should I talk to my children about my mental health?
The only constant to parenting is the challenge of navigating the issues, transitions, and crises. Communication about schedules, vacations, and routine activities set the rhythm for a family. Stress brought on by change can interrupt this rhythm and communication can become strained.
With statistics showing that 1 in 5 Canadians will develop a mental health issue in their lifetime, those parents affected struggle with how to talk to their children, often experiencing feelings of shame, guilt, or embarrassment.
These isolating feelings may lead parents to mask their symptoms from their children in an attempt to protect the established family dynamic. It is not easy to start a conversation with your children about something as challenging as your mental health. However, starting this conversation provides an opportunity for more honest communication with your children which will encourage a stronger bond and the potential for long-term openness.
How to talk to your children about your mental health
- Break the silence – Silence breeds fear, and worse yet, a conspiracy of further silence. Concealing or hiding symptoms – whispering to your partner, sending your children out of the room or stopping conversation when they come into a room only creates a veil of silence and secrecy. These behaviours alert children to the fact that something is amiss but not to be discussed. Children often anticipate the worst and worry accordingly.
- Create a safe place – Establish a comfortable environment where you can share information with your children, where they feel free to ask questions.
- Do not avoid the topic – If a parent shrouds their mental health challenges in secrecy, children will learn to associate mental illness with shame. If depression, for example, is discussed as openly as diabetes, stigmatization is reduced and children feel safer. Look for opportunities to introduce the subject in a casual manner.
- Age-appropriate information – Children need to be reassured that the mental health issue is not a result of something they have done. Let the age and interest of your children set the pace of the conversation.
- Encourage questions – Give your children the freedom to share their point of view and any fears they might have. Answer questions as honestly as possible, but don’t be afraid to set boundaries.
- Normalize mental health issues – Educate your children about mental health to minimize potential feelings of embarrassment and shame.
- Support – Enlist the support of your Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) by calling 1 866 833-7690 or visit workhealthlife.com.
Tags: mental health, mental illness