Chances are, at some point in life, we will have to confront the issue of mental illness – if not personally, within our inner circle of family or friends. Children in particular may have a difficult time understanding what exactly it means to have a mental health problem. For this reason, it’s important to talk directly with your children and teach them the truth about mental illness.
Television and the media often show many sides of mental illness from moderate conditions to the more severe. Some instances may be exaggerated for a particular show or reality series. Regardless, children may receive false perceptions or not understand how to react to people that they perceive as different. Discussions about mental illness can minimize confusion and help children evolve into more understanding supportive adults.
You may be wondering how best to initiate these types of conversations. Here are a few tips to address issues of mental health with a younger audience:
Let children know that mental illness is like physical illness in many ways. It involves ongoing symptoms and treatment options, including physical symptoms. Let them know that sometimes, however, mental disorders aren’t always obvious from the outside. However, mental illness is not anyone’s fault and may involve seeing a doctor to get better.
Explain to children the importance of tolerance and patience for those who may be different. Let them know what it means to be compassionate and extend empathy to others. This is a trait that will aid them in many areas of life as they mature.
Educate children that mental illness is not something that is contagious. Children whose parents are affected by mental illness may fear that they also may be diagnosed with the same illness. In the instance where the child is experiencing symptoms, it may be necessary to help normalize their feelings and train them to be accepting of support.
If you are concerned someone you love may have a mental health disorder, Family Guidance Center offers mental health assessments on a walk-in or same day basis. To learn more about mental health disorders or how to talk to your children about specific issues of mental health, contact Family Guidance Center.