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How to Talk with Your Kids About Mental Health Issues

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Over the last few months, I have had the privilege of writing about the Each Mind Matters Movement and trying to help take away some of the stigma that goes along with mental illness issues. The Each Mind Matters Movement is doing a great job of bringing prevention and early intervention to those in need, providing local programs & making sure that underserved audiences are a priority, because no matter what race you are, how much money you make or where you live, everyone can benefit from improved mental health!

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So often in the news, we hear about kids committing or attempting suicide for a variety of reasons. The ages of these kids keeps getting younger & younger, it seems. As adults, we not only need to be honest with kids about our own mental health struggles, but also to let our kids know that getting help for themselves is also OK and no matter what they have questions about in regards to their mental health, asking those questions and seeking help is ALWAYS better than not saying anything.

Talking to kids about this kind of stuff isn’t always easy though. Every child is going to respond to different things & different approaches. A few years back, I heard a speaker at a conference for the charter school my kids were going to attend. I wish I could remember his name because I really like what he had to say. He was talking about the differences in boys and girls and how if you were to take a look at high school during lunchtime, a lot of the times, you would see a group of girls all huddled together talking. But, a group of boys would usually be standing side by side, sometimes leaning against a wall but usually not looking at each other eye to eye. He said that that is how he talks to his kids and I’ve started doing that too. When I need to talk to my son, who is 15, I find it best to do so as we’re driving somewhere in the van. This way, we’re side by side and he seems to respond better. With my daughter (who is 11), I find that it’s better to go somewhere, away from the house, where we can sit and talk to each other face-to-face, without any disruptions. Again, every child is different but that is what works for us.

Also, if there is a certain subject I need to talk to my kids about & it’s a sensitive matter, I try to collect my thoughts and wait a little bit until I have thought it out. Trust me when I say I am FAR from perfect when it comes to this but I’ve noticed that when I have calmed down or have my thoughts altogether, my kids react better too.

In the past when I have gone to therapy or been on medication for depression & anxiety, I don’t hide it from my kids. Obviously, I won’t tell them everything I talk about in counseling but I don’t let depression & anxiety stay a family secret. When I am anxious about something, say an important doctor appointment, I’ve let them know that I am anxious and why. They can sense it, they’re smart kids…telling them “everything is fine” or not letting them know anything, is pretty much telling them to lie & not be honest about their own mental health.

We can end the stigma of mental health issues, not only for ourselves but for our kids as well. If you head on over to the Each Mind Matters website, you can find an area to pledge to join the movement.

Ending the stigma associated with mental illness is a personal choice. We have to decide for ourselves that each mind really does matter. Each one of us must determine what we will do to make a difference.

If you’re ready to step up and join the movement, here are a few ideas:

  • Landlords and Employers: You can pledge to provide reasonable accommodations for people living with mental health challenges.
  • Medical Care Providers: You can pledge to talk with your patients about their mental health and provide referrals as needed. Physical and mental health are closely related!
  • Parents and Family Members: You can pledge to listen with care as your loved ones share their challenges with you. Your support can make all the difference.
  • Young People: You can pledge to stand up for people who are being treated differently because of their mental health conditions. You can be a friend to a person who feels completely alone.
  • Everyone: You can pledge to watch your language. Words like “crazy,” and casual uses of “bipolar” or “schizo” are profoundly hurtful to someone struggling with mental health challenges.

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