Many parents who suffer from mental illness question whether they should talk to their child about it. Several don’t know where to start, or what to say!
Perhaps you’re one of those parents? It’s normal to avoid talking to your children about your mental illness, in hopes you’ll shield them from any stress, fear or confusion. Yet research suggests that when parents open up to their children about their mental health, it can benefit the child in their coping strategy. They can make better sense of the changes in their parent’s behaviour when they’re unwell and understand that whatever may be happening, it is no fault of their own!
Preparing to talk
Before you speak to your child, you need to develop your understanding of what’s happening to yourself first. Knowing how and what you are feeling is the first step to being more confident when talking to your son or daughter. It would help to discuss your experiences with a mental health professional first, and then evaluate how best to explain them to a child.
There are also lots of booklets, fact sheets and websites that you can read to gain a better understanding and know-how to approach the conversation with your child.
Your child’s understanding
Depending on how old your child is and their stage of development, they will observe you and your behaviour, notice different things and draw their own conclusions from it.
When considering talking to your child, it can be valuable to put yourself in their shoes and analyse the situation from their point of view. Consider what they could have noticed about your symptoms and what conclusions they may have made from them.
Maybe talk to your partner, family member or any other supportive person in your life about how your child is reacting to your mental illness. They might have observed the same symptoms and will know the child well enough to talk it through with you.
Discussing your mental illness with your children will be tough but they will benefit from the conversation in the future. Mental illness and its symptoms can seem scary for a young child, so they must understand their parent is alright but also the severity of your disorder.