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Explaining Mental Illness to Children

Children of all ages are naturally curious and constantly asking questions. We, as adults, need to be attentive and take the time to listen. The generation now, is exposed to the awareness of mental illness, more than previous generations.

It’s our responsibility to help educate our children about the world around them.

When I was a child, no one explained to me what was happening with my father, who lived with manic depression. It was terrifying to see what was happening and had no one to ask. I do recall my grandmother telling my brother and I, when we were old enough, that dad had gone to lots of psychiatrists and doctors when he was a teenager, and was diagnosed with manic depression. He was diagnosed in the 1950’s and mental health was not discussed, my grandmother told us about it in the 1990’s and was still not discussed. We’re in 2017 now and more and more people are discussing mental health but there is still a lot of discussion needed; among the workplace and especially in the school systems.

A few tips for talking to a child about mental illness/mental health;

1/ Keep their age in mind. The younger they are, the less information should be provided but so they understand. For eg. “Daddy’s brain gets sick and needs to go to the doctor, just like when you get sick”.
2/ Simple is better. Just letting them know that someone has something wrong with their brain but it’s being taken care of. If it’s involving a family member, reassure them it’s not their fault.
3/ Let the child start the conversation. They will ask you certain questions when they’re ready to know. Only provide simple answers that are easy for them to understand.
4/ Share resources. Sit down and share resources; YouTube videos, children’s books, watch movies with a mental health topic – Inside Out is a perfect example.

Children are very fragile but curious and need to be reassured that no question is stupid or silly and it’s okay with saying how they feel.

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