Talking to our children about our mental health issues and the way in which either we, or someone else in our family, is impacted can seem like a monumental task. What do we say? How do we explain that Mommy lost her temper yet again and screamed something awful when just two days she cried and said how sorry she was? How can we talk to our kids in a way they’ll understand about the fact that Daddy can’t get out of bed again today?
How do we teach our kids what’s going on in the brains of people they love when we can barely understand it ourselves, and how do we do it using words they’ll understand?
One thing is sure: kids have questions. Why is this happening? Is it scary? Will I grow up like that? And, the biggest question of all in a young child’s mind, is it my fault?
Fortunately, there are tools at your disposal. I’ve gathered some of my favorites here and more are on the way!
First things first, until I can get the time to put some of my own research in here, let’s let this clinical psychologist tell you why you should be talking to your kids and the best way to go about it.
Children of Parents With a Mental Illness (COPMI) has put together some incredible, and I do mean really incredible videos to sit and watch with your kids of about age 5 and up. Each video is roughly 4-5 minutes long and are presented by two young teen actors who talk frankly and openly about what life may be like living with a parent who has a mental illness. I simply cannot recommend these videos enough. They make sure to stress that the parent is not in control of their disease, the child is not at fault for the actions of the parent, and that there are ways in which the parent can get help and get better. Definitely check the list of available videos at this site out!
While the videos available cover anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, psychosis and schizophrenia, and others, a great place to start is here:
The page also includes links to coping when at school, getting support if you need it, words of advice from other young people, and a whole host of other extras. A definite must.
Here’s a super short video (less than 3 minutes) presented on youtube by Susie Shep on what mental illness is at a very basic level. This is great for kids of all ages and is much more approachable than even the videos from COPMI above. It relates mental illness to general bodily malfunctions like a broken leg or other diseases and explain that, just like in those cases, people just need to go to the doctor.
The goal of this video is primarily to lay the foundational work for ending stigmatization of mental illness before it truly can even take root. Please be aware, stigmatization of mental illness begins much, much earlier than most people think and can happen as early as preschool or kindergarten. This is a great video for ALL parents to share with their kids, whether they are normative or dealing with mental illness.
This page will be updated as I find new and useful videos and articles. If you know of any, please feel free to send them to me! You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Reaching and teaching our children early is a huge step in ending future stigmatization of mental health disorders as well as an incredibly important part of their wellness in growing up in a family where mental illness may be present.
Take good care!