Mental health is often stigmatized, especially when it comes to youth. Mental Health America’s 2023 survey on the state of national mental health found that more than 2.7 million youth are experiencing major depression, with 60% of them not receiving treatment. The matter of mental health covers a variety of issues, making it challenging to address at times. As a parent, you bear the responsibility of educating your child about mental health and promoting mental wellness. Having these kinds of conversations can be a bit difficult, considering the sensitive topics involved and the potential discomfort that may arise.
Why Talking About Mental Health is Important
Physical health is often emphasized, with doctors recommending annual check-ups to make sure the body is functioning properly. However, many fail to prioritize mental health. Mental health issues are often pushed under the rug or dismissed, as people believe that they do not hold the same weight as physical health issues. Doing so can have serious consequences for individuals and society as a whole. Unaddressed mental issues can manifest into disorders, as well as lead to physical problems.
Starting the dialogue between parents and children is the first step to addressing mental health concerns. It is essential to build a rapport with your child; you want them to trust you and feel comfortable confiding in you about topics that they may feel embarrassed or ashamed about. You should aim to become a resource for your child by providing them with information, guidance, and support.
Speaking more broadly, having open and honest discussions about mental health can help reduce the societal stigma associated with it. The stigma can make it difficult for people to want to seek help, but by normalizing mental health and making it more accepted in mainstream society, more people may feel comfortable seeking help without fear of judgment or discrimination.
Ways Parents Can Bring Up the Topic of Mental Health
Here are 5 ideas of how parents can begin the conversation with their children about mental health:
- Start with the basics: The topic of mental health can be completely new to some children—especially for ones of younger ages. You can begin by explaining what mental health is and why it is important to take care of one’s mental health. If your child is struggling with the concept, using real-life examples could make it more relatable and digestible. It is also helpful to dispel any misconceptions that they may have about mental health. That being said, the main takeaway your child should get is that mental health is a normal aspect of being human and should be prioritized when it comes to overall well-being.
- Use age-appropriate language: Mental health is a complex topic, so it is important to explain it in a way that is easy for your child to understand. Depending on your child’s age, you may need to tailor your approach to mental health education—as they may not understand every concept that is presented to them. Younger children would benefit from learning about broader concepts in simpler language, while older children could get more granular in terms of specifics and benefit from more in-depth discussion about different mental health conditions and treatments.
- Share your own feelings: As a parent, it is important to model healthy behaviors for your child, and this includes being emotionally expressive. Children—younger ones in particular—tend to pick up behaviors from their surroundings. By sharing your feelings, you are showing them it is acceptable to share both positive and negative emotions. In the long-run, this will be to their benefit; they are more likely to develop healthy coping mechanisms and be more emotionally intelligent.
- Promote healthy habits: Encourage your child to engage in activities that promote good mental health. Examples include: exercise, mindfulness, meditation, and healthy eating. Children in school can be easily overwhelmed when it comes to balancing their academic workload and social connections; it is important to make sure your child is not feeling overly stressed or burnt out. If that is the case, consider letting them take a “mental health day.” This is a day off from school where your child can recharge and relax; the purpose being to provide them with a break if needed.
- Create a safe environment: A safe environment is one where children feel welcomed, valued, and heard. Creating an environment where your child freely expresses their feelings requires mutual trust and openness. If your child refuses to talk about mental health, that is okay. Be cognizant of your child’s emotional capacity and respect their boundaries. Your responsibility is to be there for them by offering your support and empathy, and also to listen when they are ready to speak. Help your child understand that their feelings are valid and they will be more likely to open up in the future.
How Student Hires Can Help
Here at Student Hires, we understand the importance of prioritizing one’s mental health. We hope to educate and equip students with the proper resources and tools to manage stress and anxiety effectively. We partner with schools, districts, universities, and employers to create experiential K-12 after-school, summer, and youth educational programs led by local college and university students. Our vision is to help shape students into well-rounded individuals with strong academic and interpersonal skills, ready to pursue higher education or enter the workforce. Through our programs, we aim to promote mental wellness and provide students with the support and resources they need to thrive.
Mental health education is not a required curriculum in all schools. This places the burden of educating children about the topic on parents, as parents play a crucial role in promoting their child’s mental health. Whether that be introducing different mental health concepts or just listening to what their child has to say, any effort is a step towards destigmatizing mental health. By implementing mental health education, children will understand the importance of positive mental health and high emotional intelligence; and in the case that they are struggling, they will either be equipped with the necessary tools to navigate their emotions or be comfortable with seeking help.