Talking to your kids about mental health

Something I have heard a lot of since I have started sharing my own story of being a dad living with Bipolar 2 (both the therapy side and the medication side) has been other parents asking how we start talking to our kids about mental health.

I can understand how this can feel like a lot. Talking to kids about our brains can feel tricky when a lot of the people around us have conditioned us to think that we shouldn't do this. We are taught to think of mental illness as a grownup thing. And even then we are taught that it is something we should only talk about quietly behind closed doors.

Well la-di-da, that's bullshit. Mental health is totally something you can and should talk about with your kids every single day.

This goes for your mental health and theirs. So here are a few of the really simple entry level tips we have used in our house to get conversations going around our mental health.

  1. Talk to them. What an easy thing to say, right? But it's been my biggest truth. Just say something simple like "I went to a doctor to talk about my brain today." Or, "I got some medication for my brain today." These have been some of the easiest ways for me to have conversations with my kids about my own mental health.
  2. We say that we don't always feel great. Sometimes we say we feel sad. Other times we say we feel tired. We don't always say we feel happy and ready to do amazing fun things. Because that just isn't the truth that we live with. That honesty has been really important for us and for them.
  3. Do it often. Make sure you don't rush through one conversation about your own mental health and then never talk about it again. That's not how you normalize something. Have it be part of the things you talk about at dinner or at bedtime or in the car.
  4. Ask about how they are feeling too. We haven't had a problem talking to our kids about stress in their lives even as they are in elementary school. They have stressors too. They get anxious about tests, about friends, about us. They need to be able to find things that work for them when they are angry and when they are sad and happy. We are part of the team that can help them identify these tools.
  5. We talk to them about the word privilege and what that means in this context. I am lucky to have access to medication and to therapy. Not everyone does. Sometimes because these things are expensive. Sometimes because people don't have their symptoms taken seriously. Sometimes for any other number of reasons.