How to Reach Out - Parents
As a parent, it may be difficult for you to imagine that your children could be struggling with their mental health. Mental health problems are often overlooked because they are not always physically seen, and can be difficult to identify. As well, your child may find it difficult to ask for help because of the stigma attached to many mental health issues. By educating ourselves and others, we can help to reduce this stigma. Like any physical illness, mental illness is not the fault of the person struggling. It is important that they receive the support they need.
How can you tell if your children may be struggling with their mental health?
When mental health problems are left untreated, children and youth may cope in unhealthy ways. It is important to be alert to changes in your child. Here are some potential signs to watch for:
- Change in behaviours, friends, or regular activities
- Difficulty sleeping, or sleeping far too much
- Low energy and motivation
- Frequent outbursts of anger or rage
- Decrease in marks and school performance
- Avoidance of family or friends
- Signs of self-injury
- Use of alcohol or drugs
- Change in personality
- Constant worry or sadness
- Negative self-talk
- Change in physical health and/or hygiene
- Loss of appetite or overeating
- Has experienced a recent loss
What can you do if you notice a change in your child’s behaviour?
If you have noticed warning signs in your child, it is important to talk with them about what specific changes you have noticed. Try to remain caring, open and supportive.
- Write down what you want to say
- Think about what you would do if your child had a negative reaction
- Find out about mental health resources in your community
- Talk to others who are in contact with your child regularly to see if they have noticed similar changes and behaviours
- Talk to other parents who may have dealt with similar situations
- Choose an appropriate time and place to have the conversation
Spend Quality Time Together
It is important for you and your child to have regular opportunities to talk openly.
Here are some ways to open up a conversation with your child:
- Write a letter to your child and have them write you back
- Prepare and eat dinner together
- Offer to help your child with their homework
- Choose a day of the week with your child to have regular one-on-one time together
- Go for a walk together
- Play a game together
- Take interest in healthy hobbies and activities they are interested in
Talk About It
Here are a few things to keep in mind during the conversation:
- Talk about the changes you have noticed. Keep it short and give your children the opportunity to leave the room to gather their thoughts. Make sure you set a time to talk about it later.
- Provide support. Your child needs to feel your genuine support
- Keep calm. Don’t take things personally. Be mindful that your children may be going through a lot. They may do or say things out of anger or disbelief. Help your child find someone who they feel comfortable sharing with (for example, they may be open to speaking with a counsellor or their doctor).
- Be open-minded and non-judgmental. Replace “You have everything. Look at all the people who love you. What more do you want?” with “I love you and I am here for you. No matter what you are going through, we can get through it together.”
- Leave the door open for further conversation. No matter what time of day, it is important to be there for a child who needs you. It often takes great courage for them to open up about their problems.
- Don't give up. Don't accept the answer that "nothing's wrong" if instinct is telling you otherwise. Be persistent and always be loving.
- Connect them with help