A child’s mental illness presents many challenges for parents.
Managing symptoms, finding the best treatment and navigating the insurance system are just a few of the hurdles parents face. Talking to family members about your child’s mental health disorder is another task that can seem a bit overwhelming at first. However, with an honest, open approach and a few guidelines to keep in mind, you can have healthy and productive conversations.
Having a conversation about mental illness
Talking about mental illness can be tough for anyone, but it can be especially challenging if it is your own child you are talking about. People have a lot of preconceived notions about mental illness, and these opinions can come across as judgmental and harsh at times.
However, this might just come from a place of misunderstanding. This is why conversations about mental health are important — they can educate others and foster a supportive environment in the long run.
Clear up misconceptions
Mental illness is shrouded in misconceptions and misinformation, and it’s important to separate the facts from the myths when talking to your family members. Children may not fully understand the concept of mental illness and may require additional reassurance from their parents.
When speaking with your children about their siblings, do so in a way that does not embarrass or belittle; speak truthfully and factually in a way that is appropriate for the ages of your other children. Allow them to ask questions and answer them with honesty — the more they understand, the more supportive they will be.
Additionally, other family members may have preconceived notions of how it will be best to treat the diagnosis; thank them for their desire to help, but be firm in the choice to allow your child’s therapist to talk the reigns on the best treatment methods.
Maintain an ongoing dialogue
Talking about your child’s mental illness isn’t a one-time event. It’s important to keep clear and honest communication going, long after the initial diagnosis. Acknowledge that your child’s condition brings changes to the family, and be open to hearing about the effect this is having on the household.
Siblings might feel like they’re not getting enough of your attention; they might also feel frustrated by any additional responsibilities they’ve had to take on. Carve out a bit of one-on-one time with each of your children when possible, and don’t forget to tell them how much you appreciate their help and support.
There are so many benefits to understanding mental illness, especially the one your child is battling. Take the time to not only educate yourself but your children and family as well in order to be the best support system you all can be. The National Alliance on Mental Illness is a great educational resource, providing fact sheets and other helpful information for people of all ages.
By taking the time to learn, you and your family will be able to understand the way in which the mental illness is affecting your child’s life, allowing you to be both compassionate towards their situation and proactive in getting them the help they deserve.
When it comes to extended family, you may feel like their thoughts, opinions and even their desire to help actually gets in the way. While there is a time and a place for conversations about your child, there is also an importance in setting boundaries for the sake of your child’s wellbeing.
Allow aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins to help when it’s appropriate, but also don’t be afraid of saying no. Even the best-intentioned advice may not align with the treatment plan designed for your child, and healthy boundaries will minimize confusion and conflicting opinions.
Why is it hard to talk about mental illness with family?
On paper, having open dialogues, setting boundaries and educating family can seem straightforward. But in reality, it is often more challenging than that.
For example, it can be very difficult to talk with grandparents about mental health, as self-care and mental health treatment can be relatively forward-thinking topics to older generations. However, it’s important to remember two things in particular: you don’t need to take everyone’s advice and you don’t have to share every piece of the story. Continue making the best choices for your child and let everyone else’s opinions go.
Additionally, it might feel very vulnerable sharing information about your child’s mental health diagnosis as many conditions have environmental, social and even genealogical components/causes. People might cast judgment, but that shouldn’t affect your choices for your child. People will always have their opinions; focus on what you can control, that is, the information you share.
Always remember that you don’t need to share every detail with every family member — be prudent in reaching out to the people you know will offer support, and only make choices that will benefit your child’s mental health.
Looking for mental health treatment?
If you are seeking mental health treatment for your child, or are feeling drawn to talking with a counselor yourself to help you manage your own thoughts and emotions during this time, consider reaching out to The Light Program. To learn more about family and individual counseling call us 610-644-6464 at to learn more.