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Part of being a parent includes navigating challenging topics with your children. Talking to your child about mental illness is important but doesn’t have to be difficult.

At a young age, children can experience mood disorders and other illnesses. Being able to recognize those symptoms and share them with a parent can make a major difference in a child’s treatment outcomes and overall attitudes toward mental health.

When talking to your child about mental illness, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry recommends:

  • Communicating in a straightforward manner
  • Communicating at a level that is appropriate to a child’s age and development level
  • Having the discussion when the child feels safe and comfortable
  • Slowing down or backing up if the child becomes confused or looks upset

Before talking to your child it is important to educate yourself on the basics of mental illness including causes, symptoms, and the importance of treatment. While it’s important to know the facts, parents don’t need to have all the answers. It’s okay to tell your child when you don’t know something, but work hard to find the answer.

If you notice your child exhibiting any behaviors or symptoms consistent with a mental illness, parents should consult with a school counselor, mental health provider, or doctor right away. Signs to look for include:

  • Feeling sad or withdrawn for more than two weeks
  • Having severe mood swings that cause relationship problems
  • Exhibiting intense worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities
  • Experiencing sudden overwhelming fear for no reason, sometimes with a racing heart or fast breathing
  • Experiencing extreme difficulty controlling behavior, putting himself or herself in physical danger or causing problems in school

One of the most important ideas to communicate to your child is the importance of seeking treatment for mental illness. Just like many physical illnesses, mental illness is diagnosable and treatable. Encourage your child to speak to a trusted adult if they are concerned about themselves or a friend. The more parents talk about mental illness, the better prepared children will be to handle these common concerns.