Tips for talking about mental health

Tips for talking about mental health

It can be difficult for children and their families to talk about mental health. However, experts encourage parents to bring up the topic so that it isn’t left to the child. According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, about 1 in 5 Canadians will experience mental illness at some point in their lives, with 70% experiencing symptoms before the age of 18. 

While everyone can have bad days or weeks, it’s important to pay attention if your child has longer periods of anxiety or low mood. According to Sunnybrook Hospital, signs of depression can include: 

  • Sadness/Irritability 

  • Low energy/Fatigue 

  • Low motivation/interest 

  • Poor concentration 

  • Change in appetite or sleep 

  • Difficulty managing stress 

  • Thoughts of death  

A mother and daughter discutingTo prepare for a conversation with your child about their mental health, it can be helpful to plan in advance. You may want to talk to a doctor or mental health professional about any concerning behaviour and find out about resources and services that might be available to your family.  

Begin a discussion with your child by asking them in an open and accepting way how they are doing. Remain calm and create an opportunity for your child to share their feelings openly without judgment. It can also be helpful to teach your child about the symptoms of anxiety and depression, so that they can identify normal feelings of stress and when it might be time to reach out for help. To learn more, visit Sunnybrook Hospital’s article on “How to talk to your kids about mental health.”

Some young people, particularly teens, might be more comfortable discussing their concerns with a doctor or nurse rather than a parent. Allowing time for your child to talk to their healthcare provider alone gives them a chance to discuss issues they might be hesitant to raise in front of you. Their care team will know how to respond and what supports to provide. 

If your child is young or has already spoken to you about some of their concerns, you might want to bring up the topic of mental health with your child’s pediatric rheumatology team. Write down any concerns ahead of time. Take the time to make a list of key points that you would like to address, as this can help you remember what to ask. During the appointment, take notes and ask questions. You may need to reflect on choices and resources before deciding on next steps, so having personal notes can assist you in this process.