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How to Talk to Children & Teens About Mental Health

Explore helpful ways to have conversations with young people about mental health.

It can be challenging for a child or teen to share their concerns about mental health with parents or a trusted adult. When your child opens up about their thoughts, feelings, or questions about mental health, the best way to respond is with empathy and a willingness to listen. There is a good chance that your child is feeling vulnerable, and it has probably taken them time to work up the courage to speak to you.

“Inviting communication about mental health experiences encourages children and youth to feel comfortable in their own bodies and builds understanding that we all have mental health needs,” says Lisa Trickett, Manager of Clinical Programs at Diversus Health. “It is important to take care of our mental health just like we do our physical health.”

Below is a list to help guide you when you are uncertain of how to talk to children and teens about mental health:

1. Listen

Actively pay attention to your child or teen when they are talking to you about their mental health concerns. Bend down to your child’s level when talking to them or sit together so you can maintain eye-contact. Avoid distractions like screens and your phone.

2. Ask if they think they need help and support them

Asking your child direct questions will help you gather more information about how they are feeling and thinking. Ask them if they have thought about what they might need to feel better and offer to support them. Continuing listening and talking through their worries.

“I encourage parents to be a detective by asking both direct questions and open-ended questions like, ‘What has been bothering you?’ to help encourage discussion in a non-threatening way,” says Trickett. “Avoid questions like, ‘Why do you feel that way?’ because the word ‘why’ can come across as shaming or judgmental.”

3. Educate yourself so you can help them learn about their mental health

If your child brings you information, read it. Learn as much as possible about your child’s concerns, mental health condition, and the realities of mental health disorders. You may consider speaking to a professional mental health provider at Diversus Health to get started.

4. Keep your conversation confidential

Unless your child discusses something life-threatening, keep your conversation confidential. Children, especially teens, can be sensitive to judgement, self-conscious, and embarrassed about how they think and feel.

5. Normalize

Assure your child that having a mental health issue is common. Normalize speaking about mental health in your family and encourage treatment options to help your child get better.

6. Acknowledge fear

Whether the fear is yours or your child’s, acknowledge what you are feeling. As a parent, it is important to confront the mental health stigma directly. Let your child know that it is okay to not be okay all the time.

7. Encourage them to talk to a professional

Encourage your child to talk to a professional about their mental health and assure them that their conversations will be confidential. Offer to go with them to speak to a provider and support them on their journey to healing.

8. Prepare to be an advocate

It takes time and effort to ensure you are getting the best care for you, your child, and your family. Prepare to be an advocate for your child and their mental health challenges. Let them know that they can rely on you for help or to talk when they need.

*If you or a loved one is struggling with their mental health, contact us to request an appointment with one of our professional mental health providers at Diversus Health to get started today. If you need immediate assistance, call our crisis hotline at 844-493-8255, or text ‘TALK’ to 38255.

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