It all started when I noticed Adam’s behaviour had changed. He became quiet and started to isolate himself, staying in his room more than usual. He was irritable too, getting upset about things which wouldn’t normally bother him so much. Looking back on it now, he was just feeling frustrated – he didn’t understand why he was feeling the way he was.
When he stopped wanting to go to school I assumed he was being bullied, so I encouraged him to share his thoughts and feelings – that’s when he told me he was feeling anxious. He explained that part of his upcoming assessment involved him having to stand up in class to speak, and the thought of it had really affected him. He was worried about his GCSE results too, thinking he would fail everything. Of course, he did really well in his GCSEs, but he’d already entered a state of anxiety and depression.
Adam’s doing much better nowadays, however he’s due to start University in September and he’s feeling anxious about the change in scenery and routine. We’ve talked about his concerns, and I’ve reassured him that he can call me for a chat whenever he wants. I always try to remind him that we all have ‘blips’ – and that’s ok – it’s just about taking things one step at a time.
It was, and still is important to let him know that I’m always here to listen.
I think it’s important for all parents to talk to their children about mental health, because sometimes children don’t understand what they’re going through, and they might not realise they have a mental health problem. When you openly talk about mental health at home it can help them to understand their feelings, and recognise if they or their friends have a problem. Without that, some children can bury their heads in the sand for a long time, which can make things much worse.
Having conversations with Adam about his mental health means I know how he feels now, and he doesn’t bottle things up in the same way. I can recognise the signs that he’s struggling and I’ve identified his triggers – so it benefits both of us to talk.
My tips for parents who want to talk to their child about their mental health are:
- Take little steps. Don’t pressure them into talking or assume you know what is wrong. Start a conversation and if they’re not ready to talk that’s OK. Leave the door open so they know when they’re ready to talk you’re ready to listen.
- Find the right time. We have a big family, so sometimes it’s hard to find the space to have conversations with Adam about his mental health. If you think your child would feel more comfortable speaking to you alone then make arrangements so you can speak to them away from everyone else.
- Talk to your child about the support that’s available. Some children might not know that there are services and other people out there who can help them. If you think they’d feel more comfortable talking to someone else then suggest they could speak to another trusted adult, like a GP or family member.
- Reassure them that they’re not alone. If you’ve had your own experiences of mental health problems like I have, and you feel comfortable talking about them, start by sharing those. Doing so shows you can relate to some of their feelings and situation. Ultimately – regardless of your own experiences - it’s just about letting them know that you’re in this together.