How do I start a conversation about mental health with my child?

Watch this video and read on to hear top tips from parents about how to discuss mental health with your children

Tips for talking about tricky topics

  • You don’t have to be an expert
  • Some topics can be a bit difficult or awkward to discuss with your children. Perhaps you’re not sure quite what to say, or how your child will respond. For many people, mental health can be one of those topics. You might imagine this kind of response..

Dad, this is so cringe! Are we done talking about this now? Can I go?’

‘Yeah yeah, I know, we learnt about it school.’

‘Do we have to talk about this, mum?’

Here are three things to remember though:

  • Not knowing or understanding is OK. There are places to find out more
  • Being open will almost always help
  • Short chats can make a big difference

Ten Top Tips for Talking

It’s #TimetoTalk about mental health and we have pulled together ten tips to help you to start the conversation:

1. Seize the moment 
It might be over a meal, during a car journey, or during the ad break while you’re watching the telly together. These informal spaces can be great opportunities to talk about serious topics in a more relaxed atmosphere.

2. Explain that we all have mental health
Mental health is about our range of emotions and how we cope with our lives. Our mental health can fluctuate, just like our physical health - over the course of our lives, or even from day to day. 

3. Start small 
You don’t need to set aside hours to chat. Just opening up the conversation makes a big difference.

4. Mental health is positive too 
Mental health isn’t just about mental illness, it is also about wellbeing. You could chat about things that aid wellbeing, like talking, exercise, chill out /'me' time, time away from social media and homework pressures. Mental wellbeing doesn’t mean feeling happy all the time. It’s about feeling able to cope with life’s ups and downs.

5. Talk their language 
None of us are always familiar with the terminology around mental health or mental illness. But young people will most likely be familiar with the idea of feeling stressed, depressed, low or anxious. They might also have encountered eating disorders or self harm among their peers or in the media. Explain that this is part of what we mean when we talk about mental health.

6. Depersonalise 
Research suggests that young people often find it easier to think and talk openly about a hypothetical situation rather than their own feelings and experiences. So, instead of asking them direct questions about themselves, you could ask ‘how someone might feel who is stressed about XYZ?’ You could talk about soap opera, tv or book characters. 

7. Link to other types of stigma and discrimination 
Explain that just as other types of prejudice or discrimination (such as discrimination on the grounds of race, age, gender, sexual orientation or disability) are unacceptable, so is mental health stigma and discrimination. We can make a real difference by being open-minded and non judgemental.

8. Show you’re happy to talk and listen 
Above all, let your child know that if they are worried about their own mental health – or the mental health of someone they know – they can come and talk to you about it and you will be there to support them.

9. Learn together 
It’s OK not to know or understand things. You could always suggest that it’s something you can learn about together. The websites and organisations here are great starting points. 

10. Check out our resources 
There are lots of resources on the internet, and you might find it useful to hear from people who have had these types of conversations with their children before. Find out more tips on starting your conversation with your child with our Parent leaflet.