One of the fears we have as parents is that by exposing our children to the reality of our brokenness (our fears, our shortcomings, and yes, even our mental illness), we’ll be unnecessarily burdening them. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The following are four reasons why I’ve refused to let mental illness be a taboo topic in our household:
1. People who pretend to always be strong, raise people who pretend to always be strong
It’s not wrong to want to be strong for your children. The problem lies in our definition of “Strong”. Usually what we actually mean by strong is super human. It means we don’t cry when things get hard, we don’t admit when we make mistakes, we say everything’s alright when it’s not.
When our kids grow-up, they’ll look back at their time in our care. If mom or dad never showed a sign of weakness, then how can they? They’ll decide that they, too, have to be strong at all costs.
The best thing we can do is show them that being strong doesn’t mean we’re unaffected when things get hard. It means that we fight to endure when those hard things come.
2. It will help them know when it’s time to get help, should they ever need it
Psychiatric disorders are highly heritable. In some cases, as high as 80%. It’s entirely possible that one of my children may grow up to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, or some other condition. While I may not be able to protect them from it, my example may help to prepare them for it.
So I let my kids see what needs to be done to pursue healing. I talk about the importance of not missing a psychiatry appointment, even when I feel like staying home. When they ask why I’m taking a pill, I talk to them about what it is and why I need it (and how I set reminders to ensure that I never miss a dose). I’ve even let them meditate with me before bed.
3. It plants the seeds for a future where mental health stigma doesn’t exist
When we openly discuss mental health issues in our home, we’re normalizing something that should never have been perceived as abnormal to begin with. I want my children to think about depression the way someone might think about the flu, difficult and painful, but never shameful. I want them to feel free to speak about their anxieties as routinely as they’d talk about the weather.
By talking about our struggle, we give them the tools they need to talk about theirs, both now and as adults. We also equip them to make room for others who may not be as comfortable bringing an invisible disability to the light.
4. It helps them to know that what you’re experiencing is not their fault
Kids are incredibly observant (even when we really don’t want them to be). That means that even if you’re not talking about the source of your symptoms, they’re still able to see the symptoms themselves. If we’re not able to talk through what’s happening, we can actually produce anxiety without intending to.
Take depression for example. Your kids are going to notice a major shift in mood. They’ll notice when you don’t want to play anymore, or when you’re spending more time in bed than usual. As a result of that observation, they’ll try to determine the cause. They may link your mood to something they did wrong, or they may become concerned that you’re not telling them about something they should be worried about (impending divorce, loss of job, etc…)
Instead, you can let them know that there’s a reason behind your low mood, and it’s not them. You can use the opportunity to remind them how much you love them, and how nothing they could do would result in you trying to spend less time with them.
These are a few of the reasons why I recommend talking with your kids about your mental illness, but I want to end with this. Regardless of my opinion, talking about your mental health is a decision only you can make, and only when you’re ready. So while you have my encouragement, you also have my understanding if you say, “You know what? Now’s not the right time.”
Jared Carter lived with undiagnosed mental illness for sixteen years before finally seeing a doctor and being diagnosed Bipolar I. He uses his experience to decrease the stigma surrounding mental health so others can feel the freedom to pursue healing. He lives in Phoenix, AZ with his wife and three children, and writes about mental health issues at www.unchartedchapter.com.
The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.
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