Talking to children can be challenging especially if it involves serious matters of an adult nature. Mental health is one of those matters, but like sex education, it is a subject matter that needs to be properly communicated to young people even if it can be seen as taboo. According to WHO, 1 in 4 adults will be diagnosed with a mental illness at some point, and increasing awareness regarding mental health starts with the youngest among us.
Why we need to teach children about mental health
Mental illness can be a touchy subject. There is plenty of room not only for offending someone, but for spreading misinformation, especially today where we have access to a plethora of information 24/7. But when we have carefully decided to educate children it’s best to keep it simple and progress slowly.
A child’s age and developmental stage are two crucial pieces of information to first consider. Maturity levels differ. Girls tend to develop earlier than boys, but that isn’t always the case. The family’s socio-economic background also plays a role, as does varying cultures. An 11-year-old girl who grew up with a single mother and two younger siblings may have a more mature mindset than a 14-year-old boy who is the youngest in a traditional family.
Starting with simple facts is the way to go. Elaborate on what mental illnesses are and that they exist just like physical illnesses. Continue with reassuring facts that there are treatments for them and there are symptoms to look out for. Also, reinforce the notion that having a mental illness is not something to be ashamed of.
Tying in mental illness close to home can be difficult but necessary. Explaining to children about a relative or close family friend’s condition won’t only help them empathize but also help unburden them regarding their responsibility towards those affected by it. It isn’t their fault and it isn’t up to them to “heal” their friends or relatives.
To keep a lighter tone, discussion on mental illness could be more about mental health. Tying in mental health with physical health is paramount. Introverted children generally spend more time in their heads, and discussing their mental health may be of more interest to them than extroverts, although they both benefit. Lessons on diet and exercise will have greater significance as well.
Schools today are already discussing mental health in great detail but sometimes the most memorable lessons start from home. Educating children about mental illness not only gives them better awareness, but makes them more compassionate, and not only towards those affected, but in general.
It better prepares them for the future to deal with someone or themselves, and it may even inspire several to take up mental health as a potential career. Ending the stigma of mental illness starts at home through our most innocent members.