Parents love to talk about their kids. We talk about their accomplishments, but sometimes we need to speak out when they are not at their best. As a parent of a child with mental illness or special needs, it is important to advocate for our children. We must strive to let them know that they are strong, and that it is ok to talk about their mental health. It is up to us as parents to teach them to be proud of themselves.
In order to advocate for your child and to give them these tools, you may have to talk about their mental health condition. Finding those words may seem intimidating at first. Talking about your child’s mental health should feel comfortable to you, be on your terms, and be no different than talking about their physical health. If your child had a peanut allergy or asthma, you would let others know to help protect your child, make sure they were safe, and gather support from others. Let their mental health condition be no different.
Need some help getting started? Here are some tips for talking about your child’s mental health condition:
- Prepare. Many say that practice makes perfect, and it is true. If you are nervous about sharing personal information about your child or concerned about how people will react to the information, prepare what you want to say, and practice how you will say it. Try talking to a relative or a close friend first and see how it goes. Research information about your child’s diagnosis so that you can respond appropriately if you are asked questions. When you are prepared, you will sound comfortable, and you will gain the respect of those to whom you speak.
- Use your own words. You may be talking about your child’s health, but you do not have to sound like a doctor. Be yourself and use words that you are familiar with rather than medical terms (if that is what makes you comfortable). Find what works for you and what feels right. It is your story to tell.
- Share what you want and when you want. What you say and how much you share is up to you. There are no rules for how much information you divulge. With certain professionals, you may want to give details to help with treatment, but with other people you may just want to provide simple information. There is no requirement that as soon as your child has a diagnosis, you must announce it to the world. Share what you feel helps your child or you and when it feels right to you.
- Be mindful. Letting others know about your child’s diagnosis is important, especially when it comes to treatment and interventions at school. It can also be helpful for you to talk to friends and family for support. Be mindful that when you speak to others about your child, you also talk to your child. Once information is available, your child may overhear it or find out about it from others. You want to ensure that your child hears about their mental health condition from you, not through gossip or friends.
- Be proud of being a stigma fighter. By talking about mental illness, you are helping to break down the stigma associated with it. By letting others know that your child, through no fault of theirs, has a mental health condition, you normalize mental illness and help other people realize that it is OK to not be OK. Take pride in being a stigma fighter. Know that your words and courage may help someone else realize that they or someone they love needs help and support too.
Have you talked about your child’s mental health diagnosis? What tips do you have for other parents who need help getting started?
Tracy Greenberg has become a strong part of the Sheppard Pratt community. She is mother to Bryce, who attends The Frost School, part of the Sheppard Pratt Health System. She gives her time as part of the Consumer Advisory Council, a group of family members, former patients, former students, and employees of the health system who are dedicated to improving our quality of care and enhancing recovery from mental illness and addiction. Follow along with Tracy through her blog.