Answer children’s questions about mental health with accurate information. Otherwise, children are likely to make up answers for themselves out of their limited understanding, or others may misinform them. (Photo from MetroGraphics) 

Children are likely to have many questions about mental health problems.

The West Yavapai Guidance Clinic offers some suggestions for addressing these questions from children, but adults should adapt their answers to the age of the child and his or her direct experience with mental illness.

It is important that adults answer children’s questions with accurate information, as children will make up answers for themselves out of their limited understanding, or others may misinform them.

Make sure you speak to the child’s level of understanding and not as if you were talking to an adult.

Having open, relaxed conversations provides assurance and a sense of safety for the child.

One example of a child’s question about mental illness might be, “What does being crazy mean?”

Let the child know, there’s no such thing as being crazy. Some people who have a mental illness may act in strange ways; they might feel sad or talk to themselves.

Let children know that mental illness is due to a sickness inside the brain, just like a heart attack is caused by a type of sickness in the heart.

Some children might wonder, “Can I get a mental health problem?”

While some may imagine that kids are too young to have a mental illness, even children as young as six can get depressed or anxious.

Encourage children to speak with their parents or other trusted care takers if they have such feelings. Let children know that, if they feel different from other kids, it is nothing to be ashamed of, just like they would not feel ashamed about having tonsillitis.

Another example of the kind of questions children might have about mental health is the following:

“My friend said that his mother has mental problems and that it’s all his fault.”

Let children know, that mental illness is not anyone’s fault.

Most people don’t realize how common mental illness is. One in every four adults will have mental-health problems at sometime in their lives.

Children might also ask, “Do people with mental illness ever get better?”

Let them know, there are a lot of medications that help people with mental illness live happy lives. And many people also learn from trained counselors how to manage mental-health problems.

If children say, “I’m scared of people who act crazy,” let them know that people with mental illnesses aren’t frightening.

Sometimes movies show such people doing horrible things. But in real life, that is rare.

It’s much more common that most of us are not even aware of who has a mental illness.

When discussing feelings of sadness with children, it might be necessary to also talk about self-harm. A child might say, “Someone at school says his life is so terrible, he just wants to end things.”

Let children know that if they hear anyone speak that way, that person needs immediate help, and the child should tell an adult, like a parent or a teacher.

It’s also important to remind children that sometimes people make statements of that kind when they are feeling bad, but don’t really mean it.

Sometimes, however, people of all ages – including teens – harm themselves and even attempt to kill themselves, and it’s very important to stop anyone before they harm themselves.

The West Yavapai Guidance Clinic has opened a 24-hour Crisis Stabilization Unit at 8655 East Eastridge Drive, Prescott Valley — 877-756-4090.

Anyone experiencing a mental-health or substance-abuse emergency is welcomed there and will be evaluated by trained professionals and provided with appropriate care.

Adults may be admitted for observation or a longer stay if needed. Children and adolescents would be connected with resources elsewhere.

For more information, see the website www.wygc.org, and www.wygcfoundation.org, and follow the WYGC Foundation on Facebook.

— Information provided by West Yavapai Guidance Clinic. 

This piece was originally seen on ‘The Daily Courier‘, 9 May 2018. 

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