A mental illness is a brain disorder that can affect thinking, feeling, moods, and the ability to relate to others. Mental illness is a real illness that can affect people of any age, race, religion, or income. Mental illness includes a wide range of problems, such as depression, anxiety, panic attacks, schizophrenia, eating disorders, mood disorders, and many others. Many mental illnesses have known causes and many treatment options. Mental illnesses are more common than cancer, diabetes, or heart disease, yet mental illness is not well understood by most people.
One in four families is affected by mental illness, yet it is not usually discussed. Mental illness can be scary. Friends and others may tell your child stories which may not be true.
No matter what you want to talk about, it helps if you have a loving, trusting relationship with your child. Let your child speak his mind, and show that you want to know what he thinks and feels. Your child is more likely to talk with you about important issues if he feels that you really listen. Think about how your child might react to what you want to say and how best to respond to his questions and feelings. Try to talk when both of you have time and are feeling relaxed.
Offer information that fits your child's age and ability to understand.
Be positive and make your conversation as factual and “matter of fact” as you can. Try to keep your feelings under control, even if talking about it upsets you. This can help calm your child’s fears. Make it a conversation, not a lecture. Encourage questions and feedback.
Pay attention to your own feelings. It may be hard for you to talk about this with your child. You may want to join a support group, or find one for your child. If someone in your home has a serious mental illness and may harm themselves or your child, teach your child what to do if he feels threatened or unsafe.
If your child has symptoms of a mental health problem, talk with your child's healthcare provider or a mental health professional.
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