Tips for Talking to Your Children About Mental Health

For parents struggling with mental health, talking to your children about the symptoms, the struggles, and certain behaviors may be difficult. It can certainly be a frightening experience for the parent, but for children who may not fully understand or comprehend what is happening — it may be confusing as well. 

That’s why it’s so important to talk to your children about mental health and mental illness in the family. Whether it’s a parent, grandparent, sibling, or guardian going through it — openness and communication about why certain behaviors or situations occur are necessary for moving forward. 

Take the time to sit down and talk or address questions and concerns a child may have. Mental health issues can be frightening — but they’re far more terrifying when left unaddressed — especially for kids. 

We recommend explaining how a certain mental illness or symptom works, because it may give children peace of mind and the right tools to live a happier and more confident life. We’ve put together some tips and advice that we believe is a great starting point for open and effective communication regarding your mental health with your children. 

Open Communication 

Your child may begin to identify that mom or dad isn’t like other moms and dads. When they’re old enough, it’s time to have a talk. They may not understand right away, and that’s OK. It takes time. You can take each day as a new opportunity to help them gain perspective and learn. Having open and casual conversations about mental health is important, and your child should feel free to ask questions or voice concerns throughout these discussions. 

This communication works well when it’s scheduled. Children, especially the younger ones, respond positively to a structured environment. So, maybe a family meeting to discuss what’s been going on is the best course of action. Or, if there’s a time during the day or night when you’re asking about a child’s day, this could be a great time to let them know about your day as well. 

You can use this time to address how your mental health (or your partners) has affected the day. Perhaps one of you has struggled with loud noises or simply need some alone time to recharge. Children may not understand this, and the reactions of a parent may not convey what is really going on. 

For example, if a parent needs to recharge and wants some alone time, a child may feel as if their actions prompted this — which is absolutely not true. However, if a parent explains to their child that “daddy’s batteries are low and he needs to recharge,” it takes the blame away from the child.

Answer Questions 

Children are curious little detectives, and they will ask questions. Parents may not have all of the answers, but it’s important that they make an effort to answer or explain to the best of their ability. 

Parents should try to field as many questions as they’re able to. If unsure about how to respond or answer — there are a ton of helpful tools and resources available. There is even a children’s book that can help address specific mental health issues such as bipolar disorder. It’s called Binky Bunny Wants To Know About Bipolarand can be a great tool. There are other books to help with mental health awareness from the Binky Bunny and the Psychiatric Briar Patch collection. 

Sometimes, the best way to address questions or concerns is to seek mental health counseling options that involve the parent and the child. An experienced counselor or therapist may be able to facilitate the conversation more effectively while offering sound advice and tips for fielding questions. 

Tips for Helping Children Understand Mental Health  

It’s easier said than done, and every family dynamic and mental health situation is unique, but helping a child understand the struggles and roadblocks can create a much better environment. 

If you haven’t noticed, communication is the backbone of effectively speaking with your child about mental illness. Here are some tips for how to guide their understanding of your particular mental health concerns. 

Tell Them How You Feel 

Explaining how your particular mental health challenges make you feel, along with how you feel about the illness or symptoms, can be a great way to open up some new lines of communication. 

Explain That It’s Nobody’s Fault 

Mental health concerns are difficult enough for adults to understand, but for children, it can be even more challenging. Explain that mental illness isn’t anyone’s fault — and that it’s something humans live with and fight through. 

Explore How They Feel or Talk About Behaviors 

Your child may be frustrated or even self-blaming when it comes to how a parent or guardian behaves. Understanding how they talk about or feel about the situation can give insight into how they perceive the mental health dynamic. 

Speak In Their Language 

It can be difficult to have conversations with a child about mental health because the language itself is complex. However, you can get creative in the various ways you explain behaviors, reactions, or mental illness itself. Whether it be telling a story, using an analogy, or even the child’s own experiences as a way to have a productive conversation about mental health. 

Be Open About Medication 

There’s no shame in taking medication for mental health issues, and there’s certainly no shame in informing your children about these medications. Now, we’re not saying you need to go into the monotony of psychotropics — but it’s OK to explain to them why you’re taking medicine. Children understand shots and medicine — mental health medication is no different. You can even explain side effects in case you’re concerned that they may affect behaviors. 

Don’t Underestimate Potential Trauma 

If a child has witnessed self-harming, violence, or suicidal behavior — do not underestimate how that may affect them. These events can be terrifying and also have a lasting impact on the young and underdeveloped brains of children. If this occurs, we recommend having a child see a therapist. If that’s not feasible due to where a family lives, there are online mental health counseling and psychiatry options available that take advantage of the incredible advances in technology to provide care. 

Never Stop The Conversation 

It may be easier to just “get the conversation out of the way.” However, those struggling with mental health know that it doesn’t just go away. It’s a lifelong fight, one that certainly affects the ones we love. Always keep the lines of communication and conversation open with children about mental health. The more they understand mental illness, a parent’s particular struggle, and the various ways to symptom manage and overcome psychological adversity — the better the relationships will be. 

Additionally, children will learn how to cope with their own potential mental health concerns as well. Luckily, mental illness is slowly losing its stigma, which means that conversations are becoming easier, and resources are abundant. Take advantage of all the tools at your disposal to talk to your children about mental health. 

Crucial Tips for Safe Medication Management

Medication-related issues can spell disaster, both for a patient and healthcare staff. For those dealing with mental health issues, safe and practical medication management practices are essential. 

It takes a village — that’s the old saying. When it comes to medication management, this adage rings true. Caregivers, doctors, pharmacists, and patients need to work as a team in order to create the best medication management methodology possible. This is true even for community-based supports or targeted case management services. Both prescriptions and over-the-counter medications play a role, which means everyone involved needs to responsibly manage the process for the best possible outcome. 

So, where do you start when thinking about medication management? Well, there are a few crucial tips we’ll be going over so that you can create a routine that works for you — and with you. 

Learn About Your Medications

A great place to start is by learning all that you can about your medications. Speak with your doctor or pharmacist and ask questions. You’ll likely receive information regarding your medication. Make sure that you’re reading this information, especially if you’re a parent who is creating a medication management plan for your child. Be mindful of the names of your medications, the dosage, potential side effects, and adverse reactions with other medications. 

Here are some helpful questions you can ask during the learning phase. 

  • How does this medication work? 
  • What are some common side effects? 
  • When will the medicine begin to take effect? 
  • What happens if a loved one or I miss a dose? 
  • Does the medication require food or water? 
  • What activities should be avoided while on this medication? 
  • Does alcohol have adverse effects with this medication? 
  • How long does this medication regimen last? 
  • What’s the refill procedure for this medication? 

While there are certainly additional questions you could ask, these offer a great springboard for any further discourse with your pharmacist or doctor regarding medication management. 

Invest in Hardware 

If you or a loved one is taking multiple medications, investing in a pillbox can be an extremely helpful tool. Many individuals scoff at the idea of a pillbox, but for medication management, it can often be the best possible solution. 

These boxes are clearly marked so that you know which medication you’ll need to take on certain days. For those suffering from depression or other mental health issues — a pillbox offers one less obstacle between you and your medication. It’s a worthy investment, especially if you’re juggling multiple medications. 

Stick With One Pharmacy 

If possible, try to use a single pharmacy. It’s simply another way to avoid any unforeseen challenges or problems that may arise regarding medication combinations. It can certainly be more convenient to stop by the nearest CVS or Walgreens, but it’s not always the best course of action. 

While many pharmacies utilize electronic records that have significantly cut down on the human-error side of things, it’s still possible that information gets lost or delayed during the transfer process. So, if you want to avoid potential problems, stick with one pharmacy for your medications. 

Follow Prescribing Instructions 

One of the most important aspects of safe medication management is to take medication as directed. This means taking the correct dosage at the prescribed times. Whether it’s psychotropic or heartburn medication, following the prescribed directions can avoid further complications. 

Some medications shouldn’t be mixed with others, which is why it’s important to ask those questions before ingesting. Furthermore, certain foods, drinks, or supplements may cause adverse reactions — so knowing all you can before creating a medication management plan is crucial. 

Relay Effects to Your Doctor or Psychiatrist

Everyone reacts differently to medication, so if you’re having issues or you’re not sure if the dosage is correct — speak up. Unless your doctor or psychiatrist has told you otherwise, never increase or decrease your dosage on your own. You should always consult with your prescribing professional regarding discontinuing or changing the dosage. This is medication management 101. 

Even if you’re using a telehealth provider or online mental health service — it’s important to relay information to your prescribing professional. 

Keep Medication in Its Original Bottle or Packaging 

This is another tip that can help individuals avoid mixing up medications. The original container or bottle has pertinent information on it, which can help with medication management and safe use. You may find:

  • Dosage information 
  • Prescribing instructions 
  • Expiration dates 

If a medication has expired, contact your prescribing professional for a refill if needed. Safely discard any expired medications safely to avoid a loved one accidentally taking it. 

Also, store your medication properly. Some medications will have instructions regarding certain environments and conditions such as a dry, cool area — while others may need to be refrigerated. Keeping medications in the bathroom is typically discouraged as the constant changes in temperature and moisture from showers can impact medications. 

Create a Clear-Cut Medication Regimen

Routines are your best friend when it comes to medication management. Taking your meds at a specific time and in the same way can greatly improve its effectiveness. 

For example, your routine could include eating breakfast and immediately taking your medication after you’ve finished. Or, perhaps you shower every night before bed, and taking your medication with a glass of water right before getting in can be a part of your daily routine. Whatever your routine is, stick to it. After a while, it will become second nature. 

If you need to — set reminders as a way to get in the groove. Smartphones can be a great tool, as you can set reminders or alarms every day at the same time to prompt your medication routine. If you’re not a smartphone kind of person, alarm clocks can also be a great reminder. Whatever you need to do in order to get into a healthy and simple routine can play a significant role in effective medication management. 

There You Have It 

There are so many ways to create or improve your medication management. For those who are just starting out on medication, it’s crucial that you get to know your medication and establish a routine in order to get the most out of your prescriptions. 

It’s also a great idea to establish some sort of “emergency plan.” If, for whatever reason, adverse side effects occur, your supply is running low, or any other emergency situation arises — a plan or course of action can limit the potential dangers. Having a list of poison control, 24-hour pharmacies, and local emergency care providers handy is a great idea. 

A Psychologist’s Notes from Quarantine

by Mental Health Blogger David Susman

It seems like day three hundred of the pandemic quarantine. But objectively I know it’s only been about five weeks.

Observations:

Bouncing back and forth seemingly randomly from calm, rational, semi-productive detachment to worry, uncertainty, tears and sadness. The latter is definitely not the usual me.

Spending countless hours at the computer, but grateful for a job that allows me to work remotely. Also grateful for a specific task to be absorbed in: to transition our bricks-and-mortar psychology training clinic to telehealth, allowing our psychology graduate students to continue to provide much-needed psychotherapy services remotely.

Quickly realizing I had not the first clue about how to accomplish said task (above). So off I went to hours and hours of webinar training, reading articles, and accumulating resources from colleagues through emails and listserves. Four weeks later and our telehealth clinic is ready to launch.

Speaking of emails and listserves, Never Have I Ever read so many emails as in the past several weeks! Drinking from a firehose may be the best analogy. Separating the wheat from the chaff is another challenging part of this task. What’s useful and what’s useless?

Despite the love/hate relationship with emails, I’ve come to recognize that technology can be my new best friend, as it allows for social interaction, both verbally and visually, with friends, students and colleagues. My online work calendar is almost as full as usual with meetings, but now each of them is tagged with a Zoom link. Keeping the links straight has also proven more difficult than expected. But I haven’t Zoomed into the wrong meeting yet.

How to handle all the news and media? Mostly by turning it off. Carefully selecting a very few reliable outlets and then limiting my exposure to around 30 minutes total a day.

Understanding that grief and loss are part of my daily emotional diet. Plus a little anger from time to time, when I read about some of the careless and stupid things going on.

But there’s cause for inspiration as well. Maybe it’s just my rationalization, but once I decided this is really all about saving lives (including perhaps my own and my family), I can deal with it. I calculated a weird worst-case scenario in my head. If every single person in the US were infected, about 10 million people would die. Any number less than that is a victory. If we come in under 100,000, while that’s seismically tragic, it’s also a HUGE victory. Our daily actions are saving countless lives.

Not to be political, but I’ve also been inspired by Governor Andy Beshear of Kentucky. Every single day at 5:00 pm, he holds a press conference and reassures us that we will get through this together. He shows examples of positive social media and chokes up when announcing the daily death toll. He has been a steady example of compassionate and effective leadership. I’m grateful for that.

The psychologist in me (since I am a psychologist, I do think there is actually one in me) is also fascinated by the largest behavioral experiment in the history of mankind. If the global sacrifices being made don’t convince you of the inherent goodness of humanity, I don’t know what will. That’s gotta be something good to take away from all of this.

Through it all, it’s been fascinating to see how life manages to go on. Babies are still being born, couples are still getting engaged, kids are still having birthdays, and I’m still eating chocolate chip cookies (more than ever).

I’ve also seen how death unrelated to the virus still occurs. One of my best friends and fraternity brothers from college just died suddenly of heart failure stemming from other medical issues. Hit me like a ton of bricks. But my brothers and I rallied, and we had a video call with 50 guys paying respect to our friend. We then compiled a virtual memory board of stories, tributes and photos of our friend which we sent to his wife and kids.

Then there’s all the fallout. All the deaths, the jobs lost, all the proms and graduations that won’t happen, all the sporting events cancelled. And the uncertainty. Will things get worse? When will they get better? Can the economy recover and how long will it take? For now, we just have to accept that we don’t yet know.

I’ve also thought about opportunities and silver linings. Telehealth can open up health care (and mental health care) to people and places that have previously been hard to reach. We can see that we are capable of change, we can learn to be flexible, and we can support and help each other in the spirit of human kindness.

I think this experience also shows us how resilient we are. We can bounce back. It may take a long time. Things will definitely be different. But one day soon we will again shake hands, hug, dance, and come together. The vision of that day will keep me going for now.

Here’s a question: What thoughts and feelings are you having during this difficult time? Please leave a comment. Also, please subscribe to my blog and feel free to follow me on Twitter or Instagram, “like” my Facebook page, or connect on LinkedIn. Finally, if you enjoyed this post, please share it with a friend.