A Parent’s Guide to Mental Health
Mental health is something that affects us all, just in the same way that we all have physical health. Maintaining good mental health encompasses positive relationships, high self-esteem and curiosity to experience all emotions, good and bad. Good mental health makes it possible to tackle life’s ups and downs without feeling overwhelmed or out of control, but it’s something that requires consistent attention and effort.
It can be difficult for parents to see their child showing signs of poor mental health, or how to approach their child if they spot something they’re worried about. Here are some suggestions of how to support the young people in your life in maintaining positive mental health.
Spotting the signs
In order for parents to support their children with their mental health, they need to be able to spot the signs. While you might have a gut feeling that something’s not right, there are some common symptoms of anxiety and depression that can help you identify problems before they get out of hand. Children who are depressed can become withdrawn, have a lack of appetite or become more irritated, angry or upset than usual; they may sleep more than normal or have difficulty sleeping and be in a permanent state of hopelessness.
There are several signs of anxiety in children, who might be suffering as a result of the pressures or stressors of school or peer pressure. You might notice that they are experiencing faster breathing when they’re anxious, obsessions or compulsions, panic attacks, sweating or shaking, or that they’re complaining or nausea or headaches regularly.
Other mental illnesses that parents should be aware of include Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder and eating disorders. Signs of ADHD include difficulty focusing or paying attention to things to too long and impulsive behaviours, while Autism signals can be difficulty communicating or interacting with others. Eating disorders can be signalled by a preoccupation with body types, disordered thinking about weight or weight loss, and unsafe eating habits.
How to provide support to your children
As a parent, you want to create an open environment at home so that your kids feel comfortable coming to you if they’re struggling with something or experiencing difficulties. Encourage conversations with your children about the ways they can practice good self-care and positive mental health, but also make sure they know that no topics or issues are out of bounds, so that they don’t feel like they have to keep their worries to themselves.
You can use activities you do together as an arena to have these conversations where you can talk casually, rather than a face-to-face conversation that can feel awkward and too formal. It’s also important that you model good mental health habits in your own life, so that they have a good role model at home. This means being open about how you’re feeling and managing your own health, so they can see the importance of doing so for themselves.
If your child comes to you with something that’s bothering them or making them feel depressed or anxious, make sure you don’t interrupt them or direct the conversation – stay open-minded and supportive. Be honest with your responses if they have questions, and if you don’t know the answer, seek support from someone who will have the answer, whether that’s a helpline, a website or an in-person service.
No-one can predict what life will throw at us but maintaining positive mental health can make navigating the ups and downs much easier. Parents have a responsibility to support their children throughout their adolescence and beyond, and part of this is helping them find ways to relax and manage their emotions more effectively.
If you’re concerned about your child’s mental health, or you suspect they might be experiencing symptoms of a mental illness, it’s worth consulting with your child’s doctor for further advice. You can describe the behaviours that are concerning you to get their opinion on whether it’s something to be worried about. You may also want to talk to their teacher or close friends to see if they’ve also noticed any changes in their behaviour, which you can then share with their GP.