As a parent, you may wonder if talking to your children about your mental health difficulties is in their best interest. You might be worried it will unnecessarily upset them, or have doubts about whether young children will understand.
The overwhelming majority of parents want the best for their children. For parents experiencing a mental illness or mental health problems, this can include attempting to ‘shield’ their children from the difficulties they are facing. Furthermore, the parenting role isn’t always addressed in adult mental health services.
Research and the lived experiences of parents and children shows, however, that having age-appropriate conversations about parental mental health is beneficial for children and parents alike. We know that the experiences of parents have a direct impact on children’s social and emotional wellbeing, but parents who are dealing with mental health difficulties can still parent well and minimize the impact on children when provided with the right support (Reupert, Maybery, & Kowalenko, 2013).
For parents, starting these conversations can be daunting. Practitioners can play an important role here – helping parents to understanding more about what children notice and comprehend about parental mental health, and backing parents up with the right tools and support to enable these conversations to happen.