Dr. MG Lazarus
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Communicating with your younger ones about your mental health
|The Dilemma of CommunicationMental health patients, in general, do not confide with their children that they were in a psychiatric unit during the past few days or weeks. Instead, they prefer to give some other excuses for being away from the family home. This may be due to their own worries around children becoming over anxious about parents, or their own inability to accept that they are mentally ill, or their own anxieties around the social stigma attached to mental illness among the communities or may be their own fear of being excluded from the crowd.|
Understandably the mental health patients do not want to ‘shock’ their children with the news that they have a diagnosed psychiatric disorder for which they are on treatment.
If you are suffering from mental health difficulties you need to reflect on this very seriously. Is it good to tell your kids about your mental health difficulties? Or would you prefer to keep it with yourself? Or is it still a dilemma?
Playing Hide and Seek
It is easy to play hide and seek. But it is not easy to keep a secret from others eternally. If you don’t tell your children that you are having difficulties around your mental health, someone else will tell them the fact, and very often the reported version would be an exaggerated one than the fact. When someone else tells them that you are mentally ill and they did see you in the psychiatric unit or they saw you visiting the day clinic, it is possible that your children will start thinking why you didn’t tell them. This will only increase their anxiety around how serious the issue is.
Playing hide and seek will always leave room for further doubts. When your children do not have direct information, they will start guessing, which might lead to increased levels of anxiety. Telling the truth might raise some doubts in their minds, but may not be as bad as getting a shocking story from a third party. Moreover, when they see you telling your story, they are getting first hand information and they clearly see you talking to them in real terms, which is more reassuring that you are aware of your difficulties and you are taking steps to deal with it.
The Fair Play
Children, when they are in trouble, look towards parents for support. They seek energy from parents. However, when they get the message that their parent is suffering from mental health disorder they would prefer not to approach you for support or energy, for they understand that their parent is struggling without energy. In other words, they know that the energy reservoir is empty, so there is no point approaching you!
However, when parents disclose their own mental health difficulties with the children they are giving them the positive message that mental health disorder is just like any other medical condition that could be treated with medical and therapeutic support. So, you are making them confident that you are an adult and you know how to manage your difficulties with available support. In this way you are giving the positive message that you are seeking support when you have some difficulties, and in the same way your children could very well approach you for support when they have difficulties. So, it is always good to be straight forward!
Addendum: Some young children develop self blaming for the mental health difficulties of their parent. They might believe that their behavior caused this mental health difficulty to their parent. This self condemnation could be psychologically damaging to them. So, it is important for the children to know that their parents’ mental health disorder is due to their own troubled thinking and it is not caused by anyone else. They also need to be reassured that medication and supportive counseling will fix this and parents are seeking help in this regard.