How to start mental health conversations | life lessons

Between the challenges of daily life and more than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, children are facing more stress and distraction than ever before, a combination of factors that has led to a mental health crisis among children in the United States.

This crisis means that, more than ever, caregivers need to be equipped to talk daily with their children about thoughts, feelings and emotions, which in turn can help caregivers better support children if they have mental health concerns.

Results of a new national online survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of on our sleeves, The National Movement for Child Mental Health has found that while most parents of children under 18 know it is important to talk to their children about mental health, many are not sure where to start.

Moreover, less than half of respondents said they had open conversations about mental health while growing up, leaving many unsure of how to start – and continue – the conversation with their children.

Ariana Hutt, PhD, clinical director of On Our Sleeves and pediatric psychiatrist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital said. “Our research shows that parents know this, too, and have shared that they need extra support to start and maintain these important mental health conversations.”

The national survey from On Our Sleeves, backed by behavioral health experts at Nationwide Children’s, found that:

● The vast majority of parents of children under 18 (93%) say it is important for parents and caregivers to talk to their children about mental health.

● More than half of parents of children under 18 (59%) need help figuring out how to start the conversation about mental health with their child.

● Less than half of Americans (43%) say their family talked about mental health openly when they were growing up

To help parents, caregivers, and educators take the first step, I launched Operation “On Our Sleeves”: The Conversation, a campaign to encourage adults to sit down with the children in their lives to start – and most importantly continue – the conversation in support of mental health.

Allowing children to have a regular, open space to share their thoughts, feelings and emotions can increase the likelihood that parents and caregivers will notice when their children need support with mental health concerns.

As part of Process: The Conversation, experts from On Our Sleeves offer tips for parents to start conversations with, including:

● Set the stage. Work begins even before the conversation begins. If your family creates a daily habit of checking in and talking to each other, it will make conversations about their mental health or concerns easier.

● Ask open-ended questions. These conversations can include all kinds of topics, not just feelings or behaviors. Remember that your goal is to create the habit of feeling comfortable sharing with you.

● Find the right time for difficult conversations. Choose a time when everyone is calm and emotions are not high. Ask for permission to start the conversation and if your child isn’t ready, ask him when it’s a good time. Make sure you are in a private area with low interruptions.

“After more than two years of living through a global pandemic that has been difficult for children’s mental health, these conversations are more important than ever,” Hoyt added. “On our sleeves here to support adults on how to create an environment in which children feel comfortable coming to them and talking about their daily lives or any obstacles that may arise.”

Process: Conversation features free conversation starters, advice sheets, and educational resources to open lines of communication between caregivers and children. It also shows caregivers how to respond to conversations in a positive way that does not lead to children closing off, feeling bad, or not open to talking in the future.