What to say to your child when THEY are having a bad mental health day
After last week's post on how to explain your own mental illness to your kids, I had a couple people express interest in an article on what to say when your KIDS are the ones struggling.
Because even worse than having mental illness, is knowing your children are struggling with mental illness.
My kids aren't old enough yet to be diagnosed with a mental illness. I've seen them wrestle with other kinds of struggles, but I don't know what it's like to have a child with a bad mental health day.
But I'VE been a child with a bad mental health day.
The earliest time I can remember having a bad mental health day was as early as 9 years old.
My parents spent a lot of time during my youth learning how to offer support to a child with generalized anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideations. My anxiety attacks were particularly difficult on my mom.
I think the hardest lesson she had to learn was that she couldn't fix it. She couldn't just tell me to calm down and see results. And that was so difficult for her. What parent wouldn't want to fix their child's anxiety?
My parents learned to instead say things like, "breath in, breath out" and take deep breaths with me. They learned to just sit close by in silence until I was ready to accept comfort. They learned to listen without judgement and offer only empathy until I was ready to hear advice.
The more they did this, the better I was at accepting advice when it came, and the better I got at breathing with them, and the sooner I was able to accept comfort.
So what do you say? What can you say?
First you HAVE to accept that you can't fix it. Nothing you say will solve the issue. Instead you have to be ok with simple support. But the good news is, that simple support can become powerful over time.
During a bad mental health day, usually a person is not in the right state of mind to receive advice –unless they specifically ask for it. So instead of advice, simply acknowledge that what they're going through is difficult. Later, you can give advice. With adult children however, be respectful of boundaries when offering advice. Maybe ask permission to give it first. Or acknowledge their independence at the same time you offer it.
Mental illness feeds on judgement, and is combated by compassion and unconditional love. Expressing your love is so important. It may not seem like much, but each and every "I love you anyway" is a brick laid on a foundation of mental health support.
On a bad mental health day, many feel weak, lonely, and defeated. Remind them that they are strong, and that it takes so much strength to battle their illness. Show them that you are there for them by checking up on them throughout the day/week etc. A simple text asking if they're doing ok or if they need to talk can help combat the loneliness. Tell them you believe in them. This is so important. Because in that moment, they most likely don't believe in themselves.