Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Explaining mental health to sensitive ears

Children are those that we want to protect with all that we have. We want to shelter them from the realities of this world; the illnesses, the conflicts, the sadness. At what age is it appropriate to be honest with them and tell them the truth about mental illness?

I am not sure when this post will be released but I think it is important anyway. Last night (the 21st August 2017) I had an anxiety attack.It was my first one in 4 days and this time, my cousin who is 11 was present. Recently my anxiety attacks have changed in their nature. I now feel incredibly sick as though I could be sick and as someone with Emetophobia (a fear of sickness) this only creates more anxiety. I get palpitations and feel shaky, as well as racing thoughts and going in-between feeling hot and cold. Last night these symptoms presented themselves whilst I was sat at the dinner table, so I excused myself and left to try to ground myself. My 11 year old cousin became very distressed  when I left the table as she was worried about me. She began to cry and had to be led inside.
Half an hour later, after having breathed, spent time pacing about and having taken some natural remedies for my anxiety, I was able to return to the rest of the family. When I went to see my cousin she of course asked what was wrong. Here I had a choice. I chose to honestly tell her that I suffer from anxiety. Of course she didn't know what this is and asked for an explanation, which she was given.

However, last summer, when she was 10, we were playing together when my dress rose up and my scars caught her glimpse. After so many questions I was able to eventually distract her and she forgot about them without knowing their true cause. However, this sparked the question, at what age, if she ever seems them again, is it appropriate to tell her the truth?

Children are sensitive but equally they aren't stupid. If we want children to be open and aware of mental illness at what age do we start to tell them about it? I wholeheartedly believe that from a young age children should be educated in such a way that they can openly express their emotions and have a safe space to do so. But it is very different for a family to create that safe space so a dialogue about the child's feelings can happen and telling them that they or someone else in the family suffers from a mental illness. Mental illnesses are hard for adults to grasp and comprehend so how can we expect a child to understand? Children are flexible beings who are in the stages of learning, so can they adapt much smoother to the news of a loved one with a mental illness than an adult who has never been exposed or educated about such illnesses? 

Many children from a young age are exposed to the term cancer, so surely if something as awful as cancer can be comprehended by them then they have the tools to be able to grasp mental illness. This is a question that has played on my mind since my cousin saw my self harm scars last year, yet I guess I have opened up a dialogue about mental illness in explaining that I have anxiety. However, anxiety and self harm feel like two very different conversations to have with a child. 

So I guess my questions are as follows: 
At what age is it appropriate to briefly start talking about mental illnesses? And at what age is it appropriate to discuss, if need be, more challenging concepts for children like self harm, eating disorders and suicide? 

I'd love to hear what you think, as I don't know the answers to these questions. 


  1. Hi Angela
    A good post and one close to my heart. As a MH sufferer and a dad to my Moo it's something that's weighed on my mind since we found out we was having her. I was anti depressants at the time and just (very naughtily of me) stopped taking them saying I don't want her to be like me! My mindset is totally different to that Matthew, now I intend to tell her and talk to her about it from as early as possible (already do but she's only 2) I'm struggling at the minute with lots of intrusive thoughts and some small actions! But I had her over the weekend and it was one tough weekend, luckily I have my parents for help, my heart goes out to others who have to go on alone. I was sat on the edge of my bed having a cry when she comes marching in - I tried to hide it but I was a bit of a snotty mess, she's asked " what's up daddy" my heart melted ! I replied "daddy's not feeling very well, can I have a hug " I got the hug ! I think MH awareness should be part of the national curriculum in schools not only to help young people who my be suffering but to help understand people close to them too. I'll talk to Marnie (Moos name!) from now and forever so she knows she can talk to me about anything. Hope you're well, take care and keep sharing

    1. Hi Matt, its great that you can be open with Moo even when she is still so young. It is a tough decision to make but I think it is best to be open and vulnerable. You are doing a great job!