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  1. #1
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    Default Mental Illness - How do you explain it to a child?

    I've been hospitalised twice in the past for depression and anxiety and I told the kids that I wasn't feeling very well in the head and it made me very sad.

    Not sure if that was the right thing to say but they accepted it after asking a few questions, which I answered honestly.

    We are currently watching Selling Houses Australia and the man trying to sell his house is a hoarder and is obviously very depressed, among other things. DD (6) made a remark about him being lazy or something and I told her that some people really struggle with day to day life and it makes them a bit sad and sick in the head.

    TBH, I'm not comfortable with saying "sick in the head" but I'm not sure what else to say?

    We have a family friend who is schizophrenic due to drug use in his twenties. He is now 50 but is more like a young teenager. The kids adore him and see no difference between him and me. They have no idea that he has a mental illness and I don't find the need to tell them. He is in and out of hospital a few times a year to get his meds under control but because he lives in a different city, the kids are unaware.

    Anyway, I'm rambling. Basically, I want my kids to be mindful of mental illnesses but I don't want them to treat people with a mental illness any different.

    How have you explained it or intend to explain it to your children?

    Mine are 6, 8 and 10.

  2. #2
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    Following as my mums a hoarder and a manic depressive. Reminding myself she has an illness is the only thing keeping us in touch. Super hard 😞

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    DaveTTC  (26-03-2016)

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    Depending on each child and there level of understanding you can use as a basis someother ailment. Cold, flu etc. Maybe astham as it is reoccuring.

    Explain that mental illness is like asthma in your mind and makes you ..... think, feel, say, do things you would not normally do.

    This can be customised to each persons personal circumstances and to a childs understanding.

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    Quote Originally Posted by amiracle4me View Post
    Following as my mums a hoarder and a manic depressive. Reminding myself she has an illness is the only thing keeping us in touch. Super hard 😞
    Are you my sister. Sounds like the same mum

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    Default Mental Illness - How do you explain it to a child?

    I think kids understand more about mental illness these days. My second has a severe anxiety condition and sees a child psych. The eldest was bullied at her last school and became depressed so she also had some help from a child psych. So it's a constant conversation in our house.

    My brother suicided a long time ago from depression. That will be our first big challenge to explain.
    @HearMeRoar do they have friends at school who've had problems?
    Last edited by Sonja; 26-03-2016 at 16:29.

  7. #6
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    I just tell my kids the truth. Depression - 'hey kids you know how sometimes you don't feel happy and don't know why (or they do know why but it's a situation that can't be changed), but when you feel like that you don't want to do anything, or go anywhere, and you get grumpy with people, but then it passes and you go on to enjoy your day - well for some people they feel like that for a long time, and they need to seek help as there is a chemical imbalance in their brain that means they don't just 'get happy' again after a bit of time, and you can't cheer them up with a nice walk, or a trip to the park etc. To seek help they need to go to their GP and explain how they're feeling, then they'll see speciailists (called psychiatrists) who help them with coping strategies so that they can feel better in their daily life - so if you have a cold you help yourself get better with rest and lots of fluids, and a cold washer for a temp - panadol sometimes if you feel really rubbish - someone with depression sees a psych to get help like meditation, exercise, and good sleep hygiene patterns (explain how this helps if need be), and they might need some medication to take daily to help balance the chemicals in their brain depending on how long the person has been depressed, and how severe the depression is. Over time they might not need the medication anymore, but some need to be on meds for the rest of their life.'

    etc. etc. for other mental illnesses. I just treat a mental illness the same way I treat a physical illness and explain it to them in a way that they understand. I think it's okay for them to have the facts about various mental illnesses. I remember my mum sitting me down to tell me that she had been suffering from a mental illness for two years before she told us and just never understood why she didn't just tell us sooner so we could have helped her (this was in the 80's where mental illness was more taboo so I understand my mum's hesitations as an adult...but as a kid it didn't have a negative impact on my life at all).

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    I try and explain it like any other illness. I say it just like daddy has diabetes and uncle T has cancer. Dd1 has bipolar, depression and social anxiety. She can't help it and more than daddy or uncle T. Sometimes medicine helps and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes the medicine can make them feel sicker (like uncles chemo that makes him super cranky and sick) so they choose not to take it.

    We support people no matter what their illness is.

    We also talk about other invisible illnesses like adhd and autism etc..

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    I've told my kids it's an illness where people's brains aren't working the same as everyone else's- that their brains have some funny wiring going on where it makes them sometimes think things that aren't quite right. That these people are good people just like the rest of us, but sometimes their brain makes them think these weird thoughts.
    I've explained that some people with MI take medication to help their brains be back to normal, but it often doesn't fully work, it just helps, and that there are so many different medications and sometimes different ones don't work for different people, and that it can take a long time to get it right.

    This was said more with psychotic MI in mind. As I was worried about them seeing this odd behaviour and thinking it was a normal way to act.
    With depression, it hasn't come up yet. I would explain it the same, except the one thing I'd be mindful of is not saying it's "sadness", because it's really not as simple as that and I'd be worried my kids would then see depression and being sad as the same thing.

  10. #9
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    I have to explain things to people that they otherwise won't understand all the time, so adult or child I try to find an analogy they will understand.

    I suppose one way I might explain it to my child...

    You know how when we cook a cake, we put certain ingredients together in order to make it? Well our brain is kind of like that... in order for it to be the perfect cake, there are several different ingredients in there.

    Now imagine we're making a cake... and we forget the milk. It'll probably still be a cake... but it will be a little different. It might not be as fluffy or as soft as it should be.

    Sometimes people's brains are a bit like a cake that is missing milk - it still works, but it's not exactly how it's supposed to be. Sometimes this can mean people end up sad, or angry, or have trouble doing certain things or understanding things... just as the cake has trouble being nice and fluffy without milk.

    ...

    Some kids might not get that, but similar explanations seem to work for my daughter. I've always explained things like that to her.

  11. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by DaveTTC View Post
    Are you my sister. Sounds like the same mum
    Haha.. Nope. Wish I was! I'm an only child so no siblings to share the load unfortunately. How do you cope??

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