10 Ways to Help Your Mentally Ill Child

This week is Children’s Mental Health week and with 1 in every 10 children displaying symptoms of mental illness and a great deal of adults (me included) starting their mentally ill journey in childhood, I thought I’d tackle the problem head on and explain what ways you as a parent can help your child who is, or may become, mentally ill. Here are 10 things to do when talking to your mentally ill, or possibly mentally ill child.

1. Reassure them – The first thing that’s really important is to reassure yourself and your child that it’s really common to suffer from mental illness and it’s ok. People can and do recover from mental illness and many of us go on to lead perfectly normal lives either free from mental illness or managing its impact on us. We’re often perfectly capable of being at school, going to university, getting a job, getting married, having a family, and doing all of the things that are considered ‘normal’. 1 in 4 adults in the UK have a mental illness each year and 1 in 3 will in their lifetime – it’s really common and you can overcome it.

2. It’s not about you – The last thing your child needs is for you to blame yourself or start thinking about what you could have done to prevent it or how you might have caused it. If your child became diabetic or got cancer, you wouldn’t blame yourself, you’d just go into overdrive about how you could get treatment, this is the best way forward with mental health too – it’s an illness like any other. You’re not a terrible parent and having a child with a mental illness doesn’t mean anything about you. Keep focusing on them.

3. It’s not their fault – Their condition isn’t because of anything they have or haven’t done and no matter how much it looks like it, it’s not in their control. Telling them to cheer up, think positively, or just eat more, or telling them a list of all the things they have to live for won’t help them at all and will just alienate them further than their condition is already doing. Trust that they are doing their best to manage their condition and don’t EVER blame them!

4. Believe them – The most damaging thing I have experienced during my mental illnesses has been being disbelieved and accused of lying. Children do lie but it’s very rare that they’ll lie about mental illness for any length of time and if they’ve managed to pluck up the courage to tell you that they’re not ok, then you need to sit up and listen because they may not tell you again. Always believe them!

5. Take it seriously – This is not a phase. Mental illness is not the same as raging hormones or having a stroppy teenager. The things they’re going through may well not pass after a couple of rough months of sulking and door-slamming and you need to be prepared for this. Don’t play it down or dismiss it, listen to them and take action if necessary. Always take mental illness symptoms seriously.

6. Do something – If you notice changes in your child’s behaviour that you’re worried about, ask them about it. Don’t be afraid of discovering mental illness because the sooner you know what you’re battling, the sooner you can start fighting it with your child and the more likely they are to recover. Don’t wait, do something as soon as you have concerns!

7. Get help – If you or your child are concerned, go to your family doctor and make sure they believe your child and take them seriously. If they don’t listen, take them to another doctor until someone does. The sooner your child gets treatment, the better their chances of making a full recovery and learning coping strategies and management skills so they can go on to live a happy and fulfilled life. Children are often dismissed and fobbed off (I certainly was), don’t allow this to happen or treatment may be offered way too late. Don’t give up until they get the help they need.

8. Talk to them – Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away and if your child doesn’t have someone to talk to, they may deteriorate faster. It is likely to be very difficult and painful for you to hear that your child is suffering and hurting, but it’s much better for them to be able to confide in someone and for you to be kept up to date with how they’re doing so that you can get more help for them if it becomes necessary. Mental illness is utterly isolating and this is made so much worse when people around you are scared of talking about the feelings that you’re struggling so much with. Try to put your own feelings aside and listen to your child in a non-judgemental way so that they feel safe and able to express themselves. Just talk to them!

9. Research – Read about mental illness and when doing so, ignore everything the media tells you, mentally ill people are not often rampaging serial killers, they’re not crying in a heap constantly, mental illness has many faces and takes many forms and media representations are almost always wrong. Read real-life accounts of mental illness so that you can gain understanding about what it’s like to live with on a day-to-day basis (you can read about my own experiences of mental illness here). Find out about the symptoms and warning signs of the most common conditions so that you can be prepared and know what to look out for (links to useful websites below). Research, research, research – knowing what you’re fighting make it so much easier to fight effectively!

10. You can do it! – Mental illness is scary and unknown, and when you’re thrown into the midst of it, it can be terrifying, but by talking to your child about it, you will empower yourself and them to deal with it in the best way possible, as quickly as possible. Your child will be equipped to help their friends who might start displaying symptoms or confide in them that they’re feeling something different and they will also know that mental illness isn’t a taboo subject in your household so they can talk to you about it if something’s worrying them about themselves or someone else. Most of all, remember that anything you do off this list will be better than nothing and you can become a team with your child to tackle this together. You may not believe it but You CAN Do It!

Please share this as widely as possible so that parents and other adults who children might confide in can be equipped to deal with it. One of my favourite quotes comes from Bill Clinton who said “Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all”.

If you need more help, information or advice, please visit the following links.



Colour Away Your Worries – A Review

Disclaimer – Please read this disclosure about my use of affiliate links which are contained within this post.
Colour Away Your Worries (Buster Activity Books) is published by Buster Books and was very kindly sent to me for review by Michael O’Mara publishing. If you live in the UK and would like to win a copy head over to the pinned post on my Facebook page to enter. This book is a little different because it’s not for adults, it’s for children, but if you have kids or know any then please keep reading. I was genuinely thrilled to be asked to review this book, especially once it arrived and I saw that this is no ordinary colouring book and has a very special message and purpose. Anyone who has read my previous reviews knows that I suffer from severe mental illness which started a month before I turned 16. Mental illness had never been talked about in my life and stress and worry were just things that were accepted as normal, inevitable, unavoidable and something to be ignored as much as possible. This book wants to put a stop to that and I will state right here that I think EVERY child aged about 4-9 should have a copy of this book – yes it’s that good, and important!

While this book is a colouring and drawing activity book, its amazing features are way beyond that and run much deeper. The illustrations are charming and they really draw you, and your child, in to the activities and will keep them interested and entertained with bright, vibrant colours, quirky characters and funny comments. This book is charming to adults and sure to keep children focused and enthralled. So what’s different about this book from other colouring books and activity books? This books focuses on worries – something that on the very first page it states are very important. All children worry, as do all adults, but because we don’t talk about it, children don’t realise that they’re not the only one, that what they’re experiencing is perfectly normal and ok and they’re also not taught what to do about worries to stop them becoming more problematic and potentially even developing into mental illness when they’re older – scary thought I know but let’s face facts, it happens, and we need to do what we can to stop it before it starts. This book, in my view, is a great way to start that process. The book is narrated by a Worry Worm which is such a sweet concept and a great way of instantly making the child feel accepted and “normal” because generally the worm worries more than the child will. Common worry themes are explored and the child is encouraged to state or draw what they worry about which is a great way of them identifying it and also for mum or dad to see immediately what things are worrying their child. Some of these themes include scary films, not being played with, and monsters. The book also helps the child to identify how they look and feel when they’re worried in comparison to when they’re happy and describes the differences between worries that are sensible to have like those we might have about skydiving or bungee jumping, versus ones that might make less sense and be more confusing like worrying about what we wear or being different. It then goes on to explain that worries can sometimes seem much bigger than they really are and that they’re like plants that grow and grow if we let them. Identification of worry is a really big and important first step for you and your child but it doesn’t stop there, oh no! The book then goes on to describe ways in which worries can be managed including organising them, writing them down on paper and tearing them up or even creating a special worry box to put their worries in safely and then think about things they’re good at, thus shifting their focus on to their good qualities rather than their perceived flaws. There are a few pages explaining the importance of talking about worries so we feel less alone and this is a great point for a parent of a child who previously hasn’t wanted to talk about their worries to be there so that they can tell you and lighten their load. It also suggests plenty of ways in which the child can distract themselves from worrying until they’re feeling better. Finally, at the end there is a lovely double page of complicated tiles to colour and a couple of drawing exercises too so that they can focus on something productive (much like us anxious adults do! – If your child enjoys this then have a look through my other colouring reviews and see if any of the books might be suitable for your child to help them when they’re worrying). Right at the end there is a double page checklist where the main tips and suggestions are listed for the child, followed by notes for parents and caregivers so that they understand the message of the book and how to help their child to identify and deal with their worries.

This A4 sized, paperback book has been created by a father-daughter team who are a psychotherapist and primary school teacher and therefore have extensive knowledge and experience of children and their worries. This book has over 100 pages which are printed double-sided in full colour with loads of written prompts for your child to draw or write down their worries or fill in activities. The paper is bright white and doesn’t bleed when using water-based pens and a little of each image is lost into the glue-bound spine but I can’t see any children being bothered by this because they’ll be too busy colouring their worries away!

I highly recommend this book to anyone with a young child who worries because this book is sure to help your child identify their worries and learn how to deal with them – it might even help you as a parent to deal with yours a little better. I really can’t enthuse enough about this book. Everyone I’ve shown it to thinks it’s amazing and such a wonderful book for worried children. If you’d like to get a copy then head over to Amazon and get one before it sells out because this is sure to be very popular! Colour Away Your Worries (Buster Activity Books)

If you live in the UK then head over to my Facebook page where I’m running a giveaway for my copy of Colour Away Your Worries, I don’t have children and this book is too important and useful to leave it gathering dust on my shelf until I know a child that needs it so go and enter!