International Parents’ Day: Giving the Mental Health Talk

In honor of International Parents Day, we are taking a look at one of the less commonly known “talks” parents need to have with their kids: “the (mental health) talk.”

Research shows that half of all mental illness starts by the age of 14 and approximately 9 million children in the U.S. have serious emotional problems. While these statistics show how important it is to talk about mental health with children and teens, they also show how important it is to dispel the stigma of mental illness: Many people face mental health challenges at some point in their lives, even kids, and chances are someone you know and care about is living with a mental health challenge. Yet the stigma surrounding mental illness can keep both parents and kids from feeling safe to talk about what they’re going through and get the support they need. In fact, young people often don’t get help for 6-8 years after they first experience mental health symptoms. The result of not getting that help can be tragic: suicide is now the second leading cause of death for those between ages 10 and 34.1

Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness

Parents play a critical role in noticing mental health problems that may be coming up for their children, creating open and safe environments for them to talk about what they are experiencing, and getting them to the support they may need.

Trying to figure out how to talk to kids about mental health can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be:

1. Start by learning the three“C”’s :

  • Care. Let your child know you care and are there to support them with any questions or struggles they might have. Don’t minimize questions they might have or leave things unacknowledged. If you can’t find the words or an answer for them, explore some of the resources through Each Mind Matters together. 
  • Community. If you have other supportive family or family friends in your community that you and your child trust, let your child know who those people are. Let them know that they have a community of people who support them. If they’re an older teen or young adult, you may also want to provide them with a list of local resources.
  • Continue the Conversation. Don’t let the conversation end after you and your child talk. Let your child know that this is something they can continue to talk to you about. Once you talk to your child, keep the conversation going by talking to other parents in your community about mental health.  

2. Prepare for your conversation with these resources for parents:

  • Learn to recognize the warning signs of suicide, how to find the words to have a direct conversation with someone in crisis, and where to find professional help and resources at www.suicideispreventable.org.
  • Introducing Mental Health for Parents is a resource created for parents of kids ages nine to 13. It provides background information on mental health to help prepare parents for a conversation with their child.
  • This “Starting the Conversation” article from Mental Health America is a great resource that helps parents with conversation starters and some “Do’s” and “Don’ts” tips.
  • Parents can also visit the Walk In Our Shoes website with their children to hear real stories from youth and learn more about mental health challenges.

3. Remember to take care of your own mental health too.

  • Use the Mental Health and Wellness Guide from Each Mind Matters for tips on maintaining your own mental health and modeling them for your child.
  • Help your child grow up stigma-free by talking about your own feelings and reaching out for support from trusted people in your community when you are struggling.

It may feel a little awkward at first, but taking the time to have the “mental health talk” is one important step you as a parent can take to help your kids be healthier and happier, and to contribute to a more supportive ,stigma-free community.


[1] “Leading Causes of Death Reports, 1981-2016,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, WISCARS (Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System), https://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/leadcause.html.