Over the last two years, we have seen a significant increase in mental health conditions, highlighting the need to have conversations about mental health now more than ever. Having regular conversations about mental health reduces stigma and promotes an environment of understanding. But while it’s important to have these conversations, it’s just as important to remember the words we use matter and to be mindful of how we approach conversations about mental health. Here are a few things to keep in mind when discussing mental health with your kids.
Use language that is honest but appropriate for your child’s age and development. Being matter-of-fact and neutral when discussing mental health can help reduce stigma or fear related to sharing. Using language that promotes understanding of mental health can help a child or teenager feel more comfortable, more willing to talk and more willing to reach out for support early.
A helpful strategy when talking about mental health is using person-first language. A person is not their mental health condition in the same way a person is not their medical condition. For example, you would not say someone “is cancer,” so we would not want to say someone “is bipolar.” Consider using phrases such as “my daughter has bipolar disorder” or a “person with a mental health condition.” Using phrases that empower and provide hope can help children and teenagers feel supported.
| Mental illness
| Mental health condition
| He is bipolar.
| He has bipolar disorder.
| Suffers from, afflicted with
| Lives with
| Mentally ill
| Experiences a mental health condition
| Trauma victim
| Trauma survivor
Words are especially important when discussing suicide. For example, saying “committed suicide” implies that suicide is a crime. By using words that are clear and neutral, you can help people feel supported and empowered to ask for help.
| Committed suicide
| Died by suicide
| Failed suicide/unsuccessful attempt
| Attempted suicide/suicide attempt
| Successful or completed suicide
| Died as the result of self-inflicted injury
| Chose to kill themselves
| Took their own life
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. In recognition of this month, we encourage you to initiate these conversations with your kids. You don’t need to know all the answers or be an expert. You just need to be there to listen.
For parents looking for resources on behavioral health, tips for starting a conversation or to help kids reduce stress, visit valleychildrens.org/360me.
About the Authors
Dr. Amanda Suplee joined Valley Children’s as a pediatric psychologist in 2017 with extensive experience in children’s hospitals. She specializes in working with children with chronic medical conditions and co-occurring psychological conditions.
Dr. Michael Danovksy is Manager of Valley Children's Pediatric Psychology Services. His current clinical work focuses on children/teens with kidney disease (dialysis and transplant) and children with elimination disorders, as well as working with children with a variety of other medical problems who have co-existing psychological concerns.