Survey: Talking with kids about mental health eludes many parents

Lena Weib
Most parents acknowledge the importance of discussing mental health with their children, but many do not know how to start, a new survey has found. Photo by Simedblack/Pixabay

April 27 (UPI) — Most parents of children age 18 years and younger know the importance of talking to them about mental health, but many are unsure of where to begin, according to a national survey released Wednesday by On Our Sleeves, an organization dedicated to children’s mental health.

Of the parents surveyed, 93% acknowledged that it is important for parents and caregivers to talk to their children about mental health, data released Wednesday showed.

However, nearly 60% said they need help knowing how to start the conversation around mental health with their children, researchers behind the survey said.

In addition, fewer than half of the parents surveyed reported that their families talked about mental health openly when they were growing up, according to the researchers.

“We know that conversation is one of the simplest, most effective ways to make an impact, break stigma and give kids a voice when it comes to their mental health,” Ariana Hoet, one of the researchers, said in a press release.

“Our research shows that parents know this, too and they’ve shared that they need additional support in starting and maintaining these important mental health conversations,” said Hoet, clinical director of On Our Sleeves and a pediatric psychologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

The findings are based on responses to an online survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of On Our Sleeves between April 5 and 7, the researchers said.

Participants included more than 2,000 adults age 18 years and older in the United States, nearly 700 of whom were parents of children age 18 years or younger, according to the researchers.

Led by behavioral health experts at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, On Our Sleeves aims to provide every community in the United States with free resources necessary for breaking child mental health stigmas and educating families and advocates, the organization said.

To help parents, caregivers and educators take the first step, On Our Sleeves has launched Operation: Conversation, a campaign to encourage adults to sit with the children in their lives to start the conversation to support mental health, it said.

Researchers have suggested that rising rates of disorders such as anxiety and depression among young people, particularly teens, comprise a “mental health crisis” nationally.

Studies have suggested that these problems have only worsened since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to school closures and a disruption in normal activities for many young people across the country.

As part of Operation: Conversation, experts from On Our Sleeves offer parents advice for kick-starting conversations, including making checking in and talking with each other a daily habit and starting conversations by asking open-ended questions.

The organization also advises picking a time when everyone is calm and emotions are not high for difficult conversations and always asking permission to start the conversation, it said.

“After more than two years living through a global pandemic that has been difficult on children’s mental health, these conversations are more important than ever,” Hoet said.

“On Our Sleeves is here to support adults on how to create an environment where children in their lives feel comfortable coming to them and talking about their day to day or any obstacles that come up,” she said.

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