Talking to your kids about mental health

Hi all

Just wondered if people have any experiences/tips to share about talking to their kids about PP and mental health more generally.

My older daughter was 5 when I experienced severe depression with baby #2 and we talked a lot about 'brain poorliness' and the fact that my sadness, tiredness and tears were not in any way her fault but were because of being unwell.

A few years later I came across Jen Faulkner's book 'A monster ate my mum' which is a brilliant, touching and ultimately hopeful book for younger children about postnatal depression.

Maybe we have a budding author out there who could do a book or leaflet for older sibs about PP! I told my eldest some of the silly/wacky things I did after she was born to take some of the 'unknown' out of psychosis and to help her understand that it was quite different to being depressed.

I wonder about later conversations with my teenage kids too about protecting their own mental health and choices about drugs etc if they are higher risk of psychosis.

Would love to hear people's thoughts/experiences.

Naomi xx

8 Replies

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  • Hi Naomi,

    Such a good question. I do wonder what I'll say to my son when he's older and also worry a lot about the effect it might have on him if we have another child and I'm ill again. I guess focusing on the fact it's an illness and no one's fault is really key like you say.

    I do think it's important to talk about it, if we're comfortable doing that, it's all part of our story isn't it. Some information for siblings or tips on what to say and how to say it would be great!

    I also think more generally that it's really important to talk to children about mental health as well as physical health, hopefully the younger generations will grow up into a world with greater understanding and empathy and also with less fear and stigma if they face illness themselves.

    xx

  • Hi J-B-55

    I agree with you so much - sharing our own story of mental health problems at the right time with our kids is such an important part of reducing the stigma. I do think we will be helping to bring up a generation with a new openness about mental health.

    Hopefully my story can reassure you a bit about if you do decide to have another baby. We talked to our eldest during pregnancy to explain that mummy's brain had been poorly after she was born. We explained just little bits about both the high period and the longer low time 'while mummy got her energy and onfidence back'. I told her a few stories about things I did to share my love with her even when I was ill, like cuddling her while dancing to lullaby music.

    When I did have a second run-in with postnatal depression, it was a very sad time for her but she knew that I had got better before and my husband and family reassured her a lot that mummy would get better. She knew that the illness was called 'depression' and that medicine would help but we explained the day to day symptoms more as 'mummy is tired' and friends came up with creative gifts for us both that we could do together when I was resting, like sticker books in bed!

    Three years on, she's a contented and happy girl and mental health is just kind of part of our family story. She sometimes asks about 'what if I get poorly when I have a baby?' but what's lovely is that I can tell her she'll know what it is, she knows you get better and I'll be right alongside her to support her through.

    Naomi xx

  • I'm sure your daughter has already learnt so much from your strength, it sounds like you have a wonderful relationship. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

    xx

  • Hi Naomi,

    Thanks for posting, what a great question. You actually bought some tears to my eyes describing the conversations you've had with your elder daughter... its amazing that you have found a way to talk openly to them, in words and ways they can understand.

    I am determined that I will be very open with my son (who is only 3 now) about what happened after he was born. I have started already in small ways. We were looking through photos the other day of him as a baby etc, many that were in the mother and baby unit. He spotted straight away that it was a strange sofa / pushchair etc and asked where it was. I explained that mummy and him were in a hospital for mummy's who weren't well and that mummy was ill after he was born.

    I have also started talking to him a little about APP. When I went to the volunteer day I said I was going to meet with other mummy's. And recently I got a package of APP stuff to help with the talk and explained its for mummy's other work (he knows about my main work) which is meeting with mummy's who were ill after they had their babies like I was. I even showed him a picture of all the volunteers at the volunteer day. I think this is probably all he can understand at this stage. I guess it's just taken the opportunity when it arise (as in the photos) and not avoiding / lying if he asks a question.

    But it's so great to hear a bit from you who have older kids and how you talk to them about what happened, I hope others will share more too!

  • Thanks sunnyandwild

    It sounds brilliant what you've already said to your wee boy. And showing him too that through a hard experience you've become part of a new community of PP mums is a lovely thing!

    I'm chuckling to myself as my eldest's favourite story (now she's nearly 9) is about arctic roll in the hospital... For some bizarre reason we had arctic roll for pudding in December and I thought it was hilarious, then it made me think of a forward roll and I tried to do one in the patient's lounge (!) I think she slightly loves the idea of her mum being so silly and it was a simple story that took away some of the unknown about that time.

    There are much darker things about the psychosis that I hope she will never know and never have to experience personally. I wrote a very detailed blog in my early days of recovery and would definitely protect her from reading that when she's older - I will probably delete it before she is old enough to search for me.

    Thanks for sharing the ways you're approaching this with your little one.

    N xx

  • Hi Naomi,

    What a great question. I recently had a 2nd child and luckily without recurrence of PP after having had an episode when my eldest was born nearly 5 years ago. I did worry (or mainly tried not to) what would he remember if I had got ill again when his little brother was born, as obviously the main blessing out of such a terrible illness is that the baby at the time obviously knows nothing - small mercies and all that.

    I've never really talked to my eldest about my PP to be honest and would really welcome some advice on how to when the time comes. We too love looking at photos from him being a baby up to the present day, and he's never really said anything about the ones which were taken when we were in the MBU. He probably will before long though, as he doesn't miss much normally!

    I think some of the ways you've described are a lovely and sensitive way to talk about things - and so important to try and make it not some horrible little secret that he then might find out about in a way which would upset everyone in the future. It's important to reduce stigma around mental health too and giving children an awareness, obviously without scaring or worrying them, is really important.

    Thanks again for a great question, x

  • Hi, my eldest who I had the PP with is 10 now, my youngest is 6 and I had postnatal depression with her. I'd never mentioned the illnesses to either of them until recently, we tried to shield the second episode from my son as he was only 4 at the time. Recently however I decided I wanted to banish my own self stigmatisation and tackle wider stigma by publicly telling my story more openly. But of course a big barrier was not wanting my kids to find out from anyone expect me. I had a chat to Elaine Hanzak, a former PPP sufferer who has written a book and is often in the media so I knew she must be very open with her son (now a teenager at uni) She gave me some advice and one day I just brought it up in conversation. My daughter is still too young to understand really, but my son was relatively mental health aware already as I work in mental health services, he has a friend who's unwell and my husband had depression a few years ago. His only major question was "why have you never told me before?" Now we just discuss it openly whenever it comes up in general conversation, and I gradually add in more facts, and I think he just views in quite a matter of fact way as a part of our family history, alongside other things that were traumatic but we got over, like the death of his grandparents. As Naomi says, I consider it important in terms of stigma that I encourage the kids to be open about mental health and see it as an important part of the rich tapestry of life. Also, for their own mental wellbeing I hope they will always feel able to be open about any emotions and fears of their own as they grow up. The sad reality is, that whether by nature or nurture, the stats show they're at increased risk themselves so I'll do all I can to protect them from feeling the pain of the stigma in the way that I did. Something I'm conscious of is that it'll be a hard conversation I need to have with my daughter about her particular risk when she decides to have a family of her own. But by then the stigma surely must have lessened considerably, and services will surely be so much better and more available if she needs them...?

    I agree with Naomi that a book or leaflet for older children would really help with knowing what to say. Maybe I should encourage my son to help us develop one? He's pretty creative like that. It'd certainly ensure I've covered everything I need to say to him! Joking aside, I'll seriously consider that, but not sure I could live up to Jen Faulkner's work.

    Tracey x

  • Hi Tracey

    I'd love to hear you and your son's thoughts about what should be included in a leaflet for older kids about PP... feel free to drop me an email :-) I will talk to the board of trustees about putting a kids leaflet on our agenda for next year, and I was thinking it would be nice to include lots of first person quotes from kids - my daughter would probably love to share some of my funny stories!

    Like you, I think about talking to my daughters when they are older about their own risks of PP. It's my hope too that detection and specialist treatment for PP will be much improved for their generation. It might help to know, however, that risk is still quite low for daughters of a mum who had PP (3 in 100) which is 30x higher than the general population but still relatively low. The risk is only greatly increased if daughters have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder or other psychotic illnesses before becoming pregnant.

    Naomi

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