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Springfield experts share tips for talking to kids about mental health

If you or your child are in a crisis, you can call the suicide hotline at (800) 273-TALK or (800) SUICIDE.
Published: May. 5, 2022 at 6:42 AM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - It is children’s mental health awareness week, a part of mental health awareness month in May. The goal of the week is to bring the importance of children’s mental health to the forefront.

“It’s very important that we designate a week to children’s mental health awareness,” says Stephanie Appleby, Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness office in Springfield. “It’s very hard sometimes to differentiate between what is puberty, and what is mental health. So, setting aside that time for parents to really re-evaluate the conversations that they’re having with their kiddos is really important.”

But getting those conversations started can sometimes be the hardest part. A new study by On Our Sleeves, a part of Nationwide Children’s Hospital, shows more than 90 percent of parents know it’s important to talk to their kids about mental health. But, nearly 60 percent of those parents aren’t sure how to start those conversations. Bailey Pyle, a counselor at Burrell Behavioral Health, says that can be as simple as asking a question or talking about the day.

“We play high, low, Buffalo at my house, which is.. tell me the height of your day, tell me the lowest part of your day, and that Buffalo is anything that’s in between,” says Pyle. “You can make a game out of it, encouraging them to normalize those conversations on the daily so when our kiddos are in crisis or when they are having a brain health moment that feels too intense, those doors have already been opened.”

She says it’s also important for parents to talk about their own feelings, and why they feel the way they do, so that kids can start to learn that emotional intelligence themselves. If you have teenagers who may not be as forthcoming with that dialogue, Pyle says it’s important not to press. Let them know they can come to you when they’re ready, and then be ready for that conversation when the time comes.

“If you’re asking your kids to be vulnerable and open, be ready for them to be vulnerable and open and support them in that,” says Pyle. “Be prepared to potentially hear difficult things, and try to be as non-judgemental about that as possible and prepared with additional support if they need that. Keeping the focus and intention on the kiddo.”

She says when you’re having that conversation, try not to use phrases like “it’s going to be okay” because they can seem dismissive. Appleby says as kids get older, it’s important to have those conversations intentionally. She says parents shouldn’t shy away from issues like mental illness, self-harm and suicide.

“I know that talking about sex with your teen is very uncomfortable also, but we want to have that conversation, right?” says Appleby. “We want to talk about preventative measures. It’s the same thing with mental health. You have that conversation that might be uncomfortable, but you’re also putting those preventative measures in place, knowing that you did your due diligence as a parent and gave them the platform to discuss any thoughts or feelings that they might be having.”

On our Sleeves has some tips for starting conversations about mental health on their website here: https://www.onoursleeves.org/mental-wellness-tools-guides/conversation-starters/starting-conversations.

Both Pyle and Appleby say if you, your child, or someone you know needs help, there are people standing by to do just that. The NAMI warm line is entirely confidential and anonymous. It’s open every day from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and the number is 417-864-3676 or 1-877-535-4357. If you are in a crisis, you can call the suicide hotline at (800) 273-TALK or (800) SUICIDE. You can also text HOME to the number 741741. Burrel Behavioral Health has a 24-hour crisis line for southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas. If you live in Missouri, call 1-800-494-7355. If you live in Arkansas, call 1-888-518-0108.

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