Since 1949, Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed during May to raise awareness about mental health and educate those in need on available resources. The 2023 theme for Mental Health Awareness Month, “More Than Enough,” was chosen to emphasize that even just showing up for yourself to heal is more than enough because everyone is inherently worthy of more than enough life, love, and healing.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, a stable and healthy mental state during childhood plays a significant role in children reaching developmental and emotional milestones, healthy social skills, and coping mechanisms. Below are some tips for talking to your children about mental health.
Have Frequent Conversations
If your child has a mental health condition or is experiencing distress, it is important to check in with them to keep lines of communication open. Talking to your child about their feelings can be challenging, especially if you are concerned they are already struggling. When addressing these issues, speak in a straightforward manner and at a level appropriate to their age and development level. Implementing an activity into the occasion before diving into the conversation can help associate the meetings in a positive light for your child. If you’re unsure how to start the conversation, you can download a list of conversation starters to use with your children here.
Create a Safe Space
With the stigma often associated with mental health conditions, it is natural for even children to be embarrassed to talk about their thoughts and emotions. Providing a judgment-free zone when speaking with your child is critical. Ensure the environment you create not just throughout your conversation but also in your home offers a space specific to your child’s needs to express themselves. Here are some tips to consider when responding:
- Validate their feelings. Responses such as, “It’s understandable that you’re feeling…” can help comfort them that their feelings/emotions are okay.
- Thank them for sharing their thoughts and acknowledge their bravery in opening up.
- Offer help or coping mechanisms you can practice together.
- Emphasize your love for them and support for them.
- Reassure them it’s okay to talk to others about their feelings. If your child is distressed, encourage them to seek support if a third party would make them feel more comfortable, such as contacting the Lines for Life 24/7 Hotline.
Encourage Their Curiosity and Learning
Oftentimes your child will be curious to learn more about the emotions they feel or information on mental illness as a whole. Ensure your conversations are a safe space for your child to express their curiosity on a particular topic. If you do not have all the best information, discuss the concerns and questions with your child’s medical provider or counselor. It’s okay to say you don’t know and then work together to find an answer.
Discuss Self-Care and Prevention
Mental health effects can be isolating, especially at a young age. Instill self-worth and confidence in your loved ones by teaching them to care for themselves emotionally and physically. Teaching your children to maintain a healthy diet, get exercise, and get sufficient sleep are just some of the many ways you can teach your children to take care of themselves physically. Encouraging healthy habits in times of stress, such as meditation and journaling, are also helpful outlets for children to release stress or manage emotions.
Do you or is someone you know struggling? Check out the many mental health resources available in Oregon below:
Lines for Life (24-Hour Crisis Hotline)
Call or text 988
Oregon Youth Line
Text: teen2teen to 839863
(Available by phone, text, and chat between 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Youth-based organization and resource center focused on supporting young people in crisis with support available by phone, chat, or Twitch.
Bridges to Change
Clackamas Crisis and Support Line:
NAMI Clackamas County
Urgent Mental Health Walk-In Center
11211 SE 82nd Ave Suite O
Happy Valley, OR 97086.
(Open Monday – Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.)
Deschutes County Mental Health and Adult Treatment Services
Comprehensive Care for Youth and Families
The Deschutes County Stabilization Center
63311 NE Jamison Street, Bend, OR 97703
Crisis Line: 541-322-7500 ext. 9
BestCare Treatment Services, Inc
Reach Out Oregon
850 SW 4th Street, Suite 302
Madras, OR 97741
Options for Southern Oregon – Creekside Center
1181 Ramsey Avenue
Grants Pass, Oregon 97526
Options for Southern Oregon – Hillside Center
1545 Harbeck Road
Grants Pass, Oregon 97527
The Child Center
Marion County Crisis Line:
Marion County Psychiatric Crisis Center
1118 Oak St SE, Salem, OR 97301
Marion County Youth & Family Crisis Services
(For Children under 18)
(503) 576-HOPE (4673)
4212 SE Division St., Suite 100, Portland, OR 97206
Multnomah County Behavioral Health Division
Crisis Assessment and Treatment Center
David Romprey Oregon Warm Line
NAMI Multnomah County
(503) 338- 5692
Washington County Health and Human Services
Washington County Crisis Line
Hawthorn Walk-In Center
(Open 9:00 am to 2:00 pm)
5240 NE Elam Young Parkway, Suite 100
Hillsboro, Oregon 97124
NAMI Washington County
LifeWorks NW – Tigard
Traci Muldoon is a public relations and public affairs professional, U.S. Army Reserves soldier, and part-time volunteer for a kitten rescue. She currently works in a public affairs role overseeing media relations, content development, enhancing community partnerships and developing communication campaigns.
Traci holds a Bachelor of Arts in Public Relations and a minor in English from California State University, Fullerton. She currently lives in Washington County with her significant other and their two cats and dog.