mother and daughter talkingNearly 1 in 5 parents still feel awkward talking about mental health issues with their children because they don’t want to scare them, a report has found.

The report by mental health anti-stigma campaign Time to Change also found that 80% of parents realised that they are the key influencers for their children’s attitudes and beliefs about mental health. But many are worried about starting a conversation as they believed their children would know more about the subject than them. This reveals a potential generational gap, with young people appearing to be able to engage better with the topic of mental ill health.

Time to Change surveyed 500 parents and undertook 42 in-depth interviews with adults and children in London, Birmingham and Ashford and Whitstable in Kent to find out how parents perceive their role in shaping children’s views and behaviours about mental health.

One parent commented: “I think [young people] are much more aware of the fact that it’s not something to be hidden away. You should try to sort it out. I think this was very difficult for teenagers when I was that age to find information.”

Indeed, the research found that although 84% of respondents agreed that mental health problems could affect anyone, many still felt that it’s something that happens to ‘other people’.

Information and advice

Using the study’s results, Time to Change will offer parents information and advice on how to talk to their children about mental health.

Sue Baker, director of Time to Change, said: “We want to work with parents to help them be the positive influencers for their children by bringing mental health into their lives. We will use the findings of this research to shape new resources for parents to help them have these conversations.

“In general, young people seem to engage well with the idea of challenging unfairness and, as such, they could be the first generation to make a strong stand against mental health stigma and discrimination.

“This work with parents follows on from a pilot project in the West Midlands, which was launched to target 14-18 year olds in the region to improve attitudes in relation to mental health. The results of this pilot will be released in October at the same time as the launch of the second pilot in Kent and the South East of England.” 

Charlotte Bull, 26, who experienced depression and anxiety as a teenager, said: “It was my mum who started a conversation with me about mental health, just after my A levels, as she noticed that my behaviour was different to normal. It was really important for me that she broached the subject and recommended that we go to our local GP together. It was the first step in getting the support that I needed.

“It’s so important to talk about mental health within the family. Before I experienced depression we had never discussed it, but it would have been really helpful. Especially in trying to understand my own symptoms and how to notice others at school who had been experiencing something similar.”