Fifteen years ago, my father lost his life to suicide.
After several previous failed attempts, psychotic depression had finally taken him from me.
Now, as a father myself to three young, wonderful and vibrant children, deciding that it is Time to Talk is almost inescapable – but how do I even begin?
My military Dad was not naturally blessed with a great deal of emotional intelligence, and so conversations about sex, drugs and mental well-being weren’t ever on the table. In fact, people of my generation often grew up in homes with parents who didn’t talk openly about a lot of topics, let alone about mental health.
Despite this background, many friends and previous colleagues have opened up to me about their own experiences since I started at Trigger, yet a number of those I’ve spoken to are still unsure whether we should discuss mental health with children. They worry that perhaps their children are too young to understand, and that the topic will confuse or frighten them.
And so, I wonder, perhaps this lack of openness, connectivity and willingness to talk to our children properly has played some role in the prevalence of the increasingly poor mental health amongst children and young people themselves. Suicide is the biggest killer of men in the UK below the age of 45 , and one in 10 children and young people are identified as having a clinically diagnosable mental health issue by the time they are 16 . It is therefore clear that, as difficult as we may find it, we must break the cycle. We have to be the generation that is prepared to make Time to Talk to young people about the importance of mental health.
My children are six, five and two years old. I don’t yet know how or what I will tell them about their grandad. They know he is dead. They know he was ill. They think the doctors couldn’t save him. What they don’t know is of the mental illness that led him to take his own life – but one day they will. And I am determined to ensure that they understand that whilst this can and does happen, they don’t have to be scared or frightened about mental health.
Quite the reverse, in fact. I want to help them fully appreciate that they can help manage their own mental health in a positive way by making Time to Talk about how they’re feeling. I want to teach them to make Time to Talk about what makes them happy and what makes them sad, to talk about how their actions and words can make other people happy or sad. And to help them realise that not talking openly and honestly about how they feel can actually make them unwell.
As parents, we must take the lead on this. So, go home tonight and talk to your child. Really talk to them, not just about what they did in school, or what they had for lunch, but about how you’re feeling today, what’s made you happy. Ask them the same and give them the opportunity to tell you how they’re feeling. One small step today could positively change their lives forever.
You might also want to read about the Headucation campaign to make mental health education compulsory in all UK schools.
– James Waller, Managing Director, Trigger