UK HealthCast: How children can support friends' mental health

A father and his daughter sit on a couch having a conversation.

Alissa Briggs is a licensed psychologist and a locally and nationally-certified school psychologist with expertise in assessing and treating neurodevelopmental and mood disorders. 

Briggs joined UK HealthCast to discuss when parents should start having conversations with their children about mental health and how they can help their children support their friends who are experiencing mental health issues. 

At what age should parents begin talking to their children about mental health issues?

Briggs: Really in preschool. You're never really too young to kind of learn about your emotions and learn how to be a social person. Obviously, your conversation with a preschooler is going to be a lot different than your conversation with like a middle schooler or a high schooler. But even as young as preschool, kids can learn important skills for how to regulate their emotions when they're upset.

What advice do you have for parents as far as explaining to their kids how they can recognize potential mental health issues in their friends?

Briggs: Often this starts to come up for kids around the middle of elementary school, when friends start talking to each other and relying on each other for support. And then, you know, that really develops into middle and high school, of course, where kids are going to primarily go to their peers for support and not their parents. 

I think it's important for parents to reassure their kid that, if they're having conversations with their friends that are difficult or touching on mental health topics, if they need to have an adult sounding board to talk through that with them, that the parents are there and open to that. And I think it's also really important for parents to respect the peer boundaries. A child has to understand that their parent isn't going to run off and text the other parent or call the other parent about what's going on with their friend. They need to understand that their parent is going to kind of keep that information confidential and provide guidance for how they can support their friend and only step in if there's concern for safety or a serious condition that hasn't been addressed. 

If our child tells us that they're worried about a friend's mental health, what are some of the steps we should take?

Briggs: You can ask your child what their friend is talking to them about or say to your child, "Well, have you encouraged your friend to talk to their parents or talk to their counselor?" Kind of see, you know, where things are at in terms of what conversation your kid and their friend has had in terms of encouraging the friend to receive help. 

I think that it's also important too to have the conversation with your child to make sure that they are not taking on too much when it comes to their friends' feelings. It's important to be a supportive friend, right? But also, it's not healthy to be your friend's therapist. It's also important to have a conversation with your kid about what kind of conversations they've had with their friends, how often their friend is reaching out to them for support, and are they comfortable for that or do they need to set some boundary around that.

Listen to Alissa Briggs' full conversation below.

This content was produced by UK HealthCare Brand Strategy.

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