A Mental Health Message for Kids of All Ages
Desmond Tutu’s beloved children’s book God’s Dream describes a young boy who cries when he realizes that his selfish actions have caused a rift in a friendship with a classmate. Tutu writes that God cries, too, when we hurt others and are ourselves hurt. I’m taken by this sentiment of God crying with us; and the message that God is not too holy to feel. God is not above emotion, but God is below. We find God alongside us in the depths of our suffering; God cries, too.
I’ve learned that it’s good to talk about the bad stuff. I’ve learn that hard things can be holy things. I’ve learned from my family growing up and in my marriage that mental health challenges are part of life. I’ve learned that the sooner we can open up about our mental health challenges, the better. That’s why I’ve written my newest book, Blessed Union: Breaking The Silence About Mental Illness and Marriage. It’s time we have these conversations within our marriages and our families.
When I talk to young children about mental health, I show the children a small, unopened package of tissues. I ask a volunteer to open the package and share with us what they discover inside. Carefully a tissue emerges from its package. Then I ask for a tissue from the child. I share that I need it to wipe my eyes because I had been a little teary that morning. I share about how I woke up feeling worried about someone I love who is experiencing depression.
We talk about how when we have big feelings that don’t have words, they come out as tears.
I share Tutu’s book, showing them the page where the boy is crying. I read to them about how when we are crying, God cries, too.
We talk about how tissues are also used when we are sick and have a runny nose, a bad cold or a sinus infection. Sometimes when we are very sick, we go to the doctor and get medicine.
Our brains, just like our hearts and our lungs, need to be healthy. But sometimes when we are not feeling good, we go see a doctor. I share that my family members, like my husband and my brother, went to the doctor because their brains were not feeling good. The doctor gave them medicine for their brains to help them feel better. The doctor suggested my brother go to to hospital to get even more help, which was a good idea.
Now my brother is home from the hospital and his brain is doing better. He still takes special medicine for his brain. What I’ve learned from loving people who live with mental illness is that mental health means taking care of our whole body; including our brain.
When our brain is healthy, we feel better. When we feel better, our families feel better. Mental health is a family issue. Mental health is a community issue.
Sometimes we cry when we are feeling sad. And when we cry, God is with us. When we are sick and not feeling good, God is with us. We are never alone because God is always with us. God loves us even when we cry and when we feel sick, even when we are happy and feel healthy.
God still loves us when our brains hurt. But we don’t have to live in pain. We can get help and feel better.
Talking with young children about mental health helps them know that they have permission to talk about how they are feeling, especially when the feelings are causing them pain. It’s never too soon to have the talk about mental illness with our children because the sooner we talk about it, the sooner we can get resources, support, and help we need. There is no stigma or shame in having a brain that hurts.