Survey reveals parents need support in starting mental health conversations


COLUMBUS, Ohio — Most parents and caregivers know to ask their children about their day or what they learned at school, but fewer feel equipped to turn that small talk into meaningful conversations about mental health.

A new national survey by On Our Sleeves® found that 93% of parents with kids under 18 think it’s important to talk to their children about mental health but 59% need help starting that conversation.

To help parents, caregivers and teachers take the first step, On Our Sleeves®, powered by behavioral health experts at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, has launched Operation: Conversation, a campaign to encourage adults to sit down with the kids in their lives to start – and most importantly continue – conversations that support mental health.

“Starting the conversation allows us to learn what our children are thinking, which is what impacts how they feel,” said Ariana Hoet, PhD, clinical director of On Our Sleeves. “It allows us to understand any experience they may be having outside of the home, anything that’s stressing them or worrying them. And then we can be there for them. We can help them problem solve. We can help them learn how to cope. And these conversations really empower them to handle whatever life is throwing at them and know that we are there to support them.”

From everyday topics like school or challenges with classmates to bigger issues like racism or current events, Operation: Conversation aims to give parents and caregivers conversation starters, educational resources, tip sheets and more that can help broach conversations that can seem intimidating.

As part of Operation: Conversation, experts from On Our Sleeves are offering parents advice for kick-starting conversations, including:

• Set the stage. The work begins before you even start the conversation. If your family creates a daily habit of checking in and talking with each other, it will make conversations about their mental health or concerns easier.

• Ask open-ended questions. These conversations can include all kinds of topics, not just emotions or behaviors. Remember, your goal is to create the habit of feeling comfortable sharing with you.

• Find the right time for difficult conversations. Pick a time when everyone is calm and emotions are not high. Ask permission to start the conversation and if your child is not ready, ask them when a good time would be. Make sure you’re in a private area with low interruptions.

• “A lot of different factors can impact a child,” Dr. Hoet said. “Nowadays, you have social media too. So children are comparing themselves to others, they’re aware when they’re being excluded, they’re just consuming things that they don’t know how to process yet or just spending too much time on screens and not enough time doing other activities that help them with their development.”

By maintaining an open dialogue with their kids, parents and caregivers can build a healthy and open relationship that encourages kids to keep coming back to share their problems and feelings. Parents can access information and resources and spread the conversation at OnOurSleeves.org. And if parents and caregivers feel worried or their child needs immediate help, the National Youth Crisis Hotline can be reached 24/7 at (800) 442-HOPE.

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