Self

5 Powerful Life Lessons Kids Learn When You Prioritize Your Own Mental Health

Photo: Ruslan Hazau / Shutterstock
Happy mom with daughter

If you're struggling and thinking about reaching out to a medical professional for help with your mental health, know that when you seek therapy, your kids are likely to learn some powerful lessons. Healthy ones.

Recognizing that you might need help and then actually reaching out can feel like very hard things to do.

There's a stigma associated with mental illness, medication and therapy. Because of that, reaching out can feel like a failure.

Here's the truth: Seeking therapy might not only make your life better but it could also improve the life of your kids — now and in the future.

RELATED: 6 Hidden Signs Your Depression Is More Than Temporary

Here are 5 powerful lessons your kids learn when you seek therapy for mental health.

1. It's OK to ask for help.

Asking for help is OK and doing so isn’t a sign of weakness. But asking for help is hard to do, mostly because we all want to believe that we can do it ourselves. 

Think about your kids learning to walk or ride a bike. Didn’t they want to do it themselves? And didn’t they fall down a lot?

How about your husband when he doesn’t ask for help getting his work project done — then he isn’t home for dinner for a week?

And it happens when you believe you can be in five places at once, then let everyone down when you find out you can't.

All of these examples are people believing that they can do things without help and creating unintended consequences.

By reaching out for help with your mental health, you're teaching your kids a powerful lesson about recognizing when you can't go it alone, and realizing you're not trapped because of it.

So, set a good example for your kids — reach out to someone who can help you get healthy.

2. They can trust you to be honest.

Being honest is important, always, and there can be serious consequences if we aren’t. And the consequences of not being honest about your mental health can be disastrous for the whole family!

Imagine what your kids learn when they see you struggling and not doing anything about it. When you're acting like you’ve got this but you obviously haven’t.

When they see you pretending that everything is ok but they know it’s not. When they watch you lying to your family/friends/co-workers that everything is fine.

Having the strength to reach out for help with your mental illness is a lesson in honesty that your kids will remember and admire. And they will see the positive consequences that will happen when you are honest with everyone and with yourself!

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3. Your issues are not their fault.

When my kids were 13 and 14, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I had been struggling with my moods for many years and I didn’t really know why. I'm sure that I avoided the truth, but I also just didn’t know what to do.

Unfortunately, a breakdown forced me to reach out for help. I am glad I did because I got my diagnosis and I was able to start working toward living with it successfully.

When I told my kids about my diagnosis, my daughter said, "I am so glad that it wasn’t me making you sad for all of these years." 

Just thinking about it brings tears to my eyes.

My daughter honestly believed that all of my emotional struggles were her fault. I remember thinking the same thing when my mom was sad — that if I was good enough/smart enough/happy enough, I could fix her.

Of course, I couldn’t and I have spent much of my life wishing that I could have.

Now I know that my mom was struggling with anxiety and her unhappy marriage and that there was nothing that I could have done to fix that.

If only we had been able to have a talk about what was going on, if she could have reached out to someone for help, maybe I wouldn’t have all the baggage that I do from a childhood caring for my mother, something that has had a significant effect on who I became as an adult.

Reaching out for help and being able to put words to your feelings will help your kids understand what's happening inside you so that they can lead happy lives, unburdened by self-blame for their parent’s mood.

4. Mental health issues are real.

I can’t tell you how many people I've encountered over the years who tell me that they "don’t believe in" mental health conditions. That people who struggle with depression, anxiety, and more are just weaklings who have to "suck it up."

In fact, many mental health issues are caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. That is a proven fact, much like diabetes happens because one’s body can’t control insulin production.

People have no problem accepting diabetes but, for some reason, it’s not the same with mental illness.

Mental health issues are the "no casserole disease." If people are diagnosed with cancer, people bring food. If they are diagnosed with depression, people stay away, almost afraid that it will be contagious.

So, one important lesson that your kids will learn if you reach out for help with your mental health is that mental illness is a thing, much like diabetes, a health issue that affects millions of Americans every year.

And, if they know this to be true, if and when the time comes that they must manage their own mental health, or that of a loved one, they will know that it is a real thing and something that can be dealt with!

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RELATED: PSA: Your Mental Health Issues Are Not Your Fault

5. There's hope for the future.

I know that from where I sat, burdened by depression, I had no hope for the future. The likelihood that I would ever be happy again seemed impossible.

And I'm pretty sure that those feelings were contagious for my kids — how could they not be when they were being displayed by their mother day in and day out for years?

But once I reached out for help, everything changed. With help from my doctor, for the first time, I had real hope for the future. For the first time, I believed that I could be happy again.

And, as I got better and started to believe again, my kids started to feel hopeful as well.

For years they had seen me sad and, in retrospect, I see now how it was affecting their lives. They both struggled with anxiety and my son clung to me in a way that wasn’t helping either one of us.

Once I started getting better, my children’s anxiety was greatly lessened and my son was willing to let me out of his sight.

What a gift it was for me, and for them, that reaching out for help with my mental health was the thing that gave us all hope again.

Because here we are today, all healthy and successful and connected by something that we all went through together but that their mom resolved for all of us by taking that big step.

When you reach out for help, you're reinforcing those lessons of honesty and the importance of asking for help that you've been modeling to your children for years.

You're also helping them see that what you have struggled with is a real medical issue and not something that is their fault. And, finally, you give them hope — something we all need in this scary world.

So, take that step. Reach out for help managing your mental health. You, and your kids, will be glad that you did!

RELATED: 29 Inspiring Mental Health Quotes To Help You Feel Less Alone

Mitzi Bockmann is an NYC-based, certified life and love coach. She works with clients to help them find and keep love. For more info, email her at mitzi@letyourdreamsbegin.com.

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