Want to help child with mental health issues? Listen first, say panellists

Panel members for the dialogue, which was livestreamed by the Resilience Collective on Facebook and YouTube.
Panel members for the dialogue, which was livestreamed by the Resilience Collective on Facebook and YouTube.PHOTO: RESILIENCE COLLECTIVE

SINGAPORE - For parents who are supporting their children with mental health issues, the most important thing is to listen to them, rather than offer advice or solutions, said panellists at a dialogue session on Wednesday (July 28).

This was one key message during Let's Talk, For Real: A Youth Mental Resilience Initiative Panel Dialogue, organised by mental health charity Resilience Collective, which focuses on supporting the recovery of people with mental health conditions.

The dialogue marked the launch of Let's Talk, For Real: A Youth Mental Resilience Initiative, which aims to engage young people, their families and the community in open conversations about mental health, and develop programmes and peer support networks to help build mental resilience and recovery strategies.

A survey conducted by the Resilience Collective found that while 78 per cent of parents thought their child would want to speak to them about their mental health struggles, only 20 per cent of the youth said they would do so.

The survey, which polled 147 young people and 57 parents online from May to July this year, also found that most of them found it difficult to have conversations about mental health at home.

As much as 57 per cent of the youth said they would seek help from mental health professionals or helplines without their parents' knowledge.

Ms Goh Shuet-Li, executive director at Resilience Collective, told The Straits Times: "Because a lot of youths don't have these conversations with their parents, they end up trying to sort things out by themselves."

This means they lack the support they need, and it can delay treatment.

The dialogue, moderated by Mr Haikel Fahim, host and founder of the Ironing Board Podcast, was livestreamed by the Resilience Collective on Facebook and YouTube on Wednesday, with around 200 people tuning in.

Ms Leanne Robers, 37, a psychotherapist who specialises in working with the youth, said parents should not dismiss their children's mental health struggles or focus on providing solutions, as this does not make them feel seen or heard. She said: "That... makes them feel even worse, because they're already feeling alone."

Ms Natalie Lim, 55, a caregiver to her child who has a mental health condition, said parents should listen to understand, without judgment, and validate their children's emotions. She said: "You may think that... it's a phase... but really, it's real to them. And if you can't make them feel that what (they're) going through is real, then they're not going to talk to you."

Mr Asher Low, 34, senior social worker and executive director at youth mental health charity Limitless, said parents should not assume their children know how much they care. "Keep letting them know that they are important to you," he said.

However, he also said there are situations where it might be better not to involve parents, such as when parents worsen their children's mental health.

Other panellists added that young people also have a role in helping their parents to support them.

Ms Tasneem Abdul Majeed, 21, a student who has lived with anxiety issues, said young people with mental health struggles could tell their parents how to support them, such as through listening, advice, or referrals to teachers.

She added that it would be good for them to let parents know in advance if they want to discuss mental health issues, as parents might not be used to intense and emotional conversations. She said: "Just because they're older doesn't mean they're stronger or less... vulnerable."

Mr Desmond Ng, 27, a student who has experienced schizophrenia, said young people should give parents the space to understand their mental health issues and how to help them. "It's a two-way street... We are both learning (about) what is actually going on."

Said Mr Prashant Pundrik, 50, a caregiver to his daughter who has lived with depression: "You are your child's best hope and support."

He told The Straits Times after the dialogue that supporting his daughter in her mental health journey had improved their relationship and made him a better person, as he learnt to engage with her interests, understand her struggles, and show unconditional support.