If you’re the parent of a school-age child, you may wonder about talking to your child’s school about your mental health.
Talking to your child’s school isn’t something that's right for everyone. Bear in mind that not all schools are experienced at handling these situations. Nevertheless, some parents have had terrific experiences that have resulted in beneficial support for themselves, their child and their family.
How it can help
There are benefits to talking with the school about your mental illness, including the following:
Each day is getting easier. I refuse to hide my story of mental illness and the struggles related to it and am starting to discover that people want to help.
Anna, mother with a mental illness
The teacher's awareness of your situation will mean they can better understand and respond if problems come up.
The teacher can make an informed decision about how they respond to common situations (for example, why your child might be late to school, can't finish homework on time or needs access to a mobile phone).
It allows your child to discuss any concerns or worries they may have with a teacher they trust or the school counsellor.
It helps you and your child's teacher if you work together to support your child.
Preparing for the conversation
Think about the best way to communicate with your child's school, such as arranging an appointment with the teacher so that you’re not interrupted and have time to talk things through. You could also ask to speak to the school guidance counsellor, psychologist or social worker if you prefer, and have them communicate the situation to your child’s teacher and principal. You might like to take someone to support you when you have the discussion.
It's helpful to tell them about:
what happens when you become unwell and how this can affect your child
your concerns about your child at school (for example, homework extensions, getting picked up on time, or bullying)
about your family plan (or 'care plan'). What the plan is if you become unwell and are unable to do school-related activities like making your child’s lunch, taking them to school or picking them up
who you are happy for your information to be shared with. For example, you may only want your child's own teacher to know, or you might be happy for other staff such as administration or OSHC (Out of School Hours Care) to be informed.
what counselling and support services are available for your child and how to access these if they are needed
if there are other school services your child (or family) can access
the best way to keep them informed about your family situation.
Writing a letter/email
You might also consider writing a letter or email to your child’s school to tell them about the situation, and include a ‘school plan’.
Making your wishes clear in a written plan for the school is a good way of ensuring they will provide the support your child needs. This plan could be similar to your family plan, with clear information about what you want the school to do, and what you don’t want them to do to support your child. You could also consider getting your GP or a mental health professional to do this with you.
In a letter you might want to:
explain the warning signs that indicate you’re becoming unwell
explain how your child reacts when their stress levels are high, and request the teacher contact you if your child seems worried or anxious
request that your child be given additional support during stressful times, with special consideration for exams or homework
detail who will pick up your child from school when you can’t, and who should be contacted if problems arise or if you go to hospital
include some positive messages that you’d like people to highlight to your child during stressful times
ask that the situation be kept confidential, in order to prevent other children from teasing or treating your child differently.
Remember to update your child
Bear in mind that your child might have preferences about who you talk to and who has knowledge of the situation, so it’s good to talk to them first. It might also be that there’s a certain teacher they trust and would prefer you talk to.
Do tell them about it after you’ve had the discussion and reassure them that it’s private and you hope it will help them. It’s also good to remind your child that they can always come and speak to you if they are having troubles at school.
Whatever you decide to share with the school, it can be useful to consider which other family members who regularly care for your child would like to be kept informed or have input (for example a partner/ex-partner, or grandparents).
Kidsmatter recognises the importance of good relationships between home and school. They offer a families section on their website with comprehensive information about supporting the mental health of children at home and at school.