Sarah Cardwell, mother and Mental Health First Aider, has borderline personality disorder. Here's how talking about her own mental health is helping her children thrive emotionally.

This blog was originally published for Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week 2019.

As a mum, a parent, my worries have been heightened. But it also means that I know some of the signs to look for and how to have a healthy conversation with my children about mental health. 

We are often guilty of over complicating the topic of mental ill health. We can also be fearful of explaining such things to children, worrying that the stress of the conversation isn’t needed or that we don’t understand it enough to talk to them about it. But everyone needs to be talking about mental health, and everyone - including our youngest children - needs to be aware that mental wellbeing is as important as physical wellbeing and it needs to be addressed. 

I chose a very simple way to explain my borderline personality disorder to my children. I explained the common theory of the overflowing stress container. “Mummy can’t always keep all the information she needs to in her head at one time.” Both of my daughters nodded at this point. I went on to explain that some things were very old, but I’d not dealt with them and so they were taking up much more space that they should. I explained that some things worry me, which trigger my anxiety, and these items also take up more space than they should. Sometimes when my head is full, I refer to it as my cloudy mind, then I can get upset or scared or angry because I don’t know what to do. 

We must let children and young adults know that emotions and feelings are normal and needed. It’s important that kids aren’t worried or scared of their emotions - they need to learn how to express anger and find a useful place to vent it. Bottling it up is what has made my ongoing battles worse. I first visited my GP about my mental health when I was 16, over 20 years ago, and it was only last year that I was finally diagnosed. 

I now spend time with my children each week supporting them to express their emotions effectively and in a safe environment. We work with growth mindset exercises at home and try to be as honest and open as possible. We talk openly about family members who are no longer with us. I once heard them say they didn’t like to talk about their nan or grandma for fear of upsetting me and their dad. It’s odd really, as we used to avoid speaking about the same things in fear of upsetting the children. But now we chat about them all the time and make sure the kids know it’s OK to be or feel upset. 

Do we have a perfect family life? Not at all. There are still the usual sibling disagreements, temper tantrums, bursts of anger and family fallouts. But I think, in being aware of our mental health and wellbeing, we talk about these things and they don’t fester or bottle up for as long. 

Read more on Sarah’s blog here:

Learn how to become a Youth Mental Health First Aider and support young people at