It’s not your fault. It’s OK to ask for help. You’re not alone.
Children who have a parent or a sibling with depression, bipolar or another mental illness often need to hear those words, mental health professionals say. And they can hear them from young people who’ve been through similar experiences at Kidshop, a program offered by National Alliance on Mental Illness of Minnesota (NAMI Minnesota) for kids and teens ages 7 to 17.
The program is offered throughout Dakota, Hennepin and Ramsey counties. The next session will be Sept. 19 in Apple Valley at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.
Kidshop runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and starts with an activity designed for the children to get to know each other. There’s initially no talk about mental illness. But, gradually, through activities and discussion, they share their concerns and learn they’re not alone, said Suzette Scheele, a NAMI Minnesota staff member who previously worked with Kidshop.
“When I did this, when I talked about bipolar disorder, we had an activity where we painted a light switch cover,” Scheele said. “We talked about bipolar as being an illness that’s sometimes on and sometimes off. Moods could switch, like a light switch.”
All of the facilitators know what it’s like to have a family member struggling with mental illness. That might mean that their dad has depression so it’s hard for him to get out of bed and do activities with them on the weekend. Or that their sister has bipolar disorder and needs to be taken to therapy or treatment.
“They might perceive that their parents is spending more time with a sibling,” Scheele said.
Participants are given stress balls and journals so they can write down their thoughts and experiences. Older kids might talk about celebrities they know who have struggled with mental illnesses — Carrie Underwood, Justin Timberlake, J.K. Rowling.
“Kids are very open,” she said. “They talk about their experiences. It’s a great way to realize they’re not alone.”