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How do you say, "He was mentally ill."?


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This is for a class at co-op. We're going to be doing VanGogh-esque paintings and I'm giving some info about him. The children are 3rd-5th grade. I want to say something like, "This is the sad part about VanGogh. He was not a happy man. He suffered a lot because of..." I don't know how I should say, "He was mentally ill."

 

How would you say this to make it understandable but not demeaning, or too vague or some other "don't"?

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I've had to explain this to my kids multiple times already due to the many mentally ill homeless we enountered at a soup kitchen near my dh's former office. Ugh it was rough because my kids would just NOT take a simple answer and digest it.

I explained that this one man just did not think the way we do.

Then I said it was kind of like the wires in his brain were crossed. (Which I really hated explaining it like that but it seemed to register with the kids.)

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How about he was "mentally ill", there is nothing demeaning about it and it is true. Kids will understand and you do not need to perform verbal calisthenics.

 

:iagree: It may sound like a rather un-pc thing to say, but, really, what are you supposed to say? I've worked with mentally ill individuals for going on two decades, and while the pc jargon has changed, and I readily abbreviate to MI (as it is more accepted today because no one knows what in the world it means), the bottom line is still the same - a mental illness. That fellow had something going on that made him go to extremes; a mental illness is okay to speak about.

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I describe how a person can be ill or handicapped in other ways: a deaf person's ears don't work like yours, someone can have an accident and have a missing finger, a diabetic's pancreas can stop making an important chemical the body needs, etc. Then I explain how the brain controls things, how we think with them and feel with them, and that some people's brains don't work quite right. I mention they don't get a headache from this (one kid was afraid if he has a headache he was mentally ill). I tell kids that the person didn't do anything bad to deserve this.

 

Van G was discussion when my son really "got" what suicide was. He was bewildered why someone would do this. I asked him if he was a happy boy, and he said YES. I asked him if there were short times when he hurt himself or was sad about losing something and cried, and he agreed he did sometimes feel bad. I asked him what it would be like if someone felt like that all the time. That made sense to him, and he mentioned how lucky he was (that is "our" word...I stress to him how lucky he is....to have two parents, to have a comfy house, to sleep easily, to not get colds as often as other kids, etc). He was early 7 when we did this.

 

I think just saying "mentally ill" and moving on will be unclear to such young ones. They will ascribe whatever meaning that crosses their mind (think how you felt about the Pledge of A when you were 7). HTH.

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When my little ones asked what "mentally ill" meant, I explained that it was like having a sick brain that doesn't work the way ours does and this affects the person's ability to make good and/or safe choices.

:iagree:I like this definition. Don't be afraid to use real labels and real words. Sometimes if we 'dumb it down' kids then get the wrong ideas. Van Gogh is a good one to explain how his mental illness - his sick brain- effected his ability to care for himself properly. If the class consists of Christian childdren you can explain how God made our brains to protect us - yet his brain was unable to work the way God wanted so he harmed himself. You can also share how this was really before we had medicine like we have now that helps heal the brain.

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Guest janainaz
I describe how a person can be ill or handicapped in other ways: a deaf person's ears don't work like yours, someone can have an accident and have a missing finger, a diabetic's pancreas can stop making an important chemical the body needs, etc. Then I explain how the brain controls things, how we think with them and feel with them, and that some people's brains don't work quite right. I mention they don't get a headache from this (one kid was afraid if he has a headache he was mentally ill). I tell kids that the person didn't do anything bad to deserve this.

 

Van G was discussion when my son really "got" what suicide was. He was bewildered why someone would do this. I asked him if he was a happy boy, and he said YES. I asked him if there were short times when he hurt himself or was sad about losing something and cried, and he agreed he did sometimes feel bad. I asked him what it would be like if someone felt like that all the time. That made sense to him, and he mentioned how lucky he was (that is "our" word...I stress to him how lucky he is....to have two parents, to have a comfy house, to sleep easily, to not get colds as often as other kids, etc). He was early 7 when we did this.

 

I think just saying "mentally ill" and moving on will be unclear to such young ones. They will ascribe whatever meaning that crosses their mind (think how you felt about the Pledge of A when you were 7). HTH.

 

That's a great explanation that even a young child could understand.

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When my little ones asked what "mentally ill" meant, I explained that it was like having a sick brain that doesn't work the way ours does and this affects the person's ability to make good and/or safe choices.

 

I've used the same description with my own children in describing people we've had contact with who would be considered mentally ill. Even teaching paid classes, I wouldn't say much more. Leave it to the parents to fill in at an appropriate time and in the appropriate context. As mine are becoming teens then we discuss depression, dementia, suicide, etc. as it comes up.

Edited by GVA
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:iagree:I like this definition. Don't be afraid to use real labels and real words. Sometimes if we 'dumb it down' kids then get the wrong ideas. Van Gogh is a good one to explain how his mental illness - his sick brain- effected his ability to care for himself properly. If the class consists of Christian childdren you can explain how God made our brains to protect us - yet his brain was unable to work the way God wanted so he harmed himself. You can also share how this was really before we had medicine like we have now that helps heal the brain.

 

This is a wonderful way to say it.:iagree:

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