How to Talk to Your Parents About Your Mental Health
November 18, 2020
A Post for Teens and Young Adults
Talking to your parents or any adult about your mental health can be challenging, uncomfortable, or even intimidating. It probably feels more natural to confide in your friends than with your parents. It can be scary opening up to your parents about feelings of depression or anxiety, partly because you don’t want to upset them.
Even though it may not be easy, having conversations with your parents or other trusted adults can help your mental health in the long run. Talking through your emotions with a trusted adult can give you more clarity about what you might be going through. You’ll likely feel less isolated. It’s also an important part of establishing a support system you can lean on when times are tough.
Families for Depression Awareness Advisory Board member Mary Fristad, Ph.D., ABPP, Director of Academic Affairs and Research Development at Nationwide Children’s Hospital Big Lots Behavioral Health Services in Columbus, Ohio, recently shared with us common concerns that teens may have about opening up to their parents, along with some tips to make talking about your emotions more manageable.
Send up a Little Flag
If you do not feel comfortable expressing all your feelings at once with your parents, start by sharing one thing. For example, you may feel overwhelmed and depressed, lonely and isolated during COVID, tired from not sleeping well, and stressed by the school. That’s a lot to tackle at once. You might take the first step by telling your parent, “I miss seeing my friends.”
Speaking up opens the door so you can work together to find options that could help. For example, you could explore with your parent how you might connect with friends in a safe way. Fristad offers, “Can we talk about options?” as a less emotionally-charged way to start these conversations. This allows you and your parent to compromise and find meaningful solutions to address a specific challenge. You can build it from there.
Communicate Honestly and Openly
“Parents tend to focus on behavior and may have a negative view of the behavior they see from their teens,” says Fristad. Slamming doors, skipping family meals, hibernating in their rooms, and so on. Adults often don’t realize what’s behind your behavior. One way to change this is to talk with your parents about the “why.” Sharing your feelings with a parent can give them insight into why you are feeling or behaving the way you are. This allows your parents to understand what’s bothering you and shift their perspective on your actions.
For example, if you just got into an argument with a friend, you might get angry and snap at your parents when they ask you about your day. Instead of reacting this way, help your parents understand what’s going on and causing you to feel and react this way. You could say something like, “I don’t really want to talk about it, but Becca and I just had a fight over text so I’m pretty upset. I just need some time by myself.”
What if My Parent Isn’t Helpful?
If you think your parents won’t be willing to help you or listen, Fristad suggests you should still try to talk to them. They may surprise you.
“Sometimes parents are not responsive because they are stressed or have a lot going on themselves,” she says. “Ask your parent when is a good time for the two of you to talk. Figure out the right environment to approach your parents with a conversation. It might be while going for a walk, driving to an appointment, or cooking dinner together.”
If you try to reach out to your parents and they won’t help, turn to another trusted adult in your circle such as a teacher, counselor at your school, leader in your spiritual community, or your favorite aunt. It’s important not to give up. You will feel better and less alone after talking with a trusted adult.