Mental health issues can sneak up on anyone at any time. Navigating the world each day can become confusing and scary. During times of uncertainty, depression and other mental health challenges can quickly cast shadows over things that used to bring joy.
In these times, it can be very hard to open up about an issue like depression or anxiety—even with someone you trust, like a parent. Yet asking for help or sharing what’s going on is often critical to finding a path to healing and recovery. Here are some tips for how to divulge a mental health problem to Mom and Dad.
Understanding Mental Health Issues
Feeling down and experiencing sadness is a normal part of life; but when sadness turns into hopelessness and despair, it may be a form of depression. When the sadness begins to affect daily life, feelings, and the ability to function, it is time to seek help.
Although depression and other mental health issues can vary from person to person, these are some common signs and symptoms of depression and other mental health issues:
- Loss of interest in usual activities
- Changes in normal sleep patterns
- Unusual irritability or bouts of anger
- Diminished energy
- Feelings of worthlessness or extreme guilt
- Risky or compulsive behavior
- Body aches and overall fatigue
- Dramatic weight gain or loss
- Preoccupation with death
Depression and other mental health issues can occur at any age. They may develop after a stressful or tragic event or they may begin for no apparent reason at all. It is important to understand that mental health issues are never the fault of the person experiencing them and help is available. There is value in being able to explain mental health to parents.
How to Tell Parents I’m Having Mental Health Issues
After identifying what’s ailing you (in the form of symptoms you’re experiencing), the next step may be to communicate these concerns to trusted friends or family. Many people wonder how to explain mental health to parents. Conveying that they are depressed or struggling with mental health issues can feel embarrassing, shameful, and a sign of weakness or defect.
The uncertainty of mental illness can carry over into conversations with parents, but there is value in talking it out with family members whom you trust. Parents may not even know that anything is going on, so it may be up to the struggling person to initiate the conversation. Parents may have cultural or religious beliefs that prevent them from understanding the true impact of mental illness on their child. Mental health is still not readily discussed within families, and parents may lack the education and tools they need to successfully navigate mental illness with their child.
How to Start a Conversation About Mental Illness with Parents
Starting a conversation about something so personal can be challenging. It may take some planning to be ready for a conversation about mental health. Here are a few ways to make it easier:
- Write a note explaining the situation.
- Schedule an appointment with parents so that it is assumed that attention to this issue is required.
- Ask for five minutes to speak without comment and be completely honest.
What happens next may surprise you. Mom or Dad may share their own struggles with similar issues. If the flow of the conversation trails off, it’s okay to hit the pause button and pick up the conversation again in the future. Topics like mental health can and should belong to a larger and ongoing conversation.
Some cultures and families are less receptive to mental health challenges. In these instances, speak with someone else whom you trust ahead of time and ask them to accompany you in the conversation. Having reinforcement when speaking to parents can be helpful in breaking down cultural barriers and gaining the support of parents. People who feel that their parents will not be receptive or supportive tend to feel safer when they have someone with them to facilitate the conversation.
Do You Have to Talk to Your Parents About Mental Health?
If you are under the age of 18, you may be concerned that your parents will not take you seriously or will be judgmental. Perhaps mental health issues have never been discussed in your home. Many parents have their own troubles that prevent them from recognizing serious issues in their children. In these instances, it may be best to reach out to a guidance counselor, coach, teacher, or trusted mentor first and invite them to be part of the conversation with your parents.
Minors are not permitted to seek mental health treatment without the permission of a parent, so it is important to keep trying until you find someone qualified who agrees to help with the conversation. If parents refuse to permit treatment, a school guidance counselor can continue the conversation with the child.
Tips on Talking to Parents About Mental Health
Many times parents don’t have the experience or tools to understand what their child needs during a mental health crisis. It may be helpful to create a list of what you need during this time to help them understand how they can be supportive. The list could include a request for:
- Gentle and kind communication with no criticism
- Reminders that they love you
- Increased affection and support
- Commitment to regular conversations
- Promise to enjoy activities together
- Accountability in a loving, supportive way
- Help with setting expectations
Life Can Improve With Treatment for a Mental Health Issue
People who experience mental health issues often feel like there is no hope. In reality, there are many things that can be done to improve mental health and improve quality of life. Speaking to parents is a great first step if it will create a support system. Start with a few small, manageable goals and gradually build from there. Understand that improving mental health requires patience and the end result is the sum of all positive choices.
Once you’ve received the support of parents or a trusted friend, it may be time to speak to a mental health professional. A few treatments to explore are:
- Therapy – Regular consultation with a mental health professional can help with building coping mechanisms and tools to prevent relapse.
- Medication – In certain instances, medicine may be prescribed. Depending on the diagnosis, medication may or may not be a long-term solution but can help to relieve the hardest symptoms.
Mental health issues can be devastating, especially when nobody knows you’re suffering—but with prompt intervention, outreach to parents, and the right treatment and therapy, life can and will get brighter.