How to Talk to Your Parents About Your Mental Health

It may not be easy, but it can be so worth it

How To Tell Your Parents You Need Help: Sad girl in beanie

(Photo by Olaia Irigoien on Unsplash)

No matter how close your relationship with your parents may be, there are some things that are just too difficult to bring up. An issue with your mental health, for instance, may be one of them.

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A recent study found that one in four girls will experience depression by the time they hit 14. Unfortunately, the same study found that parents tend to underestimate the extent of their children’s depression. Sometimes they even fail to recognize the signs altogether.

To be honest, you can’t completely blame parents for being somewhat clueless. When you’re a young adult, how often do you really want to talk to your parents about your problems? But discussing your mental health goes deeper than anything going on with school or your social life.

“When someone is struggling with their mental health it can be very hard to open up and communicate how they feel because they already feel vulnerable,” mental health therapist Emily Griffin tells AwesomenessTV.

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Recognizing that there’s something wrong with you in the first place is already a pretty big deal. Opening up about it can lead to a whole world of anxiety (i.e. What if they don’t believe me? What if they look at me differently? What if they think it’s their fault?), which is why some people may choose to just keep it to themselves.

The choice to tell or not tell your parents is ultimately up to you. But, as Griffin says, “It’s important to remember that not communicating your needs will keep you at a state of struggling.”

So if you’ve been having a hard time with your mental health and are ready to tell your parents you need help, here’s what you should do.

1. Remind yourself that you need the support and that you don’t have to go it alone.

Mental health issues can feel so isolating because no one but you really knows what’s going on inside. So it’s easy to convince yourself that you can continue to go it alone.

Telling anyone about what you’re experiencing can be scary. You just never know how others are going to react. But if you’ve made the conscious decision to tell your parents, because you really want to get help, stick with it. Don’t let your doubts sway you.

“Telling parents that you need help is often easier than you may think,” licensed mental health counselor Monte Drenner tells ATV. “Caring and involved parents will have already noticed some decline in your mood or level of functioning and will be concerned about this. So opening up might actually be a relief to them.”

2. Knowing your parents, plan the best way to break it to them.

Is it better to tell them over dinner or sometime during the day? Should you do it separately or when they’re both together? These are all important questions to ask yourself before you actually talk to them.

“It may feel overwhelming to consider speaking with them both at the same time, especially if you know that they tend to have very different reactions — that might add more stress,” NYC-based therapist Katie Krimer tells ATV.

Maybe you can find an ally in one before breaking it to the other. Keeping in mind your parents’ personalities will help you plan the best possible way to bring it up.

3. Write it out.

Once you’ve planned out the when and how, now it’s time to think of the what. What are you going to say? As Krimer says, “Writing it out can help you feel more confident, but it can also show your parents that you’ve really thought about what you want to discuss.”

If you need some help getting started, try listing out your concerns and your needs. For instance, what’s going on with you? How long has this been going on? How has it affected your day-to-day routine? What do you think you need to feel better about it?

You don’t have to chart it all out or make it so formulaic. But planning it out could make a huge difference and can definitely help you organize your thoughts.

5. Present them with facts.

Use the power of Google to your advantage. The internet is filled with all kinds of of great data about the causes of and treatment options for the full range of mental health issues, from depression to self-mutilation, drug addiction to anxiety.

“Teens should arm [themselves] with the facts and present their situation to their parents as an issue they are struggling with that has a solution,” licensed marriage and family therapist Dr. Paul Hokemeyer tells ATV. “This way, they will contain their parents’ anxiety and show them that in addition to suffering from a medical condition, they have the maturity and intellectual capacity to find a solution.”

6. Be as honest and direct as possible.

Do you want to see a therapist? Do you need a support group? Are you worried that you’re going to hurt yourself? What kind of help do you need?

“Be direct,” Krimer says. “Do your best to not beat around the bush or minimize your experience. Even if you don’t think your issues are that serious, it’s best to ask for help before they potentially get worse.”

Keep in mind that your parents may have their own histories with mental illness, for better or worse, but this is a conversation where you need to be open about your own experience.

“Everyone comes from different backgrounds — that can make talking about mental health easier or harder,” Jade Lenier, a writer and mental health advocate, tells ATV. “Parents often want information to legitimize and understand the issue you are facing. But being honest — even if they don’t react well — may be what gets you the help you need.”

Overall, getting needed support is way more important than any upset or confusion that stigmas and stereotypes surrounding mental illness can cause in the moment. They’re your parents after all; they love you. So just go for it.

Kristine Fellizar
Kristine Fellizar

Kristine Fellizar is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. She specializes in everything related to sex, dating, and relationships. When she’s not working and feeding into her coffee and boba addiction all over L.A., chances are you'll find her at Disneyland.