If you’ve been having a hard time recently, you will need someone to talk to. A friend, a sibling, a parent. But for many people, finding the courage to address their own mental health can be very difficult–especially when trying to figure out how to talk to parents about mental health issues. Some people feel guilty about being depressed or anxious. Some people feel it’s their fault, would become a burden to others if they mentioned it, and others think it might go away if they ignore it.
Ignoring Thoughts and Feelings
Sadly, most mental health problems don’t away on their own. And ignoring your thoughts and feelings can often make them worse over time. Talking to your loved ones is one of your best options for recourse, and it’s something they’d want you to do. A mental health condition can be difficult to address, but it does not ever make you a burden to those who love you, no matter how much that thought echoes itself in your head.
There are times when it might be important to prepare yourself before you talk to a loved one about how you’ve been feeling. Your parents might become upset if you tell them how you feel. They might become angry. But it’s crucial that you understand that these emotions are often because they’re upset with themselves, not with you. In the same way, we feel we’ve let our loved ones down when we feel bad, and our loved ones might feel like they’ve failed us, even if they did not.
Sometimes we Blame Ourselves
Mental health problems are often misunderstood in such a way that most people try to find out where things went wrong–even when there is no concrete cause or triggering event for a bout of depression or anxiety or for a history of substance use. No one chooses to struggle with their mental health, and it’s often not something that’s done to us.
When we don’t have anyone to blame, we tend to blame ourselves. But while it’s often very difficult to think of these things rationally, especially at the height of a depressive episode or anxious day, it’s usually neither your fault nor the fault of your parents. That is why it’s so important to start talking to each other.
The Importance of Talking
Before you find a way to talk to your parents about your mental health, it’s important to understand why talking helps.
Most mental health issues are treated through a combination of modalities, talk therapy, and medication. Cognitive behavioral therapy, in particular, is often the gold standard for treating conditions such as depression and anxiety, whereas other talk therapy methods, such as dialectical behavior therapy, exposure response prevention therapy, and psychodynamic therapy each have their own application in the treatment of conditions ranging from panic disorder to obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, and personality disorders.
Talking to Loved Ones
Our friends and parents usually aren’t trained therapists or medical professionals. But talking to our loved ones about how we feel can bring us closer to the first step of therapy – learning to put our thoughts and emotions to words and sharing them with someone else. Even just acknowledging how you feel can be a cathartic experience and can be healing.
In many cases, our loved ones can even offer relevant advice and helpful affirmations. Many instances of mental health problems are hereditary, and the chances are that your parent might have struggled with similar thoughts when they were your age. Their experiences and coping mechanisms may help you find better ways to heal, as well.
Sadly, this isn’t always the case.
Dealing With Expectations and Disappointments
As we grow older, we begin to develop a concept of who we want to become while coping with the reality of who we are. Reconciling the two is important but difficult, especially if we become uncompromising with ourselves, and especially when our expectations for ourselves are set dramatically high.
The easier it is to fail your own expectations, the more often you will do so, and the more frustrated you will grow with yourself, creating a vicious cycle. In some cases, we begin to project these expectations of ourselves onto others.
If you hold yourself accountable to an extremely high level, ask yourself if these expectations are really set by your parents or if they’re something you’ve set for yourself.
Ask yourself if your parents, who love you, would really be disappointed to hear that you’re struggling – or if they would instead be worried and want to help as best they can. In most cases, the truth will be closer to the latter.
If your parents do have extremely high expectations for you, then it’s all the more important to talk to them about how you feel, especially how you feel about their reactions towards your struggles and thoughts.
Parents want what’s best for their kids, including wanting them to become the best versions of themselves. Understanding that their own approach and reaction to how you’re feeling might play a role in why you’ve been hiding how you feel might help them consider a better way to respond to you in the future.
How to Initiate the Conversation
We tend to know how our parents might react to most things, but when it comes to mental illness, it’s difficult to trust your own judgment because of how certain conditions can lead us to consistently fear the worst outcomes.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare yourself. Take the time to consider what your parents might say and, more importantly, what questions they might ask. And ask yourself what you feel comfortable addressing. Not everyone wishes their parents to know everything, and you are entitled to privacy, especially with regards to your thoughts.
Divulging only the bare necessities can present an altogether different set of problems, of course. Your parents might not know how to help you without a few more details. Some things you might want to consider bringing up when asked (or when introducing your problems) include:
- When it started.
- How you usually feel.
- How bad it gets.
- What makes it feel worse.
Review what you are comfortable sharing with them and what you might want them to consider. If you’ve done some research on how you’ve been feeling, you might already have an idea of what it is you’re going through.
Explaining how important it might be to you to see a professional and receive a proper diagnosis can help your parents recognize how to support you concretely.
This is especially important if your parents don’t believe you, perhaps because they’re struggling with something similar and have never acknowledged it, or because they consider your thoughts and worries to be a “normal” part of growing up.
Making it clear that you would still like a professional opinion, with all due respect to their beliefs, can be crucial to recognizing and addressing a mental health problem.
If your parents are part of the reason why you feel the way you do, it might be in your best interest to seek other resources for help. In most cases, your best bet would be to ask an older adult sibling, a school counselor, or seek official online resources for the contact details of local mental health professionals.