Sometimes it’s hard to put into words what’s going on inside your head—especially when it comes to your mental health.
It’s easy to feel like your struggles get lost in translation. If you’ve ever been afraid of sharing your feelings with those closest to you, you’re not alone.
Challenges such as generational differences and communication barriers often lead to parents misunderstanding issues surrounding mental health. For many parents and guardians, mental health was seldom discussed during childhood and young adulthood, making it unfamiliar territory.
This article will help you bridge the gap between your young mind and your parents’ perception of your well-being.
Open conversations are key to connecting with your parents about your mental health struggles. It can feel tough to open up, but you can unlock much-needed empathy and support by learning how to share your feelings and thoughts.
Keep reading to learn how to talk to your parents about mental health by addressing common misconceptions, creating a safe space, and helping them see the world through your eyes.
Why is mental health important?
Understanding mental health today
Fortunately, the world’s understanding of mental health is improving daily. More people are learning that the health of our minds is just as important to our well-being as the health of our bodies. This has allowed many people to speak freely about their mental states without fear of judgment.
However, just because these conversations have become more widely accepted, that doesn’t mean it’s become easy to deal with the difficulties of mental health struggles.
Challenges faced by teenagers and young adults
Starting new schools or jobs, exploring new relationships, discovering one’s identity: all these changes can cause stress and burden one’s mental well-being. According to a survey conducted by Harmony Healthcare, 42% of Gen Z has been diagnosed with a mental health condition.
These mental health challenges can make life harder in many ways, especially for someone who feels like they lack support. And when left unaddressed, mental health conditions can become even more problematic over time.
People who ignore symptoms of mental health conditions are vulnerable to serious problems later in life. Issues with relationships, work, and substances are common for those who allow their symptoms to worsen.
Untreated conditions can even have profound consequences on physical health, such as a weakened immune system, an increased risk of chronic health conditions, and unhealthy sleeping and eating habits.
It’s important to get help as soon as possible if you’re struggling with your mental health. And one of the best sources of support for many young people is their parents.
The critical role of parents
Parents who understand mental health and its importance can become a crucial part of your support system. With your help, they can learn to listen to your feelings and experiences without judgment. They can also make it easier for you to acquire professional help from a psychiatrist or licensed therapist as needed.
However, there’s an unfortunate disconnect between young people and parents regarding mental health.
A study from the University of Michigan found that although 95% of parents feel confident that they would be able to notice symptoms of poor mental health in their children, only 25% of them believe that their kids would “definitely” talk to them about it.
It’s evident that these critical conversations aren’t happening as often as they should, and there are several possible explanations for this.
Why do some parents not understand mental health?
Parents born in previous generations often grew up when mental health was seldom discussed. The silence surrounding these issues might influence their understanding of current mental health conversations.
Cultural and societal norms during parents’ formative years also significantly affect their understanding. During those times, stoicism was often valued over emotional expression, meaning that those who “sucked it up” and “got over it” were often applauded for their ability to keep everything inside.
Because of this, many older adults choose to deal with mental conditions, such as depression, on their own rather than seek professional help. In addition, the belief that showing vulnerability equates to weakness can challenge parents’ acceptance of their children’s mental health struggles.
Stigma surrounding mental health
Stigma, stereotypes, and misconceptions about mental health are still prevalent in society. This misinformation can instill fear or shame in individuals, making it difficult for parents to accept their children’s mental health concerns.
Terms that characterize people living with a mental condition as abnormal or threatening are widespread, which maintains the false notion that struggling with mental health is something to be ashamed of. Below is a list of ways to turn harmful phrases into more appropriate language:
The sense of shame caused by stigma results in many people doing everything in their power to hide what they’re feeling. There are countless stories online of older people calling into work sick in fear that openly admitting their mental health struggles will result in judgment from their colleagues.
Lack of information and education
Without a clear understanding of mental health and how it affects someone, parents might have difficulty grasping what their child is experiencing.
In an extreme case, Mental Health America reports that roughly 68% of people 65 and older know almost nothing about clinical depression or its symptoms. While younger parents are often more informed on the subject than Baby Boomers, this shows that adequate mental health education wasn’t made available to the average person in the past.
The absence of accurate and comprehensive information about mental health leads to the spread of myths and misconceptions.
Conversations around mental health can be uncomfortable and difficult. A 2022 Springtide Research Institute survey suggests that 53% of middle school, high school, and college students would feel uncomfortable telling their parents that they’re meeting with a school counselor or mental health care professional.
This discomfort could be due to the problems mentioned above, but it could also stem from the inherent awkwardness that many young people experience when talking about their feelings.
Emotional difficulties in acceptance
Unfortunately, many parents feel responsible for their child’s mental health complications, leading to guilt, sadness, and even denial. These emotional hurdles can complicate the process of understanding and accepting their child’s mental health conditions.
It’s important to understand where these reactions and challenges are coming from before talking about mental health with your parents.
Armed with this knowledge, the following seven tips will give you the tools to help you talk to your parents about mental health.
If you need help outside of your parents or guardian, don’t wait:
Planning a conversation about mental health is like preparing for a journey; being prepared can make it much smoother. This means fully understanding your own mental health struggles, knowing how to speak about them, and having the right information to share.
Conducting this research beforehand not only gives a solid basis for the conversation but also shows the seriousness of the matter. For parents who don’t believe in or understand mental conditions, facts and statistics from credible organizations can go a long way in convincing them of mental health’s importance.
Starting the conversation
A quiet and comfortable place with minimal disruption is ideal for starting the conversation. It’s best to choose a time when there’s no rush, and everyone has the patience to listen and understand.
Initiating the conversation may seem tricky, but starting with simple questions or statements can help everyone ease into it. Phrases like “I have something important to talk about” or “Do you mind if I talk about something that’s been going on recently?” can set the stage for the conversation.
Explaining your experience
Sharing personal experiences about mental health will likely take up a majority of the conversation. It provides a firsthand account of what’s happening and the challenges you’ve been facing. Being honest and clear about your feelings will be helpful for both parties.
Expressing emotions effectively is key. This could mean describing how mental health issues are affecting your day-to-day activities or explaining changes in mood or behavior that others may have noticed. At the end of the day, your parents want what they think is best for you, so it’s important to convey that your current state just isn’t working for you.
Providing educational resources
While the topic of mental health is way too complex to cover in one sitting, it might be helpful to share one or two resources that you found during your preparation. Too many facts or statistics can detract from the message you’re trying to convey, but some parents will appreciate the opportunity to explore additional information on their own.
Some parents may brush off your concerns, telling you it’s “just a phase” or that you can overcome it by “thinking positively.” While this may be true in some instances, parents need to recognize that many mental health conditions are beyond the healing powers of time or a mindset change.
Encouraging empathy and understanding
Empathy is all about putting oneself in another’s shoes. We all desire to feel heard and known.
It may be helpful to say something like, “It’s important to me that I can talk to you about how I’m feeling.” During the conversation, emphasize your emotions, challenges, and experiences. By describing your struggles in detail, your perspective will become easier for your parents to understand and empathize with.
At the same time, it’s also important to acknowledge where your parents are coming from, which may be a place of stigma and fear. Patiently answer questions, address concerns, and debunk any myths your parents might have about mental health. This will pave the way for understanding.
Seeking professional help together
The role of professional help in managing or treating mental health issues cannot be overstated. Therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists have the expertise to identify and provide treatment for these conditions.
Getting your parents on your team before seeking professional help makes life much easier. You can talk to them about how you want them to help you throughout the process, which will likely look different for everyone.
Maybe you just need help finding the right provider or want your parents to sit in on your initial session to provide support. You could ask your parents to help you financially or hold you accountable with new medications.
Regardless of your individualized needs, involving your parents in your journey can give them a deeper understanding of the situation, which will help them provide better support.
Some parents may be afraid of the stigma of seeking help from a mental health professional for their children, so it’s important to eliminate their objections by carefully following each of the prior steps. If you decide to ask them about professional help at the end of the conversation, hopefully they’ll be more open to the idea than they would have been at the beginning.
Talking to parents about mental health may feel daunting, but it’s an essential step toward fostering understanding and support.
None of us should have to navigate our mental health journey alone. Parents can serve as strong pillars of support for your well-being. But keep in mind some people may never understand the importance of mental health—in some cases, this might include your parents.
Regardless of how your conversation turns out, you should be proud of yourself for being brave enough to reach out. Remember that you deserve love and support, whoever you are, and however you feel.
Continue to seek understanding and acceptance from people in your life, whether from your parents, friends, or professional healthcare providers.
These conversations will never be easy, but they have the potential to pave the way for more fulfilling and harmonious relationships with those who care for us.