How to Talk to My Parents or Guardian

If you are struggling with your mental health — for example, if you are feeling down or nervous much of the time — it’s important to talk with your parent or guardian and let them know you need help.

Some conversations are “bigger” than others, and it’s normal to feel uncertain or worried about sharing something personal or emotional. So, how do you have this conversation?

Plan What You Want To Say

A good starting place is to think about how you will explain what you are experiencing. It can be helpful to provide a few specific examples of what you are feeling to help your parents understand. It’s helpful to write down some notes in advance to prepare for the conversation. It may be helpful to let your parents or guardian know in advance that you are going through something difficult and you’re nervous to bring it up, but you hope they can understand and help you figure out how to handle it.

Find A Private Space To Talk

Try to find a time and place where you can have some privacy, away from any other family members or distractions. See if you can take a walk or sit outside together. Ask everyone to leave their cell phones somewhere else during the conversation.

Explain As Clearly As You Can

Try to be as clear and specific as you can about what you are experiencing, and give them a chance to ask you questions. If you start feeling overwhelmed or anxious, it’s ok to pause to take some deep breaths and collect your thoughts. Try not to let your emotions get in the way of your ability to describe what is happening. Most importantly, don’t give up and walk away from the conversation. The more clearly you can describe what you’re going through, the more likely it is that they’ll be able to help you.

Discuss Possible Next Steps

It’s ok not to have a plan for what comes next — you can’t be expected to! Consider asking them if they have suggestions, or even looking at online resources together to help everyone understand what you are experiencing and for suggestions about how to find help.

Continue The Conversation

Once you have a plan in place and have taken some steps to feel better, it’s important to continue talking about this. Maintaining an open, honest line of communication with your parent or guardian is crucial to them understanding that you may need more help or support, including making decisions about speaking to the family doctor or your pediatrician for recommendations.

Options To Consider If They Are Not Supportive

Even if you do your best to explain what you are going through, there might be times when your parents or guardian don’t seem to understand or are not willing to help you get the support you need. This might be particularly true if they’ve never experienced mental health challenges themselves or don’t understand them. They may:

  • Feel guilty or blame themselves for what you are experiencing
  • Be concerned about the cost of getting professional help
  • Have issues trusting mental health care clinicians
  • Believe that emotional or mental health problems should be dealt with privately, and that they can be “fixed” through trying harder or prayer instead of professional treatment

Explain The Effort You’ve Put In

If they do not believe professional mental health care is necessary or helpful, you might start by letting them know that you have been trying to manage on your own, but you are still struggling. Ask if they’d be open to getting you more help in addition to the self-care or other techniques you have tried. In the same way that we can’t stay healthy if we eat just one kind of food and need a balanced diet, sometimes we need to take several approaches at once to get necessary emotional support.

Let Them Know There Are Resources/Affordable Options

It can be hard to find affordable mental health care in some areas. Your parents or guardian might be worried about being able to pay for your care or not know how to find a doctor or therapist. It may be helpful to offer suggestions: your school counselor, pediatrician (or other health care professional) or faith leader may be able to suggest local resources.

Talk To Someone Else In Your Family/Network

If you’ve tried speaking to your parent or guardian, but can’t seem to get through to them, try to think of someone else in your family or community who could “take your side,” either to support you directly or to speak to your parent or guardian for you.

Is there someone else in your family (like an older sibling, grandparent, uncle or aunt) who might be more understanding? Is there a close family friend or faith leader you could talk to? It can be especially helpful if this person has also experienced mental health challenges and benefitted from getting help.

If you can’t think of anyone in your family or community, check if your school has a counselor or social worker. You can meet privately to speak with them and ask their advice. They may also be able to meet with your family to try to work out the differences in understanding.

Even if none of these options seem to work, don’t give up. If you have access to a mobile device or computer, you can connect to free confidential text-based support through the Crisis Text Line or other text-based support services. They can help you figure out your options.

Source: NAMI