by Andrea M. Darcy
Sometimes it can feel like your parents just don’t live in the same reality. You are changing, but they still treat you as the kid they knew. Or you have all new challenges and problems they seem to know nothing about.
How to talk to your parents about mental health
So how on earth can you then talk to them if you are suffering from anxiety, depression, an eating disorder, or any other mental health issue, and want their help to get to a counsellor?
First things first – be proud of yourself for asking for help.
We all, at certain times in our life, need help. Asking for it is really courageous and takes inner strength. You are on the right track.
Be sure you are asking the right person for help.
Some parents have their own problems and mental health issues to deal with. And sadly, sometimes parents are even the reason you need help in the first place.
If you need counselling because your parent has been physically, emotionally, or sexually abusive to you, or if you have a reason to believe your parent might hurt or punish you for wanting help, do not put yourself in danger by asking them. Turn to a school counsellor, another trusted family member or family friend, or even talk to your GP.
TIP: You can also contact Childline here in the UK and they can guide you with other places to seek help, or advise you on whether or not it’s a good idea to talk to your parents.
Get your timing right.
Asking your parents for help is best done when they are relaxed and have proper time to talk. If you aren’t sure, just ask them. “Is this an ok time to talk to you about something?”
TIP: If it feels more relaxing for you, consider talking as you do an activity together, such as walking the dog, doing the dishes, or making dinner together.
Preparation is everything.
The problem with difficult conversations is that our nerves mean we end up talking about something else entirely, or say things we regret.
The best way around this is to prepare for the conversation in advance.
- Plan in advance what the main facts are. “I am feeling depressed, it’s been going on for about six months, and I really want to see a counsellor”.
- Don’t be vague, give real detail. “I feel anxious in class, I’m struggling to sleep, and I am having gloomy thoughts about myself and the world”.
- Also give detail on what you need support for and how it can benefit you. So not just , “I want to feel better”, but “I need help controlling my negative thoughts and raising my self-esteem so I can do better at school and not ruin my chance at university.”
- Have information ready that can help your parents. Printouts or links to sites about teenage mental health, or even a list of counsellors you’d like to try.
TIP: Practise the conversation in advance with a friend if they are in the know, if not even in a mirror.
Don’t play the blame game.
The moment we turn a conversation toward blame or judgement we are encouraging the other person to shut down and become defensive. This takes us away from achieving our goal.
Consider starting the conversation with some positives, or some gratitude about their parenting so they know you are not trying to blame them. “I know you want the best for me, and you always have done your best to take care of me, and I appreciate it.” Of course be honest here, flattery never gets you far.
Keep all statements as “I” statements, not starting with ‘You’. The second you start using ‘you this, you that’, you have gone into blame and attack.
TIP: Don’t set one parent against the other. It’s okay to ask if they agree with each other, but don’t ask one person to side with you. So more, “Do you guys agree or disagree on that?” and less, “Dad, how can you let her say that?!”
Look for help, not understanding.
If you start getting caught up in explaining or understanding yourself the conversation will go nowhere. Focus on your goal, which is to get help.
Remember, a trained counsellor or psychotherapist will understand all you are going through even if your parents don’t. And they can help you with the best ways to share and navigate your parents in the future. So keep your focus on getting their help to see a counsellor.
TIP: If you parents start going on about everything else but help, use ‘the broken record technique’. This means rephrasing the same thing again and again, in slightly different variations, for example:
- “I don’t understand what I did wrong as a parent.” Okay, Mum, but right now I just need you to help me get to a counsellor.
- “But why are you depressed, what is this about?” Well I need to figure that out. So I need your help getting some counselling.
- “Are you sure you want counselling?” Yes, I’m sure. Can you please help me with the funding for it?
Give them time.
Remember, your parents might not really have any previous experience of what you are sharing with them. It might be less that they don’t want to help you, and more that they are just a bit lost as to what to do or say just yet.
So don’t expect a perfect answer or reaction. Expect them to need time.
TIP: Give your parents a timeline or even deadline, such as saying, ‘I know it is probably something you need time to think about, so maybe you can think about what I’ve just told you, and we can talk again in a week or so? Like perhaps next Saturday over lunch?’. This can be better then just leaving it hanging and always feeling on edge about when to bring it up.
In the UK and want to talk to an experienced counsellor who works with teens? Harley Therapy offers therapists at three London locations, as well as UK-wide via Skype.
Andrea M. Darcy is a mental health expert and personal development teacher with training in person-centred counselling and coaching. She is also a popular psychology writer. She didn’t have anyone to talk to as a teenager, and received very little in the way of parenting, so has a passion for helping others going through the same. Follow her on Instagram for useful life tips @am_darcy