How to Talk to Your Parents About Mental Health
One of the most important aspects in fostering your emotional well-being is having a strong support system. However, often times the people closest to us such as our parents, or other family members are also the people who find it the hardest to understand the significance of talking about mental health. Having been raised in a Japanese household where discussing mental health was very much a taboo, I struggled to bring up certain topics with my mother. It took many years for her to understand my mental illness and this created added layers of stress and anxiety. This experience is common amongst people who were raised in communities where mental health has a strong stigma against it. But just because your family may not be understanding of your situation, that doesn't mean you should avoid talking about it altogether. I wrote this article on how to talk to your parents about mental health with the help of friends who also shared their experiences with me and I hope that it can be useful to anyone in a similar situation!
1. Identifying your feelings
Before you are ready to discuss the topic of mental health with your family or with others, the most important step is to notice your own emotions and try to understand what could be causing them. Acknowledging these feeling within yourself first will help you prepare to better communicate these feelings with others. Often times when we are so overwhelmed by our emotions, we tend to avoid them altogether, or if someone asks us "what's wrong?" we can't seem to find the right words to address it. This is why sitting with yourself first and trying to understand where your emotions are coming from is key. For example, noticing that you are experiencing mood swings more frequently, finding it difficult to concentrate on tasks, experiencing prolonged feelings of exhaustion or lack of enthusiasm in day to day activities. These are all signs that you could potentially be suffering from a mental illness. Once you begin noticing these symptoms, the next step is communicating these emotions in order to further seek support.
2. Encouraging daily conversations about emotional well-being
There is a common misconception that talking about mental health = talking about mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety. However, this is not the case. Mental health encompasses a broad span of topics surrounding your mental and emotional well-being. As a result, it is important to start with conversations regarding your daily behavior and feelings. Avoid initially using words such as "depressed" or other mental disorders because unfortunately these words still have strong negative connotations and can come across as a shock to your parents or family members if they are not fully versed in these topics. If a parent asks you "how was your day?" instead of simply saying "fine" try to be more specific about what you are feeling. For example try saying "I've recently been feeling tired all the time and I don't know why. I feel like I'm lacking motivation to do anything" or "today my classmates were rude to me and it made me feel upset. I feel like I'm not good enough." These are gateway conversations that can lead to more serious conversations about the topic of mental health. Whether you are battling a mental illness or not, it is always important to encourage conversations within the family about emotional well-being. Being more expressive overall and normalizing such conversations are crucial in establishing healthy relationships with your family members.
3. Figuring out the right time to speak to your family
Seeking further mental health support often entails seeing a psychiatrist or a therapist. These options can be costly and/or require the approval of your guardian. If you are considering seeing a psychiatrist or therapist and need to discuss this with a parent, I suggest finding the right time to sit down with them and discuss this option. If you know that your parents are going through something or are busy, try to find a time when you know that they can give you their undivided attention. Explain how you have been struggling and that you are looking to seek further support. Be prepared for many questions. Do research beforehand on psychiatrists near you or on how seeing a therapist or psychiatrist can be helpful so that you can convey this information to your parents. If you have a school counselor, speaking to them first and then engaging in a conversation with your parents and school counselor present can be helpful and make it easier for your parents to better understand. Your parents may feel that they are to blame for the way you are feeling, so try to reassure them that you are not trying to blame them but rather you want their support as much as possible.
4. Remember: you are not a burden
Often times we hold back from talking to our parents about our problems because we are scared of burdening them or because it can initially make us feel worse depending on their response. However, it's important to remember that you and your health are your utmost priority. Even if it means starting uncomfortable conversations and even though it may take time for your parents to be able to understand your situation, you will not lose anything in opening up to them about something so important. Don't feel discouraged if they are not supportive or understanding the first time around as it will definitely take time for both you and your parents to adjust and that is more than okay.
Be open and honest, be prepared that your parents may not be accepting at first, but eventually they will come around. In the meantime there are so many other ways to receive support and I hope that you never feel alone.
To summarize, here are a few points that can help when talking to your parents about mental health:
・ease the topic into day to day conversations
・help your parents understand that it is not their fault
・be more expressive
・normalize talking about feelings
・recognize that your parents do care about you and want what is best for you
・be patient with them
Thank you so much to my friends who shared their experiences with me and helped me write this article. If anyone is ever in need of further support please know that you can reach out to me and I am here to support you!