If you feel isolated, hopeless, empty, or are having frequent thoughts of death, dying, or suicide, you may be depressed. It might be time to reach out for help and support.
It can feel difficult to turn to a parent. You might think that your parents are too busy to help you, that they would overreact, or that they wouldn’t understand and write off your feelings as “just a phase.”
That’s completely understandable. It’s tough to open up about topics like anxiety or depression! Maybe you’re scared to let someone down, or maybe you’re worried about what someone would think about you. And if you’ve been hiding your feelings for a long time, it can feel even more embarrassing or daunting to reveal your deepest issues.
However, it’s the job of your parents—and the other important adults in your life—to help you out. In fact, they’re almost always more sympathetic, and less judgmental, than you might think. Chances are, if you’ve been withdrawn, spending a lot of time on your own and avoiding social gatherings, your parents might already anticipate that you’re going through something difficult and painful.
Understand that you’re more important to your parents than you realize, and they’re not happy as long as you aren’t happy. But if you really need help, you should take the first step and have an honest conversation about how you’re feeling.
It’s hard to raise difficult topics, but by preparing for the talk, you’ll find it easier to start big, difficult conversations.
Before the Conversation
It can be difficult to share your deepest thoughts with your parents, especially if it isn’t a regular conversation among your family members. It may also be hard to share your feelings when you haven’t fully untangled your own emotions and feelings. Sometimes, though, the simple act of venting and sharing your problems with a third party can give you a new perspective that helps you understand your situation a little more clearly.
Try not to focus on how your parents will react. It’s natural to worry, but your parents will be understanding and supportive once they realize the extent of your personal issues.
You can ease into difficult conversations by talking about mundane, everyday stuff. Do your best to start a conversation every day—the more often you speak to your parents, the easier it gets.
Don’t know what to talk about?
Start small. Try one of these ideas:
- Offer to go on a walk together after family dinner
- Ask your parents about their latest project at work
- Mention an interesting fact you learned in one of your classes
- Chat about the new hobby that you’ve picked up recently
- Ask about your parent’s opinion about something going on in the news
When your parents feel connected in your daily life, it becomes easier to raise difficult conversations during tough times.
If you’re really struggling with talking to your parents, try framing your emotional issues in the most objective way possible—for instance, imagine you’re having trouble understanding algebra. It wouldn’t be awkward or difficult to tell your parents, “I’m really struggling with algebra and I need help. Can you help me?”
Preparing for the Conversation
First, take some time to figure out your end goal. Pull out a pen and paper, or a Google Doc, and really think about what you want from the conversation.
Do you want your parents to…
… simply listen and understand what you're going through?
… give verbal support?
… offer you advice or help?
… guide you back on track—in a way that's fair and without harsh criticism or put-downs?
By understanding what you need from the conversation, you can start the conversation by communicating your exact need. For example:
"Mom, I need to tell you about how I’ve been feeling lately. But first, I need to tell you that I’m just looking for an ear. Please don't give me advice—I just want you to know what's bothering me."
"Dad, I’m going through a personal crisis right now—but it's kind of embarrassing. Can I tell you about it?"
"Grandma, I need your advice about these thoughts that keep coming up. Can we talk?"
Starting the Conversation
Pick a good time to talk. Ideally, find a time when your parents aren’t busy with something, or when they aren’t already upset about something. It’s easier to start the conversation during a time when your parents aren’t already feeling stretched thin.
Here are some ways to open the conversation:
“Is now a good time to talk? I’ve been going through it lately.”
“I need to talk to you—and it’s a serious conversation.”
“Can I talk to you? I’ve been feeling really depressed lately. I think I need to talk to someone.”
If you find it too difficult to start the conversation, a note or letter works equally well.
Sometimes, you might not even need to plan the conversation. There is a chance that, if you’re feeling really overwhelmed and start crying, you might just blurt out your feelings. This is just as effective for starting the conversation. (However, you should try to calm yourself (at least a little) before you talk about your feelings, so that you can convey your feelings as clearly as possible.)
What if you think your parents may be unsupportive?
If you’re worried that your parents will be harsh, critical, or otherwise unreceptive, try priming them with this starter:
I need to tell you about how I’ve been feeling lately. My emotions are starting to feel out of control. I’m not sure how you’ll react, but I know I need to tell you. Can you hear me out?
What if you’re not on good terms with your parents?
If you’ve been dealing with a lot of emotional pain, it can be difficult to hold back your snappy comments and outbursts. This can add to tension between you and your parents, which makes it harder to reach out for help.
If you aren’t on good terms with your parents, start by picking a time when you’re both calm and collected. Try to defuse things by beginning with an apology, like "I apologize for the way I’ve been acting, and I'm sorry things haven't been so good between us lately." Then say, "I need to talk" or, "I need your help. I think I might be depressed." Chances are, your parents will let go of any hard feelings and try and support you.
Having the Conversation
The best way to have the conversation is just to start. Don’t waffle, and don’t beat around the bush. Be honest about what you’re having trouble with, and how it’s affecting you. For example, you can say:
It’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to participate in class. Even if we’re working in groups, my heart starts pounding when it comes my turn to contribute. I’m terrified to speak up, and I have trouble focusing on the task at hand. Sometimes I feel so panicked that I hide in the bathroom for 10 or 15 minutes at a time.
I don’t feel like my normal self anymore. I’m always anticipating the worst, I don’t have energy to do the things I used to live, and I feel numb all the time.
After you’ve got the ball rolling, your parents might ask a few questions. Remember that they aren’t nagging—they just care about you and your emotional well-being. You can expect questions like:
How are you feeling, exactly?
What thoughts have you been having?
How long have you been experiencing this?
Have you spoken to another adult about this?
Do you remember what was happening in your life when you began feeling this way?
This part might be surprisingly easy. With the right open-ended questions, it might feel like a relief to pour your heart out.
Alternatively, this part might be challenging. Difficult conversations don't go smoothly every time. You might feel choked up, or you might feel unsure of how to express your feelings. Most people have a hard time verbalizing their feelings when they’re overcome with emotion.
Here are some guidelines to convey your thoughts so you’ll be understood:
A Guide to Clear Communication
Speak clearly and honestly.
Be totally transparent about your feelings and thoughts.
Give details so there are no errors in your parents’ interpretation of your words. It’ll be easier for them to help when they understand what’s really going on in your head.
Come prepared with an 'ask.'
Whether you’d like to ask for better communication between you and your parents, more family dinners, or group therapy sessions, it’s perfectly acceptable to offer your preferred solutions to your parents.
If you start to feel impatient because your parents don’t seem to understand, try to understand where they’re coming from. Generational differences in communication can be tricky—try to stay civil. You’ll increase the chances that your parents will reciprocate that respect by trying to understand you more closely.
Be patient with yourself, and if you need to, ask your parents if you can revisit this conversation in the future. And remember that talking about depression can be hard for your parents, too. You might need to give them some time to process your news.
Asking for Professional Help
If you’ve spoken to your parents and tried your best to work through your emotional issues, and your depression persists, it might be time to talk to a therapist.
Simply ask your parents for professional help. Let your parents know that you’re still struggling through problems with motivation, concentration, or sadness, and that you need help. Ask them, “I want to speak to someone who has experience in helping people who have experienced what I’m experiencing now. It’s time for me to learn some strategies so I can start functioning better.”
If your parents aren't sure you need to see a professional but you feel you do—or say that everybody feels anxious and sad sometimes—emphasize that this is more serious than that. Find a time when you’re feeling calm so that you can express your feelings clearly. Explain way you feel is making you unhappy, and how it’s keeping you from functioning at a normal level.
What to Do if Your Parents Aren’t Listening
Even if you anticipate resistance from your parents, it’s worth asking for help. You might be surprised by your parents’ support and willingness to help, even if your parents have a lot going on themselves.
On occasion, parents may be preoccupied with other social, financial, or professional issues. If your parents aren’t responsive to your needs, go to another trusted adult. You can talk to a close relative, teacher, school counselor, or coach. Don’t give up until you find help. Your mental health is worth it.
How Your Parents Can Support You
Even if you see a mental health professional, your parents can still support you in other ways. For instance, you can ask your parents to:
- Communicate gently, respectfully, and kindly
- Remind you that they love and believe in you
- Show affection
- Give positive verbal reinforcements when you do well
- Help with homework or projects you're having trouble with, or get you a tutor
- See the good in you and keep expecting good things from you
- Hold you accountable (kindly, but seriously) for your responsibilities at home and at school
- Take the time to help you with your personal problems
- Make sure you eat well, exercise enough, and get adequate sleep
- Do things with you that you both enjoy—walk, play a sport or game, watch a movie, do a craft, or cook
You can show them this list or come up with your own ideas. You know best what feels most helpful to you. But at the very minimum, make a plan for managing your depression. You can make a self-care plan that includes the following activities:
- Exercising regularly—even if it’s a 10-minute yoga session or taking the dog for a daily walk
- Sleeping at least 8 hours every night
- Eating healthy food and cutting out packaged, processed foods
- Spending time in nature
- Doing offline activities that are enjoyable, especially with the people you love
Look at your list every day to help you remember to do what's on your plan—and to remind yourself that you can get through this. Dealing with depression isn’t the end of the world. There is always a brighter day ahead!