Who Can You Talk To?

Find a person you trust. Someone who will listen to you, and help you plan your next steps. While this could be a family member (parents, grandparents, aunt, or uncle), you can also seek out resources at your school (nurse or guidance counselor), church (rabbi, pastor, youth group leader), or community (coach, neighbor).

Time To Talk: Talking To Your Parents

Talking to a parent about mental health can be scary for several reasons.  Many people report being afraid to tell their parents because they do not want to upset them.  Sometimes we do not understand where troubling feelings or thoughts are coming from and feel guilty for having them.  A good question to ask yourself in this situation is how would you feel if someone you love were suffering and came to you?  Likely, you would be upset that they were struggling, but you would not be upset with them.  You would be glad they confided in you and ready to help them in any way you could.

Here are some of the most common concerns people give for not talking to their parents and some tips for overcoming them.

“I don’t know how my parents will react.”

Talking can be scary, but the help available is worth it.  The sooner you address things, the sooner you can feel better and the better you will be in the long-run.  If you are concerned about how your parents will respond, one option is to schedule a meeting with both or with one parent at a time.  Instead of a sudden, potentially unexpected conversation, choose a time and place where you are comfortable and plan what you want to say beforehand.  You can plan by researching information online, taking a mental health screening and printing the results, or just by writing out a script for what you would like to say.

On that note, you could also write a letter if you are not as comfortable with a conversation.  A letter allows you to express exactly what you want to say without the pressure of an immediate response.  Check out the sample letter that follows this article.  Remember, even if it seems scary or if your family never discusses these things, you are doing what is right for you.  Be honest with where you are and think about the specific support you need from them. Focus on actions they can take or things they can change.

“My parents will be sad or disappointed.”

It might be hard for your parents not to show that they are sad, upset, or disappointed.  They might be sad that you are suffering, but this does not mean they are upset with you.  In fact, many parents are upset because the care about you.  Parents often wonder if there was something they could have done differently that would have prevented you from struggling.

Maybe you feel that there are high expectations of you and you are afraid that having mental health problems will be a disappointment.  It is important to ask where these expectations come from and whether the expectations are real (have you been told certain things are expected, or are you assuming they are expected) or reasonable.  Thinking through and explaining your fears about their sadness or disappointment might help them to respond in a way that is more helpful for you.

“My parents will be angry or won’t take me seriously.”

Another concern many people have is that their parents will become angry or dismiss their feelings, both of which are painful experiences when you are already hurting.  When dealing with a potential conflict, it is helpful to plan a meeting or to write a letter saying that you are worried about anger or dismissal.  Explain to your parents that you are struggling and believe you would benefit from extra support.  If they dismiss your concerns, tell them that you are trying to take care of yourself and would like to at least have a discussion with a professional.  You can also support your desire for treatment with information and mental health screening results.

A lot of the time, reacting with anger or dismissal is about fear.  Your parents might not know how to react or may have preconceived notions about what it means to get help for mental health concerns.  Even if they do not know the best way to respond, it is important that you speak up for yourself, as we know the earlier a person gets help the better, they are in the long-run.  You may have to turn to other trusted adults or mental health resources if needed.

“My parents will ask too many questions.”

Sometimes parents will get upset and afraid and want to know all the details of what you are experiencing.  While only you know your parents and level of comfort, do not feel that you must share every detail of your experience. You may be unsure of how to describe what you are feeling or afraid of getting in trouble for certain behaviors.  Your thoughts or concerns about how your family relates to one another might also be playing a role in what you are going through.  There are reasons why you may not want to tell your parents every single detail of what is going on, and it makes sense to want some privacy when first opening about your struggles.

It might help to plan or review what you are comfortable sharing beforehand.  You can tell your parents that you would really like to speak to a mental health professional, as an outside input with knowledge and experience in what you are dealing with.  While it is unhealthy to hold things in, it is important to make sure you are in a safe space when beginning to open up.

“My parents already have enough to worry about.”

All adults have responsibilities and stress.  While some families may be dealing with more stressful or serious situations than others, your wellbeing and health is important and deserves attention—regardless of what else may be going on with your parents.  If you are worried about stressing out your parents, pick a time to talk when things are calm, and bring information about what you are going through and what kind of help you would like.

“One or both of my parents are part of why I am struggling.”

If one or both of your parents contribute to your desire to seek help, there are several options for what you can do.  If you trust one parent, you can explain how you are feeling and ask that they either tell or do not tell the other parent. Often parents may not be willing to  keep  things of this nature from one another so make sure to check beforehand.

This might be an opportunity to reach out to another trusted adult in your life. Guidance counselors can be very helpful in these situations, as they have experience and expertise with students in similar situations. Other trusted adults may be able to help you as well, particularly in creating a plan to talk to your parents.  While speaking with a trusted adult is not a substitute for a needed treatment program, outside resources can guide you to the help or support you need.

If you are currently experiencing physical abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect, inform a trusted adult.  You can visit www.dorightbykids.org to find out more information on definitions of abuse and neglect, reporting, and what happens after you report.

“My parents do not believe me.”

Even if your parents care for you, sometimes it is hard for them to see what is going on.  This could mean they label your struggles as typical “growing up” experiences, or they dismiss the entire possibility of getting help for mental health.  Ignoring problems because they are unpleasant does not make them go away, and it is important for you to continue to ask for what you need. You can explain to them that, even though you hear their beliefs, you would like the chance to speak to a mental health professional based on your experiences and research.

If it is unlikely that you will change their minds, you may have to reach out to other resources.  This includes teachers, relatives, and guidance counselors.  These individuals could help you talk to your parents and/ or put you in contact with resources to help.  Even though your parents are not validating your struggles, it does not make them unreal or unimportant.  If you need professional help, put together a list of reasons why this is the help you think you need.  You can also lean on friends, online communities, and other accessible mental health resources like apps and online education.

Tips For Talking About Your Mental Health

Start a conversation about mental health when there is an open window of time to have an in-depth discussion, and neither you or the person you are talking to will have to cut the conversation short to take care of other obligations.  Plan to set aside at least 30 minutes to an hour.

Start With a Text If a Face-To-Face Talk Is Too Intimidating

It could be a plain old text message with a note that says, “I have some important things on my mind and need to make time to talk to you about them.”

Find & Share Info

Find important information online that might help you explain what you are going through.  Print it and bring it with you when you are ready to talk.

Take The Youth Screen at Mhascreening.Org

Print out your results to share with the person you plan to talk to.

Still Stumped About How to Get Started?

Use the letter below and fill in the blanks. Pick from the options we’ve listed or use your own words.

Dear _________,

For the past (day/week/month/year/__________), I have been feeling (unlike myself/sad/angry/anxious/ moody/agitated/lonely/hopeless/fearful/overwhelmed/ distracted/confused/stressed/empty/restless/unable to function or get out of bed/__________).

I have struggled with (changes in appetite/changes in weight/loss of interest in things I used to enjoy/ hearing things that were not there/seeing things that were not there/ feeling unsure if things are real or not real/ my brain playing tricks on me/ lack of energy/increased energy/ inability to concentrate/alcohol or drug use or abuse/self-harm/skipping meals/overeating/overwhelming focus on weight or appearance/feeling worthless/ uncontrollable thoughts/guilt/paranoia/nightmares/ bullying/not sleeping enough/ sleeping too much/risky sexual behavior/overwhelming sadness/losing friends/unhealthy friendships/unexplained anger or rage/isolation/ feeling detached from my body/feeling out of control/ thoughts of self-harm/cutting/thoughts of suicide/plans of suicide/abuse/sexual assault/death of a loved one/__________).

Telling you this makes me feel (nervous/anxious/hopeful/embarrassed/ empowered/pro-active/mature/self-conscious/guilty/__________), but I’m telling you this because (I’m worried about myself/it is impacting my schoolwork/it is impacting my friendships/I am afraid/I don’t want to feel like this/I don’t know what to do/I don’t have anyone else to talk to about this/I trust you/__________).

I would like to (talk to a doctor or therapist/talk to a guidance counselor/talk to my teachers/talk about this later/create a plan to get better/talk about this more/find a support group/__________) and I need your help.

(Your name__________)

Now What?

If you have made the decision to talk to someone about your mental health, you may be nervous about how things will go and what could happen. Check out the list below to find out more about what you can expect.

Things Might Be A Little Awkward At First For Both People In The Conversation

For a lot of people, talking about anything related to their health or body can be kind of tough at first.

You Will Probably Feel Relieved

Being able to open up and share something you’ve been keeping to yourself for a long time can feel like a weight has been lifted. You might learn that the person you’re talking to has had some personal experience or knows someone in their family who has gone through something similar, which will help you to feel less alone.

You May Encounter Someone Who Does Not Understand

While it is likely that a person will know someone who has struggled with their mental health, they may not understand what it is like- especially if they haven’t struggled themselves.

Expect To Be Asked Questions

Some questions might include: How long has this been going on? Did something difficult happen before you started feeling this way? Can you describe what it is like? You do not have to answer every question that you’re asked if you don’t want. Remember that the person you are talking to is probably asking questions to help them better understand what you are going through.

It’s Possible That You Might Not Get The Reaction You Were Hoping For

It can be discouraging if you work up the nerve to speak up and are then told, “you’ve just got the blues” “get over it; stop being silly” or “you worry too much.” Sometimes this kind of reaction has to do with culture or expectations. Try to explain how it is really influencing your ability to live a healthy and happy life and you are not sure how to make things better. If for some reason the person you chose to talk to still is not “getting it” someone else will. Think about someone else you could talk to that would give you the help you need. Do not stop or go back to ignoring your situation or struggling alone.

The Conversation Is The First Step In A Process

Congratulations for getting the ball rolling!

If Your First Conversation Isn’t with Your Parents

You need to talk to them at some point.  Discuss this with the person you confided in, or speak with a grandparent, the guidance counselor, school psychologist, school nurse, or another adult.  If you need extra support in doing this, ask the person you told to go with you to speak to one of the people listed.

Your Next Step Might Be Going to An Appointment

It may start with someone at school like the guidance counselor or school psychologist, a visit to your regular family doctor or psychiatrist, or with another kind of treatment provider like a therapist or social worker. These professionals can help figure out what exactly is going on and how to start getting you the help you need. You might need to talk to more than one person to find someone who can be the most helpful.

It Takes Time to Get Better

You could be going through something situational, which can improve with time to process feelings (for example, grief after the death of a loved one or a tough break-up) or adjustments to your environment (like switching lockers to get away from someone who is a bully), or you could have a more long-term mental health issue. Mental health issues are common and treatable; however, you may have to try a few different things to find right type of treatment or combination of strategies that works best for you.

You Are Not Alone ~ Call The Helpline

2NDFLOOR Youth Helpline is a confidential, anonymous helpline for New Jersey youth between ages 10 and 24. Trained counselors help callers make healthy decisions and find solutions to their worries at home, school, or play, such as: peer relationships, bullying, mental health issues, dating, sex/sexuality issues, and more. 24/7 helpline (888) 222-2228. https://www.2ndfloor.org/about/