My parents don't understand. How can I talk to them about my mental health?

You have taken a great first step! It’s important to talk about the mental health challenges you’re experiencing and to ask for help. These conversations can be tough, but they’re critical. You deserve help and support to care for your mental health.  

Don’t be discouraged if the first conversation you had with your parents didn’t go well. There are many reasons your parents may react negatively to talking about mental health, and this doesn’t mean they don’t care. Sometimes mental illness is stigmatized, especially within certain cultures that have faced violence and other types of discrimination as a response to their beliefs, behaviors, or vulnerabilities in the past. Your parents may see mental illness through this stigmatized lens and fear how the label of a mental health condition could affect you and your future. 

You deserve support and help with your mental health and have the power to fight stigma by continuing to speak up. With help, you can get the future you want for yourself. 

Below are some tips to help you share with your parent or caregiver about what you are experiencing and ask for the help that you need. 

Setting the stage 

Difficult conversations shouldn’t come as a surprise. It could be helpful to let your caregivers know in advance that you’re going through something difficult and that you’re nervous to bring it up. Tell them in advance that you hope they’ll understand. 

Find a time and place where you and your caregivers can have privacy, away from any other family members or distractions. Ask everyone to put their cell phones somewhere else during the conversation. See if you can sit outside, take a walk, or visit somewhere relaxing together--like a park.  

What to say 

Plan it out 

It’s helpful to write down some notes in advance to prepare for the conversation. Think about what you’re experiencing and how it has been affecting you.  

  • Have your mental health symptoms impacted your motivation to do things at home? 
  • Are your grades slipping?  
  • Have you stopped wanting to spend time with friends or do things that you used to enjoy? 

Be specific 

Share about the impact your symptoms have had on your day-to-day life. Avoid using specific mental health labels at first. For example: 

  • “Every morning, my heart races so fast and my stomach hurts so badly that I dread going to school, even though I used to enjoy it. It’s gotten to the point where I’ve been skipping my 6th hour class because I’m scared the teacher will call on me. When I am there, I’m so nervous that I have trouble breathing and I feel like I’m going to pass out.” 
  • “I have been feeling so low lately. I can’t stop crying, and it takes everything I have just to get out of bed in the morning. Everything feels like a chore, even responding to texts from my friends. I feel like it's been affecting our relationship too because we are always arguing about chores, which feel next to impossible for me right now.” 

Have a dialogue 

Give your caregivers a chance to ask you questions about what you’re going through. Some parents may mistake symptoms of a mental health condition for typical feelings of stress or sadness, and some may start offering solutions that don’t feel helpful or validating to you right now. You can thank your parents for their perspectives and advice but be honest with them about what is or isn’t helpful. Below are some sample responses that you could use: 

  • “I appreciate that you want to help, but I have already tried just getting outside more. I think it’s more serious than that.” 
  • “I understand that speaking up in class didn’t affect you the same way, but this is how it’s affecting me right now. I really need some help to get better.” 

If you start feeling overwhelmed or anxious, it’s ok to pause and take some deep breaths while you collect your thoughts. 

What to do next 

Talk about next steps 

It’s ok if you don’t have a plan for what comes next right away. Ask your parents for help figuring it out! If you’re considering mental health counseling or therapy, some good places to start would be having a conversation with your school counselor or scheduling an appointment with your family doctor. Sometimes mental health symptoms can result from a physical illness, so reaching out to your family doctor can help rule out other possible causes of your symptoms. Your doctor can also refer you to a mental health professional. 

If your family has private insurance, your parents can contact the number on the back of their insurance card and ask for a referral to a mental health provider who treats children and young adults. If your family does not have private insurance, your parents can contact your county’s community behavioral health service to explore programs in your area by searching online for “community behavioral health services [city] [state].” 

Work as a team 

If it feels safe and helpful, consider talking with your mental health provider about family therapy or asking your parents to join some of your sessions. Your therapist can help you and your family address unhelpful relationship dynamics such as not spending enough time together, having too many arguments, or engaging in criticism that makes it difficult to take steps toward improving your mental health. They can also help educate your parents about your mental health condition and give them tips and tricks for supporting you in your recovery.  

Some parents may hesitate to participate in therapy, thinking that they will be questioned or judged about their parenting choices. Mental health providers recognize that all parents do the best they can with the skills and information they have, which are often based on how they themselves have been parented. You can help encourage your parents’ participation by recognizing that they are doing the best they can and reminding them that you will be learning in therapy about ways that you can do even better, together.  

Encourage your parents to learn even more about how to help you by taking NAMI Basics. NAMI Basics is a 6-session education program for parents, caregivers, and other family members who help care for children, teens, and young adults experiencing mental health challenges. Classes are free and available online or in-person.  

I’ve tried all of this, and my parents still aren’t supportive 

Keep talking! Your mental health is important, and it's critical for you to keep being open about what you’re experiencing. Don’t give up until you get the help that you need. Here are some additional steps you can take to get mental health support when your parents or caregivers aren’t supportive: 

Confide in another trusted adult 

A trusted adult may be able to help bridge the conversation with your parents, or they can give you support and advice for getting mental health help without your parents involved. Consider talking to another adult family member such as an aunt, grandparent, or sibling, a teacher or staff member at school, a coach, a religious leader, or any other trusted adult that you feel safe and comfortable talking to about your mental health. 

Consider seeking treatment on your own 

Visit your school counselor, social worker, or psychologist. You can learn more about school counselors here: 

In some states, minors (people under the age of 18) can seek mental health treatment without permission from parents for a limited amount of time or a limited number of sessions. Research the laws about minor consent for health care in your state by searching “minor self-consent for mental health treatment [city] [state].” 

Connect with peer support 

Remember that you are not alone. Many young people have experienced similar situations and have gotten their lives back on track. Consider reaching out for peer support to talk with someone who has been through this before. 

  • Teen Line provides support, resources, and hope to young people through a hotline of professionally trained teen counselors, and outreach programs that de-stigmatize and normalize mental health.  
    • Call: 800-852-8336 between the hours of 6pm and 10pm PST. 
    • Text: “TEEN” to 839863 between the hours of 6pm and 9pm EST 
    • Email: complete the email form on their Teen Line website 
  • The Trevor Project offers support and crisis counseling for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning (LGBTQ) young people who may be struggling with issues such as coming out, LGBTQ identity, depression, and suicide. The Trevor Project can be reached 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, days a year. 
  • TeenTribeWellness Community offers a free online support community that provides a convenient and safe place for teens to connect, share stories, and receive encouragement. 

Get help right away if you’re in crisis 

If your symptoms are getting worse and you feel that you’re in crisis, or you’re having thoughts of hurting yourself or someone else, you should contact the 988 Crisis & Suicide Lifeline right away. Take these thoughts and emotions very seriously and remember that help is available to you right now. 988 crisis counselors are prepared to support young people in crisis 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. 

Hours of operation Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. EST 

Call: 800-950-NAMI (6264) 

Text: 62640 



Still need help? Contact Us Contact Us