How To Talk To Your Parents About Your Mental Health, According To An Expert

by Mia Mercado

As you get older, there are certain subjects that may be difficult or uncomfortable to talk about with your parents; mental health should not be one of them. Learning how to talk to your parents about mental health is not only good for your relationship with your family, it’s good for your own well-being.

A new report from Blue Cross Blue Shield shows a significant spike in depression diagnoses in the past five years. Since 2013, there has been a 33 percent increase in diagnoses of clinical depression in the United States. Those rates have increased significantly among millennials (up 47 percent from 2013), adolescent girls (up 65 percent), and adolescent boys (up 47 percent). Women are more likely than men to be diagnosed with clinical depression, the study states. However, suicide rates are disproportionately higher among men. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, men commit suicide 3.53 times more often than women.

Blue Cross Blue Shield called depression the “second most impactful condition on overall health for commercially insured Americans,” with some experts predicting it would be the “number-one cause for loss of longevity or life” by 2030. Talking about mental health, especially for young adults, is quite literally life saving.

I spoke with Dr. Michele Kerulis, an expert on mental health and relationships, about how to broach the topic of your mental health with your parents. Dr. Kerulis is a professor for Counseling@Northwestern, Northwestern University's online masters in counseling program. In addition to having close friends, “it is important to have a trusted adult in your life,” Dr. Kerulis says.

Even as you get older and become an adult yourself, finding people with more life experience you can confide can be crucial to your mental health journey. Here are three ways you can talk about your mental health with two of the most important adults in your life: your parents.

Remember Your Parents Likely Want To Understand

“Many young people have a hard time talking with their parents about challenges because they think their parents won’t understand,” Dr. Kerulis says. “Your parents were your age once and, even though times have changed, they most likely understand the fact that people go through difficult times.”

Because mental health often runs in families, your parents may feel defensive or responsible for something beyond all of your control. Go into the conversation the way you want to be received: openly and without preconceived notions about how the other party will react.

Set Aside Time To Have A Conversation

“One way to break the ice is to ask your parents to sit with you to have a serious discussion,” Dr. Kerulis writes. It’s normal to feel nervous about having this kind of talk with your parents. (If it’s any consolation, I’m sure they were plenty nervous about any of the countless uncomfortable talks they had to have with you growing up.)

Dr. Kerulis suggests going into the conversation with talking points to calm your nerves: “You can write out a list of things you want to communicate to help organize your thoughts and to give you ideas if you become nervous.”

Ask For Their Support, Love, And An Open Mind

“The fear of judgement and uncertainty of parents’ reactions can keep people from discussing mental health,” Dr. Kerulis mentions. Again, if you’re worried about how you will be received, try to remember that your parents love you and want what is best for you. Of course, that’s easier said than done, especially with a topic as sensitive as mental health. However, approaching the conversation like you would any other health concern — be it allergies or a broken bone — can be a helpful way to frame the conversation.

“It is common for people to report physical symptoms, like a broken arm, to parents,” Dr. Kerulis says, “so I believe that it should become common for people to openly discuss mental health with their parents, too.”

If you feel safe and supported enough to talk to your parents about your mental health, don’t let discomfort be the only thing that stops you. Your health, your happiness, and your overall well-being are well worth one uncomfortable conversation.