When I started to develop an anxiety disorder, I didn’t want to admit it. Even though I was always the first one to tell my friends to seek professional help, I didn’t want to do that myself. I felt ridiculous about the fact that I could not “control” my own mind. To make it worse, my parents kept on telling me to “just snap out of it” and “stop overreacting”.
But asking for help is the first step to recovery. So it’s important that we overcome our fear and embarrassment and go for it. I promise it gets a lot easier after you finally do it.
Most teenagers are financially dependent on their parents. And even if you aren’t, you’re probably going to need their help to get access to medication and therapy, due to legal restrictions. So your parents are the first people you need to reach out to.
But as every teenager on this planet knows, sometimes parents can be the worst. Yeah. Bless their stubbornness. Here’s how to deal with that.
Understand their point of view
I know it’s hard to put ourselves in our parents’ shoes when we’re teenagers. But if you want to get them to understand you, you need to understand them first. It’s a matter of logic.
Unfortunately, many parents refuse to accept it when a teen expresses concerns about the possibility of having a mental illness. That’s the curse of being a teenager: everything you say is discarded as being “part of puberty”. You feel sad? Teen angst. You’re anxious? Hormones. Can’t sleep? It’s all because you spend all day on that bloody phone of yours!
But there’s more to parent denial than just their hate for technology and them thinking you’re too young to have any real problems. There are many reasons why people will not believe you at first when you say you have a mental illness. But I can think of 3 that are especially important when we’re talking about parents:
1. They don’t want to believe it because they don’t want to see you struggling. Depression and anxiety are awful. They can have a very hard impact on your life. Everyone knows that. And no one wants to see their beloved child going through those hardships. So they deny it. If they don’t believe it, it can’t be real. Like the monster under the bed.
2. They don’t want to believe it because it would make them feel guilty. You’re their child. They feel responsible for you. So they don’t want to think that they have “let” you get mentally ill. They don’t want to believe they’ve missed all the signs and failed to prevent it. In worst scenarios, they may be afraid that they “made” you get sick. As if them being overprotective could have caused your anxiety or something.
3. They don’t want to believe it because they don’t “believe” in mental illness at all. They think things such as depression or anxiety are things people your age make up for attention. Or that’s it’s all an excuse for being lazy. They do not have enough information about it, so they don’t believe mental illnesses are real.
Education is key
If that sounds too much like your parents, do not panic. Keep calm. Take a deep breath. There’s a good solution that can tackle all those issues at once: education.
See, all three reasons that I mentioned above display some sort of misconception about mental illnesses. And there’s nothing better than some information to kill misconceptions. Look:
1. You can show them that having a mental illness is not the end of the world. It can be tough sometimes, for sure. But most mental illnesses are either curable or treatable and you will get better. With your parents’ help and with the assistance of a doctor and/or a therapist, you have no reason to keep on suffering.
2. You can explain to them that scientists cannot yet pinpoint a single cause for mental illnesses. In many cases, it is impossible to know what led a person to develop anxiety or depression. And no one can “make” someone get mentally ill. You can then reassure your parents that you do not blame them for it. You’re not looking for culprits; you’re seeking help. With patience and a few good resources, you can calm your parents’ guilt feelings and help them help you.
3. If they are in this state, they definitely need to learn more. By educating them, you can help them deconstruct the stigma and all the stereotypes they have heard about mental illnesses throughout their life. You can prove them that no one is “too young” to get depressed or anxious and that people your age can struggle with their mental health, too. You can explain that you’re not looking for attention by showing them reports on how difficult it is for people to reach out for help. Slowly but surely, you may manage to convince them to listen to your concerns and take them seriously.
How to start the conversation
First things first. Before you can even think about educating your parents, educate yourself. If you’re hoping to teach anything to another person, first you need to make sure you yourself understand your subject. Don’t be like your teacher who seems to be clueless about his own class.
Look around the internet and read everything you can about the mental illness you believe you may have. Go to YouTube and watch videos of people talking about how it feels like to have that illness to gain some perspective. If you think that will help, make a list of questions your parents may have about it.
When you feel you’re ready, take a deep breath, then tell your parents you want to talk to them.
If your parents are the type that does not “believe” in mental illness, I recommend that you begin by showing them the underlying physical “causes” of mental illnesses: the misbalance of the chemicals in the brain and the consequences that follow from it. Once you explain this to them, they should believe it is a “real” illness. Most people believe everything once you show them a couple of brain scans so they can “see” the illness.
Finally, you can begin to talk about your symptoms and explain the reasons why you believe you may have that mental illness. Try to be as open as possible and give details if they ask you to. I know many symptoms of mental illness can make us feel embarrassed but talking about them is essential to get help. There’s no need to feel guilty or ashamed. It’s not your fault that you got ill and you’re doing your best to deal with it now.
If possible, try to have a list of extra resources (preferably, links or printouts) you can immediately provide your parents as soon as they show interest in the initial resources you have shown them.
The internet is full of great resources about all mental illnesses. If your parents don’t like or don’t have the time/patience to read long articles, try finding some videos or infographics. Those are easier to digest and may work better with them.
Don’t forget to check your sources and make sure they look “reliable” for your parents. There are great videos online where teenagers talk brilliantly about the many sides of mental illness. But your parents may not think the word of another teenager is worth much, unfortunately. Try to find resources created by mental health professionals.
Here are some websites that I recommend you check out:
Providing actionable next steps
Hopefully, your parents will have been convinced by now. But they may feel lost and not have any idea of what to do. Don’t forget to give them some actionable next steps to take.
Suggest getting an appointment with your physician to talk about it. Or ask them to go with you to your school to talk to the counselor. Any of those professionals could recommend a good therapist for you to contact.
You can always look for information about mental health support groups in your area as well. They’re great partners to have during treatment. If you find a nice group, ask your parents to go with you there to talk to the volunteer experts and to other people who are going through the same as you are.
If nothing works, reach out to another adult
If your parents insist on not listening to you, don’t hesitate to seek help elsewhere. You don’t have to struggle alone. Other adults are definitely going to help you if you ask.
Your school counselor is a great person to talk to. Of course, they will likely want to get your parents involved. But very often, that’s all an adult needs to hear — the wise voice of another adult. Either way, your counselor is in that position for a reason. They have the knowledge and skills necessary to help teens in your situation. And if necessary, they can provide you with contacts that can help you further.
I’ve just talked about support groups but I’ll do it again. There are many people working to help others who feel the same as you do. Seek online to see if you can find a good support group in your area. They can help you find ways to cope with your illness and help you build more strategies to convince your parents.
Of course, there are also online support groups like our very own Teen Talk Hotline Community. Even if those groups cannot help you with your parents, nor get you in touch with local help, they still can give you a space to share your feelings and find supportive friends. That’ll give you the strength to hold on until you can get more help.
Finally, if you’re in a crisis, don’t hesitate to get in touch with your local crisis hotline or even with 911. Remember that your life is more important than your parents’ stubbornness. In an emergency, those people are going to help you no matter what. So reach out to them if you must and let them talk to your parents after the crisis is under control.
Have you had any experience with your parents not believing you when you talked about your mental health? What did you do, then? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!