I get a lot of messages from middle and high school students saying they think they need help with anxiety or depression but they’re not sure how to talk to their parents about it. Some students feel like needing help is a sign they aren’t resilient enough; others worry their parents might dismiss their feelings because they don’t understand. If you’re feeling this way, you’re not alone.

Many families aren’t in the habit of talking about mental health, so it can be difficult to find the words to share how you’re feeling. And talking about something that feels really big and scary in your mind can be completely overwhelming.

If you’re feeling very anxious a lot of the time, your anxious thoughts might be contributing to the feeling that asking for help won’t go the way you hope. Intrusive thoughts can make you feel like nothing works out in your favor. If you’re coping with feelings of depression, it might be hard to find the words to even describe what you’re feeling each day. That can make it very difficult to start a conversation about a difficult topic.

Your parents are there to help guide you. Even if they don’t talk about emotions much, most parents do think about the mental health of their kids. They want you to be happy and healthy, and they want to help when you’re struggling. I find that most parents aren’t sure how to talk to their teens about these topics and wait to be approached.

What If They Don’t Believe Me?

Many teens and young adults fear their parents won’t take them seriously but their response may surprise you. They may have even dealt with some of the things you are struggling with and never told you. Having serious conversations can be difficult but you’ll feel better after you share your worries with them. Here are a few tips to help you start a conversation. worries with them.

Try A Walk-and-Talk

Sometimes it’s easier to open up when you’re not staring right at your parents seeing their facial expressions as you talk. Taking a walk together is a good way to open up when you feel ready. When you’re side-by-side with a parent and engaged in an activity, tackling difficult topics feels more manageable and less anxiety-producing.

Other ideas include talking while throwing a ball or shooting hoops, playing a board game, or while working on a hands-on activity together. Having something to do can break the tension for you and give both you and your parents’ space to respond thoughtfully.

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Focus on How You’re Feeling

Instead of blurting out, “I’m depressed!” take some time to think about how you can best describe what you’re going through. It helps to create a symptom list ahead of time so you can share the details of how your emotional health affects your daily functioning.

If you’re feeling off and you can’t quite describe it, say something like, “I’m not sure how to describe it, but I just don’t feel like myself lately. I’m tired all the time and I don’t have the motivation to go to school or do my work. I think I need help.”

Be Prepared to Answer Their Questions

If this is your first conversation about your mental health, your parents will likely have a lot of questions. That’s okay. It’s also okay if you don’t have all the answers right away. Share as many details as you can. If you’re having trouble sleeping, focusing, eating, or experiencing frequent headaches or stomachaches, that’s important information. Be as open as you can to help your parents understand the problem.

Say What You Need

Sometimes parents jump into “fix it” mode because they want to solve the problem right away, but what you need right now is support and coping strategies.

Analyzing what’s causing these feelings won’t help in the moment. You can talk through all of that when you see a therapist. Stay focused on your immediate need to help your parents understand that you’ve really thought this through by saying something like, “I know I need help learning to cope with my feelings by practicing coping skills. I need to see a professional to help me with this.”

Try Again

Sometimes parents feel overwhelmed by these conversations, especially when their kids are good at hiding their problems. They might not give you the answer you’re hoping for during the first conversation. If your parents indicate that they need time to think or gather resources, give them some space. You can check back in later on and say, “Did you have some time to think about helping me find a therapist? I’m ready to start working through my emotions as soon as possible.”

Plan B: Reach Out To Another Trusted Adult

If your parents brush you off, try not to be discouraged—parents tend to see the positives in their kids. They don’t always understand the severity of the situation right away. The good news is there are other people and places you can go to for support. Try talking to another adult you trust to seek guidance on getting through to your parents. An aunt or uncle, a teacher, a school counselor, or even a coach can help you by talking to your parents on your behalf and advocating for your needs.

There are likely resources at your school (you can speak to a guidance counselor) or community and if you’re active in your church you should know that many church leaders are trained to help adolescents in need of mental health support.

Don’t Wait

If you’re reading this article, it’s time to talk to your parents. You can do this. One helpful trick is to practice in the mirror to work through what you want to say. It also helps to text your parents ahead of time to say, “I have something really important to talk to you about. Can you set aside some time today?” Doing this is a clear signal for them to put down their distractions and focus on you.

The sooner you get help, the faster you’ll feel better. More often than not, anticipating the conversation is the hardest part. Once you let your feelings out, you take the first step toward recovery.

Resources for Teens Struggling with Depression

Depression hotlines can help—right now. If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, or if someone you love is in danger, reach out to a qualified mental health professional.

To be connected with a licensed counselor trained to help adolescents thrive, visit teencounseling.org.

Here are some quick numbers for free, confidential support 24/7 if you need help now:

For emergencies:

Call 911

For suicide prevention: 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

1-800-273-TALK (8255)

For treatment referral and info for mental and/or substance use disorders:

SAMHSA’s National Helpline

1-800-662-HELP (4357)

For LGBTQ+ youth:

Trevor Project Lifeline

1-866-488-7386

For help with loneliness, bullying, self-harm, abuse, and any type of emotional or mental crisis:

Crisis Text Line

Text HOME to 741741 to connect with a Crisis Counselor

There are also teen support groups—places to connect with other teens struggling like you. Here are a few to consider: teen line; support groups central, and Give Us the Floor.

Find more hotlines and organizations for support in our emergency mental health resources directory.

Last Updated: Sep 16, 2021