Talking to Parents About Depression
Dana has been feeling down for a while now. She’s bored with school. Her grades are getting worse, but she can’t find the energy to do what it takes to bring them up. She’s been fighting with her mom a lot lately — and not really getting along with friends that well either.
Dana thinks her troubles might be signs of depression. How does she tell her mom?
What If You Think You’re Depressed?
Depression is complicated. There are lots of different signs that someone might be depressed. For some people, feelings of depression are mild and don’t last long. For others, depression can be more intense and may last several months or longer.
If you feel depressed, alone, or are having troubles you can’t solve, you need to reach out for help and support. If you can, it’s best to turn to a parent.
Preparing to Talk to Parents
Talking with parents about depression takes courage and willingness to open up. It may feel awkward sharing personal feelings with parents in a way that you haven’t done since you were younger — or perhaps at all. It also can be hard to share when you’re not really sure what’s going on yourself.
Don’t let any of this stop you, though. Sometimes parents can offer a new angle that helps you figure things out. Just talking about it might help you see things more clearly for yourself.
Another concern is how a parent might react. Will mom be mad? Will dad be disappointed? It’s natural to worry, but most of the time parents are supportive and understanding if you express yourself thoughtfully and calmly.
If you’re like most people, you probably wish your parent would start the conversation. Sometimes a parent will ask what’s wrong. Much of the time, though, it’s up to you.
Starting the Conversation
Find a time when you can approach your mom or dad in a calm way. You might want to open the conversation by asking, “Can I talk to you? I think I might be depressed.”
Or you could say, “I’ve been feeling depressed and bad about things. I’ve been thinking I might need to talk to someone.”
If you can’t bring yourself to start a conversation in person, you could write your parent a note saying you need to talk.
Sometimes the conversation just gets started by itself. For example, if you’re feeling upset — even if you’re crying or overwhelmed — you might just blurt out your feelings. This could be the perfect beginning to the conversation you need to have.
If you’re really upset, you’ll need to calm yourself (at least a little) to make the conversation worthwhile. That way, a parent can hear what’s on your mind and take you seriously — and not just go away thinking, “Oh, I guess he’s just upset” and assuming it will pass.
What If I’ve Been Arguing With My Parents or Getting in Trouble?
If there’s been a lot of disrespect between you and your parent — if you fight a lot or just don’t talk — it can seem harder to reach out for help. Start by picking a time to talk when you’re not arguing.
If it’s needed, you can start with an apology, such as, “I’m sorry I’ve been so rude to you lately” or “I’m sorry I’ve been messing up so much lately.” Then say, “I need to talk” or “I need your help — I think I might be depressed.” Chances are, mom or dad will be impressed with your maturity.
What Happens Next?
Once you get the conversation started, your parent will probably ask you to say more about what you’re going through. This part might be surprisingly easy. Now that the conversation has started, it might feel like a relief to pour your heart out.
Or, this part might be hard. You might not be sure how to put your feelings into words. Try to get beyond just saying, “I don’t know.” If you really can’t explain things, try “I want to do this, but I just can’t find the words right now.” Give it more thought, but be sure to talk about it again later. Your mom or dad will be concerned and may ask how you’re doing. They’re not nagging. They just care about you.
Occasionally, talking about depression can be hard for parents as well as teens. It might take several conversations, or you might feel better right away. Every situation is different.
If a specific problem has you depressed, a parent may be able to help you think of something to do about it. Or mom or dad might listen to your ideas for what to do and give you a vote of confidence that you’re on the right track. That can be reassuring. Whether or not you come up with solutions right away, sharing a problem is better than keeping it to yourself.
What if I Need to Talk to a Therapist?
If depression is strong or lasts, you might need to talk with a therapist — even after you’ve had good conversations with your parents. Let your mom or dad know if you continue to feel depressed or if you have problems with motivation, concentration, or moods. Your mom or dad can make an appointment for you and support you while you work with a therapist.
If your parent isn’t sure you need to see a therapist but you feel you do, explain why (again, it’s best to do this when you feel calm so you can get your ideas across well). It is possible to get around issues like how to find a therapist or what it costs. Your doctor, religious leader, or school counselor can help your parent find local and affordable therapists.
What if Talking to Parents Doesn’t Work?
Even if you worry that a parent won’t be willing or able to help, it’s still worth a try. People are often surprised by how much their parents rally to their side when they ask for help, even if the parents have a lot going on themselves.
Occasionally, parents have too many troubles of their own or other issues going on. If you reach out to talk and it turns out your mom or dad can’t help, just go to another adult (such as a teacher, counselor, coach, or relative). Don’t give up until you find someone who can help you. It’s that important.
What Else Can Parents Do?
Whether or not you’re seeing a therapist, there are ways parents can help when you’re dealing with depression. For example, they can:
- spend relaxing, positive time with you
- communicate with kindness and agree to ban hurtful criticism, arguments, threats, and putdowns
- remind you that they love and believe in you
- show affection
- comment on your positive actions and traits
- correct you (kindly, but seriously) when you go wrong
- help with homework or projects if you’re having trouble or get you a tutor
- see the good in you and keep expecting good things from you
- hold you accountable (kindly, but seriously) for your responsibilities at home and at school
- talk through problems with you
- make sure you get proper exercise, nutrition, and sleep (it’s not nagging — it’s love!)
You might need to ask your mom or dad to do these things for you. You can show them this list or come up with your own ideas. You know best what would feel most helpful to you.
Talk with your mom or dad about things you’ll both do to help relieve your depression. Make a list of what you plan to do. Be sure that your plan includes how you’ll get exercise, sleep and rest, healthy food, time outdoors during the day, positive time with loved ones, and relaxing enjoyable activities. They’re all essential to fighting depression.
Look at your list every day to help you remember to do what’s on your plan — and to remind yourself that you can get through this. Beyond depression, there’s a brighter future ahead.
Reviewed by: D’Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: March 2012