How to Talk to Your Parents About Depression

If you clicked on this title, first of all: we’re proud of you! It’s scary to seek help for depression and other mental health challenges, let alone consider talking to someone about it. If you’re still wondering whether what you’ve been feeling is depression, let’s talk about common symptoms. It’s incredibly common for young adults to experience depression because newsflash: LIFE IS HARD. 

For students and young adults, it’s common for depression to manifest as angry outbursts or other surprising surges of emotion that you don’t know how to handle. It could also surface as physical symptoms like changes in appetite, fatigue, a prolonged stomachache or headache. You may also notice that you’ve lost interest in things you used to enjoy, whether that be hobbies, hanging out with your friends, or favorite books and TV shows. The overwhelming urge to cry, stay in bed all day, changes in your sleep patterns, and feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness are also tell-tale signs that you may be struggling with depression.

If any of this sounds familiar, you may indeed be battling depression, which means it’s time to talk to your parents. That’s sometimes easier said than done, though, right? Especially if you’re the type of person who puts on a brave face so that nobody suspects what you’re going through. But in this case, it’s important that you let your guard down for once.

How to Bring Depression up With Your Parents

When it comes to mental health, telling anyone is daunting, let alone your parents. You may be worried they’ll panic, get angry, or write off your experiences completely. Unfortunately, some parents are struggling with their own mental health, and if they aren’t aware of their internal biases, it can be hard to have an honest conversation with them about your feelings. In the end, however, most parents want what’s best for their children, and the thing to keep in mind as you approach them with this subject is this: they love you. Don’t stop reading! Yes, many of us have felt unloved by our parents. If it’s truly the case that you have a toxic or abusive relationship with your parents, seek help from another trusted adult, and use this article as a guide to talk to that person instead. If, however, your relationship with your parents is under the usual amount of strain that happens as we become independent of them, try your best to recognize their love for you in the upcoming conversation.

So, what do you say to them? There are a few ways for you to start this conversation. Try approaching them in one of these ways:

  • “Mom/Dad, I need to talk to you about something important. I need you to hear me out and let me say it. I’ve been feeling off for a while now, and I want to talk to you about depression.”
  • “Have you noticed that I’ve been a little low energy/sad/less interested in my favorite things lately? It’s really starting to worry me. Do you think I could be depressed?”
  • “Have you or has anyone else in our family ever struggled with depression? I think I could be having symptoms of it, and I would really like to talk about it with you.”

Pick one of those and tweak it to make it personal for you and your parents. Then…. just say it! Once it’s out of your mouth, you’ve done the hardest part. You’ve got this.

How to Address Your Parents’ Questions

More than likely (and because they love you) your parents are going to have a lot of questions about the idea of their child being depressed. They might fear the worst and jump to the conclusion that you’re suicidal. They might be upset because they feel responsible or at fault for you feeling this way. These feelings could come out in a number of ways from tears to frustration to fix-it mode. It’s important for you not to let this part surprise you. Your parents are humans too! Remain as calm as you can and answer the questions, you’re comfortable with as factually as possible. They may want to know what your symptoms are, how long you’ve been experiencing them, whether something traumatic may have happened, and why you think it’s depression. If you aren’t comfortable answering questions, you can say something like this:

  • “I’m a little tired and overwhelmed to answer all these questions. Can we just make an appointment with my doctor and talk about it then?”
  • “I get why you have questions, and so do I. I really need your support right now, and the questions are making me feel like I’m in trouble. Can you just give me a hug and tell me everything’s going to be okay?”
  • “I know you’re worried, but I just told you I think I’m depressed. I don’t know any more than you do. Can we do some research together and figure this out?”

Your parents' emotions might run wild when they hear that their child is struggling, and that’s normal. Take a deep breath as they try to adjust to this new reality, and remember that you’re telling them so that you can get support. If all else fails, and they struggle to hear your words, wrap them up in a big hug. It may be exactly what you both need. If, after a day or two, they still aren’t able to process what you’ve told them, try offering them some of these resources:

You can even say something like:

  • “I found some articles that might be useful for you to help process what we talked about.”
  • “Would you mind reading these for me? I need you to understand.
  • “I know this is hard, but I’m not the only one. There’s research out there that could help us deal with this.”

Give them time to process, and remember they love you. If you think your parents are ignoring the news you gave them or aren’t willing to help you, it’s time to tell another trusted adult who will. Look for a school counselor, a support group in town, or reach out to TheHopeLine. We’ll connect you with resources that can get you started on a healing journey.

Ask Your Parents for What You Need

The whole point of opening up to your parents like this is to get support, so now that you’ve been vulnerable, ask for what you need. What do you need? That depends. There are a number of ways to approach depression treatment. From self-help strategies and lifestyle changes to medication and psychotherapy, you have the ability to choose what works best for you. Before you can determine any of that, you need to see a professional and get a proper diagnosis. Without a clear understanding of your condition, you can’t pursue the right kinds of treatment. Try talking to your parents about getting evaluated by a doctor:

  • “I want to see my doctor. Can you please take me?”
  • “I want to try counseling. Can we find someone to help me?”
  • “Can we please call my doctor and ask for a referral to a good psychologist? I want to make sure we know what we’re dealing with and how to treat it.”
  • “Let’s check Focus on The Family to see if there are any therapists near us that could help me figure out what’s going on.”

If they are resistant to seeing a doctor because they are still convinced there’s a negative stigma to having a mental illness, remind them that stigma is dangerous and outdated, and ask them if they’d rather see your condition get worse. Remember that if you’re over 18, you don’t need their permission to see your doctor, and reach out to TheHopeLine for help processing what to do next.

You Are Allowed to Seek Joy

Enough about your parents. You know yourself. Whether you’ve been hiding it or upfront about it, you wouldn’t be reading this article unless you noticed a problem in your life. Don’t hide any longer. Take on the tough task of being vulnerable with them and seek help. You may be depressed, but you're NOT defeated. In fact, you’re one of the strongest people we know. It takes A LOT to summon the energy and courage to pursue healing when you’re battling with depression, and that means deep down you have hope that you can find joy. How do you know that? Because you were created with an innate worth and immeasurable value by someone who wants you to live abundantly. Your soul was born to sing, and your desire to treat your depression is a beautiful example of how much you actually value yourself, even if you struggle with feelings of worthlessness. 

TheHopeLine Team
For over 30 years, TheHopeLine has been helping students and young adults in crisis. Our team is made up of writers and mental health professionals who care deeply about helping others.
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