How to Talk to Parents about Depression


One of the worst things about depression is how it disconnects us from our usual sources of help and strength. Whether it’s the embarrassment, shame or the hopelessness that comes with the mood disorder, one of the tragedies is the withdrawal makes it hard to talk about. The first step is then deciding to have the conversation.

Parents as resources

Parents are the number one resource teens have for any serious problems – financial, legal and medical. In a real sense, they are the gatekeepers. Thankfully, they are also the ones who care the most about you and your wellbeing. That means the conversation is not only important, it might represent your only opportunity to get real help.

The downside is that we worry about parents overreacting, not listening or just skipping past what we say in an overreaching attempt to “solve” the problem. So using this resource properly is important. Understand you will have “the conversation.” You will be exposing your inner self in a way that feels vulnerable and too honest for comfort.

Second, the more you know going in, the better. If you can’t communicate what you’ve learned about depression, give your parents some resources online to look at. They might not understand the options or even what depression is all about. It’s a great way to connect with them in a neutral way – share a site that impressed you and ask for their opinion.

Using other avenues

There are other ways you can do a trial run before you talk to your folks. One is through a trusted teacher or school counselor. This gives you a chance to air out your feelings with a third party who isn’t quite as invested in you as your parents are. Friends are actually not as good a choice. Chances are that your peers, while they may understand, aren’t any better equipped to deal with depression than you are. Too often, teens rely on those they trust without considering whether friends have any useful information.

Medical personnel will take the subject seriously, and they can be used to bridge the communication gap to parents as well. If you are able to bring up your feelings with the family doctor or other professional, they can suggest ways to talk about it with your parents.

Starting the conversation

First, it’s important to realize you don’t have to cover everything the first time around. What’s needed is an opening to bring up your feelings. Pick a time when you aren’t fighting or in trouble and when the atmosphere is relaxed. Driving somewhere is good, as long as there is enough time in the trip. Other good occasions are when you are helping one of your parents with a task – cooking, fixing something, a household project. Almost any quiet time will do – even that pause after a movie on TV or after dinner.

Think about what you will say, both to start and what you want to mention. Start with a statement about yourself: “I’ve been feeling really down lately and I wonder if you’ve ever had to deal with depression?” In most cases, your parents will pick up the thread without further prompting. Try to stay calm, but if you get upset, don’t worry. These are your parents – it’s their job to understand and support you.

Keeping the conversation going

Some parents (usually the man) have a hard time not jumping right into “fix-it” mode. If they do, you’ll have to express your own opinions and tell them what you’ve learned about depression and how to deal with it. Let them know how they can help. If you don’t, their inclination will be to take charge. Remember, this isn’t the last time the subject will be discussed – there’s no need to get everything on the table all at once. The first step, the critical step, is letting them know how you’ve been feeling.

When you can’t find the right words, ask for a break to “think things over.” Make sure they know you just want a breather and aren’t shutting them out.


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