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What to Do When Your Parents Don't Believe You Have a Mental Illness
*Editor's Note: From On the Grid Zine published March 31st, 2016.
When you confide in your parents or authority figures, you expect to have support when you tell them something major, like the state of your mental health. Though some parents show support and love to their children, too many ignore or criticize their children when they express what they are feeling.
Take Danielle Zavala, who wrote a post for NAMI Massachusetts about how she didn’t see a psychiatrist for her problems until she was 19:
“I started experiencing psychiatric symptoms when I was about 11. I felt depressed and I would have panic attacks. By the time I was 13 things were pretty serious and I was thinking about suicide every day. I was so afraid that I would do it that I decided to reach out and ask my parents for help. It was really hard for me to talk to them about it. I don’t think they really understood or if they did they didn’t want to believe it. They thought I was just experiencing typical adolescent mood swings and that I probably had a hormone imbalance. Rather than getting me psychiatric help we went to the gynecologist to talk to them about my hormones. I was put on birth control to get everything back in check. After a few months once it was clear the birth control did not cure my depression we went to the family doctor to talk to her about it. Once again it was very hard for me to talk about the things I was going through.”
Stories like Danielle’s are not uncommon. Children (and yes, adult children as well) may hear:
“You don’t look sick.”
“You look fine to me.”
Parents may not know what to do when their children come to them with a problem unfamiliar to them, especially if they never experienced it themselves. But the longer a mental illness goes undetected, the worse it will get. Danielle urges parents to take their children’s concerns seriously:
“Mental health issues are real and can affect people at any age. The longer they are let go untreated the worse they usually get. Children that do not get help for their mental illness can end up having problems with school, with vocation, develop addictions and get in trouble with the law once they are older. The upside to all this is that the earlier someone is able get help for their mental illness, the easier it usually is to treat. If there is a young person in your life that you suspect has a mental health issue, or if they reach out for help, please take them seriously. If someone you know is seeking mental health help for their child please do not judge them as ‘bad parents that don’t know how to handle their spoiled kids.’ They should be commended for making sure their children are healthy in all areas of life.”
The first step is to sit down with you parents and explain the situation. Tell them you’d like for them not to put in their opinion until after you’ve finished expressing your concerns. They may still brush it off or not know what to say. Allow them some time to adjust and bring up the subject again later. Show them some resources that may be able to answer their questions, such as pamphlets from mental health organizations or blog posts with similar stories. If your parents still do not accept your situation, know it isn’t your fault. Take care of yourself first if you’re able by reaching out to school counselors, local mental health organizations.
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