For teens and kids: How to talk to your parent or caregiver about your mental health needs

The Mental Health Project is a Seattle Times initiative focused on covering mental and behavioral health issues. It is funded by Ballmer Group, a national organization focused on economic mobility for children and families. The Seattle Times maintains editorial control over work produced by this team.

We’re two years into a pandemic that’s been raging, and waning, and raging again. Young people in particular are struggling with the impacts: More kids and teens are reporting being stressed, anxious and depressed. Young people of color can face added challenges.

That’s on top of the emotions that come with being a young person learning about yourself and the world around you.

You may start to realize you need help with your mental health.

“It takes quite a bit of courage to share something that you’re feeling. But when you let someone else in on what’s going on, it can really take off the burden and allow people to help and support, ”said Olivia Whitea licensed mental health counselor associate who provides remote counseling in Washington.

More Mental Health Resources for Young People

Here are some tips from experts on how to talk to the adults in your life about mental health.

Find a trusted adult

Taking the first step to understand your feelings and finding the strength to share them is huge. Identify a trusted adult in your life to express these emotions and talk through what you’ve been experiencing.

That may be a parent, but it does not have to be, said Dorcas Nung, a licensed marriage and family therapist. It can be a teacher, a school counselor, a coach or a friend’s parent.

Know what you want from the conversation

Once you’ve selected someone to tell, have an idea of ​​what you hope to get out of the conversation, said Carly Beaulieua licensed marriage and family therapy associate in Issaquah.

For example, do you want just to vent? Would you like to get more emotional support? Do you want to start therapy? Do you need more help at school?

Then give a heads up to the person you want to talk to. You might reach out via a phone call or text and say, “Hey, I have something quite serious and heavy to talk about. I’m looking for you to just listen right now, ”or“ I’m really wanting to get this off my chest, and I’m hoping for a calm, listening ear at this point, ”Beaulieu suggests.

That allows caregivers to start preparing emotionally for the conversation.

At the beginning of your conversation, state your needs and boundaries.

You can get specific and say “Do not ask me follow-up questions. I’m going to tell you what I’m comfortable with. And if you have questions, we can talk about it later, but not when I’m explaining to you what’s going on, ”she said.

Sometimes it helps to write things down and bring that to the conversation, Beaulieu said. Have a script of what you want to say. That can help you organize your thoughts so you do not lose them in the moment.

How to find help

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or have concerns about someone else who may be, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255); you will be routed to a local crisis center where professionals can talk you through a risk assessment and provide resources in your community. More info: Or reach out to Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741 for free, 24/7 crisis counseling. More info:

How to help your peers

If you have a friend who is going through something, you can help provide support. Ultimately, though, serious mental health concerns should be elevated to trusting adults.

A young person approached by a friend can be upfront about their capacity and responsibility. Explain to a friend that you’re there to listen and support, and can offer to connect them with a counselor or teacher.

You can also say, “Here are some of the things I can do and some of the things I can not do because I’m a kid too. I think if you told an adult, it would be helpful, ”said Ravi Ramasamya child and adolescent psychiatrist at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

If there is an urgent safety risk, you can explain that you need to tell an adult, he said. But if it’s not quite that significant or severe, you can set a threshold and say that if the concern reaches a certain point, this is what you will do.

Another way to phrase this is by saying “I really care about you. I think this is pretty intense, and you do not have to do this alone. I’m your friend, and I want to help you. So I’m going to find somebody so we can all help you together, ”Nung said.

Addressing stigma

Some families may be skeptical of seeking mental health care.

“Sometimes it’s because of lack of understanding or stigma,” Ramasamy said. “Many people have been harmed by the healthcare system and the mental healthcare system. And a lot of their worries are warranted. ”

Some parents may be wary of getting outside help because they want to keep matters within the family.

You are entitled to seek care if you’re interested and in need, regardless of your family’s stance.

However, you might try addressing their concerns head-on in your initial conversation.

Often, the more that families find out how much a young person is struggling, “there’s some middle ground we can reach,” Ramasamy said.

“Whatever you discuss with your therapist or psychiatrist is confidential. That might help families feel a little bit more comfortable, ”he said.

Know your rights

In Washington state, people who are 13 years and older can seek mental health care and receive services and treatment without the consent of a parent or guardian.

A child who is 13 or older can show up to an emergency room and be evaluated and admitted to a hospital even if a parent or guardian does not agree, Ramasamy said.

On the other hand, if a child does not want to seek therapy or other treatment and he or she is 13 years or older, a parent can not force them into care without their consent, Beaulieu said.


Several organizations and services exist to support young people in crisis.

Even if parents are not on board with getting help, Ramasamy said kids can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

Teen Linka program of the nonprofit Crisis Connections, provides telephone hotlines for young people, veterans, people experiencing mental health crises and anyone wanting help. You can reach Teen Link by calling 866-TEENLINK or sending text messages via

For young people experiencing homelessness, resources are available.

YouthCare spirit Childhaven support kids in Seattle; Friends of Youth aids kids in East King County; Cocoon House helps kids in Snohomish County.

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