As someone who spent a solid chunk of time convincing my parents to take me to a psychiatrist, I know firsthand how tough it can be to get the ‘rents on board with seeking help. Every family is different, and one situation is never the same as the next, but here is some food for thought that might help you tackle the problem head on and get the treatment you need. For this article, I will be talking about parents because that was my experience, but these are applicable to whoever your caretaker(s)/legal guardian(s) happen to be.
1. They might not be informed enough to understand that what you are going through is legitimate. When my parents took me to our family doctor and the word “bipolar” came up, they were skeptical. They had always thought that bipolar disorder meant laughing one minute, sobbing the next, and raging after that. I’ve always been a relatively mild person and therefore did not fit into the stereotype they assumed to be true. The best thing to do in this situation is do your research and present the facts. A school guidance counselor may be able to provide you with materials if you don’t know where to start looking for information.
2. They might mostly see your good times. I spent most of my time at school when my mental health started to nosedive south. By the time I got home, I either retreated to my room or felt fine enough to appear healthy. With rapid cycling bipolar disorder, if I was going through a terrible bout of illness, the worst was often over by the time the school bus pulled in across from my house at the end of the day.
When summer rolled around, I did my best to avoid my parents and dwindled away the hours on the phone with my friends or drawing in my room where they didn’t see how severe my symptoms had become. As tempting as it is to isolate yourself and steer clear of their paths, being transparent with your parents/legal guardian and telling them when you feel your absolute worst is only going to help you in the long run.
3. You might be good at hiding it. The face of mental illness is not always visibly sick. For me, my parents didn’t notice my most “down” day from my most “up” one until they were more informed and I had begun keeping them updated about what was going on and letting them see me at my least healthy. Even now, my parents can’t always tell what’s going through my mind. I don’t mean to mask the turmoil in my head, but here is where communication is key. Often times, we slap on a smile as a means of protecting our most vulnerable selves. If you catch yourself doing this, say something to the effect of “I know I probably seem fine, but I’m really not, and this is why.” Keep an honest dialogue running as much as possible. There could just be subtle factors that they aren’t attuned to picking up yet, and it may take time, even years, for them to develop their radars for your not-okay moments. Being out in the open with this is uncharted territory for you, too, so it might take some time for you to be comfortable with letting your guard down. Be patient with yourself, but work towards building the trust it takes to “let it all hang out.” In many cases, if your parents see that nothing is wrong, they will have a hard time believing that you truly need professional help.
4. They might buy into the mental health stigma and don’t want you to be seen as “different.” Gently remind them that mental illness is a disease like any other, and when left untreated, it is bound to get worse. There are billions of people in the world who suffer from it. They should prefer to have a child who is healthy with another label in his or her medical records than a child who is struggling just to get through every day. Make sure they know that.
5. If you’re too nervous to bring it up by yourself, ask your school guidance counselor to hold a family meeting. A little moral support can do wonders. If you’ve been talking to your guidance counselor for a week or two before addressing the issue with your parents, s/he might have valuable insight as to what symptoms they notice. This can also add legitimacy to your problems, and if you are anxious about talking to them or think things might get heated, you will have a “middleman” to keep the conversation level and focused on the task at hand: figuring out the best way to help you become your most mentally well self.
I know it’s scary—even downright terrifying—to talk about something so personal with them, especially if you rarely open up to your parents about anything deeper than how your day at school was or what time they should pick you up from sports practice. But this will only strengthen your relationship with them and, hopefully, will lead to a happy, healthy existence.
By: Mary Sukala, Anxiety In Teens Contributor