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  • Rashi Ahuja

"How do I talk to my parents about my mental health?"

“Ma’am, can you please reduce the fees per session” “My parents don’t know that I am seeking therapy”, “Doctor, are you sure our sessions are going to be confidential; do you promise that you won’t tell my parents anything at all”, “I don’t think my parents can ever understand that I need therapy!”. Being a therapist in South Asia, I have heard such requests time and again from adolescents coming from varied backgrounds.

The irony in the Indian context is that we usually have people around all the time. In fact, the people who wish the best for us are usually just a corridor away every night. Yet, we feel all alone at certain points in our lives.

But who is to be blamed? Is it the parents, who come from a generation where mental health and emotional health wasn’t even talked about, let alone been taken care of? Or are the children, who feel their parents can’t understand their feelings?

I often hear a lot of my young clients say, “Why do my parents have to negate or belittle everything I feel? Why is everything about their expectations? Why is it that I must always meet their expectations? Why do I have to live questioning my identity and worth after every single conversation with them?”.

I am sure a lot of you relate to these statements, but let me ask you, has it ever crossed your mind that this might be the only way your parents know how to do this?

What if they felt the same way when they were your age? What if they were told day in and day out that their mere existence was burdensome?

What if your mother started to nag as a mere mechanism to deal with the fact that she felt incredibly lonely herself and to her it felt the way she could have been heard. What if your father (who can’t get enough of calling you ‘Useless’) has heard the same thing from so many people and in so many places that, at this point, every sentence formed in his head is punctuated by it? To keep food on the table for children (that he was not ready for) and a wife (whom he does not fully know) - what if he had struggles that went unseen? What if, to survive, he had to lose the words ‘sadness’ and ‘pain’ from his dictionary? What if he hasn’t found them yet? What if he’s forgotten how to cry? What if, all this time, your parents were toiling their way to frustration and shedding tears in the shower because they felt like unworthy parents? What if on the same night when you were drowning in shadows, so were they?

In my experience with my clients over the last 10 years, I have noticed that in most cases there is a vicious cycle that is often formed. For instance, let’s say a child called X, goes to her parents and tells them that “I am feeling depressed”, and her parents respond in either of the following ways: “It’s nothing.”; “Sleep it off, you’ll feel better tomorrow.”; “It’s just your imagination, everyone feels the same way.”; “Stop acting that way. You’re fine.”; “Don’t overreact.”; or “Stop being such an attention seeker.”. Would you think this child would ever muster the courage to talk to her parents again?

In most cases, no, which in turn makes the parents not understand their child even more. Thereby increasing the gap further.

You may question at this point, that does that mean that our parents are ignoring our well-being? Absolutely not. They are just in the dark when it comes to mental health, and it's our duty to show them the light. It's definitely hard to explain to our parents that we are suffering from mental health concerns. You might be scared whether they will judge you or ask you to snap out of it. But it is imperative to talk and educate them about it.

1. You need to talk about mental health. You need to talk about the stigma associated with mental health. You need to talk about the impact poor mental health can have on a person. It’s time that we stop complaining about our parents not knowing about mental health. Instead, we need to step up and make them aware about it.

2. Don’t overwhelm them too much. Mental health is a vast topic. It might be hard for some people to understand it easily. Don’t expect your parents to be understanding and accepting in the first go itself. It might take some time, and it's okay. Tell them about it slowly, and explain to them how it works.

3. Have conversations with your parents addressing their mental health. Ask your mother if anything you do makes her feel unimportant. Ask your father about his greatest fear.

Further, consider modeling the behavior you want to see in your parents. If you’d like them to ask you how you were doing, ask them first! If you need a hug, go ahead, and give your parents one!

4. Give them reliable information and ask them if they understand. Tell them about other people’s first-hand experience so that they can understand better. When you give them examples, instead of mechanically explaining the whole thing, they can understand better and might be able to understand the whole ordeal of what a person goes through when suffering from mental health issues. You may even want to find videos or movies about what you would like to talk about. Seeing what you are going through on screen, in someone else’s life may help your parents understand better.

Suffering from mental health issues can be difficult. But, with our parents understanding us and standing by our side no matter what, it can make the journey to healing many folds easier.

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