home
RSS
November 2nd, 2010
08:29 AM ET

How do I tell my parents I'm depressed?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Tuesdays, it's Dr. Charles Raison, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University, and an expert in the mind-body connection for health.

Question asked by Alida of Maine:

I am 12 years old, and I think I'm depressed. How am I supposed to tell my mother and stepfather?

Expert answer:

Dear Alida,

Your brief question brought tears to my eyes. I wanted to write you an answer last week, but then hesitated because I don't really know what to say. It's easy to say that you should just tell them the truth and ask for their help.

This sounds good and it might be smart counsel, but I don't really know anything about your situation and for all I know, this may not be at all the right thing to do.

So, I've spent a week thinking about your situation, and I'll try to give you the best advice I can. Here's how I'd think about it.

If your mom and stepdad are people you are close to and that you trust, who you feel have your best interests at heart, then I would take a deep breath and confide in them. I would tell them what you are feeling and experiencing and ask whether they would help you get professional treatment. It's scary to do this type of thing, but once it is done, you'll feel a lot better.

But as I thought about it, I realized that given the sometimes harsh realities of the world, your mother and stepfather might be doing things that are contributing to you feeling depressed.

If you are having normal struggles with your folks, it might still be the best course of action to tell them that you are feeling depressed and want to get help. But if they are really doing bad things, and there are many possibilities here, then you might be better advised to talk about the situation with someone outside the family. I don't know who might be the best person in your particular case, but do you have a teacher or school counselor you trust and are close to?

As I said at the beginning, because I don't know your situation, I can't make specific recommendations, but I do know that whatever your situation, it is really important that you find a way to get treatment for your depression. We now have studies showing that treating depression in young people can really produce long-term changes in their life that are very positive.


soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. MwK

    Nice response Dr. Raison. No one knows what goes on behind closed doors. But I beleive that it's important for parents and adults to listen to our children and take notice to changes in their behavior and moods. There is so much going on in the world today (peer pressure, broken families, drugs/alcohol use, etc) that it must be tough growing up as a child. Alida took a very mature approach in taking the first step by reaching out to a neutral party for advice in hopes to finding some resolution.

    November 2, 2010 at 09:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. deborah

    Another option is for the child to tell her parents that she doesn't feel well and to ask to go to her family doctor or pediatrician. Then when alone, she could confide in the doctor. The doctor could assess the situation and help the child by either helping her disclose to the parents or following up if something more sinister is going on. I think this is out or the realm of most teachers or counsellors, frankly.

    November 2, 2010 at 10:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MizzGivens

      That's a very good point. Many teachers and school counselors, although they are mandatory reporters, don't have a mental health background. They might have more of a social work background. Even so, the idea of talking to her pediatrician was spot-on.

      November 2, 2010 at 15:18 | Report abuse |
  3. em

    Alida, you are very mature to be able to recognize that things don't seem right and you might need someone to talk to. Your life can be better, and you deserve it to be better. Depression is not something to be embarrassed about, nor is it something to be ignored.

    My daughter was in a similar situation. She was brave enough to ask for help, and she is doing much better now. As parents, we didn't even know she was suffering so much until she told us. I am so glad she came to us.

    As Dr. Raison said, if you don't feel comfortable approaching your parents, that is ok. But I hope you talk to someone. I truly believe you will feel better if you do. And there are probably more people in the world that truly care about you than you could ever imagine.

    November 2, 2010 at 10:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Rick W

    Serious Advice from a father who helped his son through long term depression since age 9.
    This child needs to find that safe person who can let him discuss his daily struggles and get him a plan that will give him hope!

    My best advice is immediately get him into touch therapy with his safe person and look for a top clinic to see him through a medication mine field as most medication have a lag time of up to 8 weeks before you see results good or bad. This is a very dangerous time for this young man and this friend and safe person needs to be accessible anytime to develop this sense of hope, trust and feeling of not being alone in this struggle.

    My son is now 21 in college, job and accomplished drummer and happy, but he uses his mental tools to cope with the OCD and depression when it snakes into his life.

    My heart goes out to this kid!

    November 2, 2010 at 10:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Anonymous

    Do schools regularly screen kids for depression? They should. Even if the parents aren't causing the depression, they often misunderstand it, tell them to "snap out of it", etc. Teachers should be trained how to spot symptoms of depression in children. Diagnosis is just the beginning.

    November 2, 2010 at 10:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. With Depressed Child

    Nice response. But in the end, the child needs to seek counsel with his parents and medical staff. Depression can not be dealt within the family itself. Although most symptoms can be relieved, medical counsel – even with possible aid of medications and social counselling – is needed. We are in teh midst of separation, and our older son seemed fine, great, handling things well. But .... so, we talked to him, and told him to be honest .... WOW ! Kids are not as resilient as they may seem, after all – we are all human. Being old schooled, where you handled your own problems, and people got over it ..... I do now understand what depression can do to a family if left unattended. To a child .... please, talk with someone. If the parents don't listen, seek school counselling. Seek medical counsel. It may seem 'silly', but honestly, eventeh smallest bit of help ... helps.
    take care

    November 2, 2010 at 11:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Roscoe Chait

    The doctor gave a good answer. I was very depressed as a child, but I would never have confided in my parents–they were the cause of it. I ended up talking to teachers, and they helped and kept my confidentiality. In retrospect, I wish they had contacted a therapist for me. Years later, I saw a therapist who diagnosed my problems immediately and put me on anti-depressants. I made the mistake of telling my mother that I was being treated for depression. From that point on, my family treated me like I had just escaped from an insance asylum.

    November 2, 2010 at 11:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Junior12

    At our highschool we have a program called aviedum which has the main goal of getting rid of the shame tat goes along with depression and the word aviedum was created as a way of saying "i got your back" Google it it might help you out a little bit

    November 2, 2010 at 11:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Alex

    I really hope that this girl's family will be there to support her throughout this ordeal. I have suffered with depression for over 10 years and have been on and off antidepressants since I was 13. I also struggled with cutting and am still struggling with an eating disorder. My parents have always been there for me for everything except these struggles. They have not once talked to me about it, and did their best to ignore it over the years. I think they just didn't know how to deal with it and chose to ignore it entirely. I am seeing something very similar happening to my brother, he carved into his arm and almost needed stitches, but my parents have chosen to ignore it. I really believe that it is far easier for them to pretend it isn't a real problem than taking steps to help. I don't know if this is common among parents of kids who have psychological ailments, but I am still trying to get over the resentment that I have felt towards them over the years. Parents really need to step up and take an active role in the treatment of depression, eating disorders, etc. and let their children know that no matter what, they will always have someone to talk to, a shoulder to cry on and people that DO care. Good luck to Alida, I hope that you'll get the help you need and the support of your family.

    November 2, 2010 at 11:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lioness

      I know how you feel as my parents, and those of other kids I knew back in high school, were similar. It's easier for parents to send you to a few sessions with a therapist so they can ignore the problem. That's sad; parents need to learn to deal with these things with calm and wisdom and to spend time with their children communicating on a regular basis, in a respectful way.

      If you feel spending more time with your parents would benefit you, reach out to them. Let them know outright that you would like to spend one-on-one time with them and ask to make a plan. For example, you could say that you'd like to spend the first weekend of each month going out with your mom and the third with your dad, and they could alternate and do the same with your brother. In this way, you can build a real friendship with each parent, which is important.

      When you bring this up to them, why not tell them in clear terms that your brother needs their help and that they aren't doing enough. I know it is very very difficult to ask your parents for what you need from them, but sometimes that's what you have to find the courage to do.

      Become very clear about what you need from them specifically and then ask for it. They will probably be happy to be there for you, as you're making it clear what you need. I hope they "step up." If not, ask for your therapist's help with communicating with your parents.

      November 2, 2010 at 11:35 | Report abuse |
    • Alex

      I am now in my 20's, I have a husband, a beautiful daughter and while I still have issues with depression and an eating disorder, my husband is always there for me. I still have issues off and on with my parents about myself and my brother. I have approached them so many times (in person, via letters, on the phone) with the same result (They get so defensive, take everything as a personal attack and refuse to listen... It is usually me that ends up apologizing). Don't get me wrong, I know they love us, it's just not in them to deal with these things. They are both very busy with work, extracirriculars for my siblings (I have 3) and my mother travels all over the world for business on a very regular basis (She is gone usually 1-3 weeks a month). They are very supportive in other ways. At this point I am starting to realize that this is who they are, and I have made certain that my brother knows he can always come to me if there is a problem. As a mother I have also resolved to ensure my daughter knows she can talk to me about anything and everything and I will always be there to support her no matter what. It's the best I can do for myself and my family. I appreciate the support and suggestions though.

      November 2, 2010 at 18:22 | Report abuse |
  10. Junior12

    here is the link to the website http://www.aevidum.com/aevidum/Welcome.html

    November 2, 2010 at 11:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Bekah

    My parents aren't bad people, but they refused to be there for me when I needed help. I remember them sending me to anger management once because I would cry when they yelled at me, and when I later said I wanted to have a sit down discussion like my teacher taught me to discuss anger issues, my dad told me to stfu and that the class was "for me to learn to fix my stupid problems, not pretend we have any". I got yelled at for wanting attention when I was in the hospital for a suicide attempt, had my father take out a video camera and film me so I could see how pathetic I was when I cried, and then had them monitor my every move online so I couldn't reach out on the Internet for help. It was hell. Eventually, I learned to cut. If you're punished for expressing how you feel, cutting is expressing without the voice. I ran around with tank tops every day and they didn't notice the gashes for years.

    Parents are less than useless. This child needs to go to their school. Parents won't help.

    November 2, 2010 at 12:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Rins

      Sorry...but they sound like bad people to me. Not all parents are useless...and it's very unfortunate that your parents happen to be a part of the useless club.

      November 2, 2010 at 15:30 | Report abuse |
  12. Jenny

    I feel for you. I first showed signs of depression at age 13, and my mom was too concerned with her own medical issues to care about mine. I had all the symptoms of an depressed teenager except bad grades, so it was undetectable to most people. It took until II got to college and had my own health insurance for me to actually get therapy and medications. My parents still don't believe depression needs extra help and I cannot talk to them about my feelings at all. As a result, I'm not as close to my parents as I could be, but at least I am emotionally heathy, thanks to drugs. If you cannot talk to your parents, I urge you to hang in there until you can make your own medical decisions.

    November 2, 2010 at 13:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Lori also in Maine

    Alida, I wish I knew what area you are in. Having experienced my own struggles plus having earned two degrees in the mental health field and being familiar with area resources, I know I could point you in the right direction. Please remember that people care and the doctor gave you an excellent and thoughtful response also! You deserve help and you deserve to feel better–and you will!

    November 2, 2010 at 13:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Corinne

    My daughter came to me at 16 with the same thing – we took her to the pediatrician, who was compassionate and helpful. She gave us the names of counselors and someone who could prescribe medication. We told her guidance counselor as well, who informed her teachers. She is much better now, is in college and managing her life. Have confidence, Alida. It is important to know that you will not always feel this way, and there are people out there to help you.

    November 2, 2010 at 13:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. CalgarySandy

    When a social worker my mother sent me to when I was 15 told my mom that I was depressed and the whole family needed to come in because my home situation contributed, my mother yanked me out and told me I just needed to "sincerely" ask Jesus for help. I was bullied and abused my most of my family. They drove off a cousin who was suicidally depressed and whose maternal family had several suicides. It is often the case that families are so ashamed of having someone who has a mental illness in the family that they try to hide it. The stigma against it is so bad they will contribute to the worsening to the disorder. This can lead to serious and dangerous mental illness that could have been nipped in the bud if managed in childhood. My son has inherited my genes and has some problems with depression. It took me a long time to get help for him. "Oh, it is just hormones." Unfortunately his school was not so enlightened and put him into a class full of people who could not or would not learn. I fought with them over this and finally pulled him out of school rather than allow him to be subjected to a teacher who practiced "pop psychology" on him in front of the others. She went at me over a table when I told her to stop it. The school psychologist had to hold her back. My son is responding well to therapy and meds now and is not likely to ever get as bad as I am as I never abused him for his illness and am not ashamed of him.

    Be careful. Feel out how your family feels about mental illness. If you have a family doctor who can be trusted to keep quiet talk to the doctor. If you have a guidance counselor who can be trusted talk to them.

    November 2, 2010 at 14:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Bob

    Before rushing off to the Doctor and him prescribing dangerous Anti-Depressants, please see a qualified Therapist first.. If you, feel medication is the answer at least see a trained psychiatrist who is aware of the side-effects and suicidal risks for teenagers and children..

    November 2, 2010 at 15:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Liz

      I agree with Bob. Being put on anti-depressants is by no means a quick fix either! There are so many different types of anti-depressants, and everyone taking them is completely different. It is almost impossible to pin point the chemical cause of depression in the brain, which makes finding a drug a trial and error process. It is worth looking into other treatment options, especially at a young age!

      November 2, 2010 at 16:54 | Report abuse |
    • L.S.

      Hi Bob...Just a quick question, are you now, or have you ever been on any type of psychiatric medication? You dont really have to answer this, I already know. I honestly do not think (unless you do have an M.D., are a practicing psychiatrist and specialize in Pediatric Psychopharmacology for behavioral and mood disorders) that you have any place to tell someone where they should or should not go to seek treatment. Nor should you label any type of treatment a "dangerous" or "bad" unless you have actually had a legitimate personal experience in which horrible things occurred. In the realm of mental health and depression, horrible is not just any bad day either...
      In the ideal situation, once Alida has determined who she feels safe communicating with as well as the best method for her to fully express what she feels the work should then be between Alida and that other person to determine how she would like to proceed. If she were to start with a psychiatrist, who is a Doctor, that person would be able to make an overall assessment of her current state. If they feel that only talk-therapy or DBT is necesary, they will most likely provide a referral to a qualified individual for Alida's particular condition. If medication is necessary, Alida always has the option to say no, but more often then not, the medication does its job.
      A side note to Liz...the is NO quick fix to health, not physical or emotional (hence the reason fad diets don't work). There are different types of medications that react and affect each individual differently. The "cause" if you will, of depression has not been determined – at least to the point that one could say that everyone who is depressed has decreased Dopamine and Serotonin levels in their brain. If it were that simple...
      I could go on forever, and I apologize for the short novel. I just cannot stand to see (what appear to be) uneducated rants/blurts about psychiatric medications (or prescription drugs...generics...altogether), generics are a whole different story.I honestly do not believe that there is enough education out there about what is really available or the advancements medicine has made in these areas. It's all there, but no one knows about it, unless they have had to deal with it.
      I am an example. I was diagnosed as Bipolar 12 years ago. The first thing I thought about was Lithium and Shock Therapy! It has been tough, but nothing like shock therapy...I now live a normal life (if there is a normal), I just got married last month, and I am looking for a new job now. I have found my stable set of medications, but there are always fluctuations and small changes, life changes, chemicals and situations change, so do my medications. All I can say is that it isn't just a one shot thing, it takes time and patience.
      And Alida, you have so many options to handle your situation, and you are amazingly in-tune with yourself at your age. I wish that I was. The most important things I could recommend are to make sure that you are able to fully communicate all of your feelings and emotions to whoever you speak to (doctor, therapist, etc.), use whatever method of communication best makes this possible (speaking, writing, drawing, etc.), do not brush things off that you notice that may bother you more than usual, or when you "just do not feel like you" for a period of time, keep a journal – of everything...I walk around with mine all day (it does not always make sense to me later, but that's not the point, the point is to get what I am feeling out), take an active role in whatever path you choose to take for treatment (if you have a computer and internet access, Google information in the news, if not, go to the library), finally, take "quiet time" for yourself, just you...learn to meditate...or just lay flat in silence...it will bring you even more in tune with yourself and how what you do affects you. Best Wishes to you...

      November 28, 2010 at 00:20 | Report abuse |
  17. Claire

    I went through some of this at your age, and I did approach my mother and it turned out badly. I think the hormones probably had a lot to do with my feelings, and let's face it–it's still taboo to talk about what 12 year olds really are feeling. I would see a gynecologist rather than a psychiatrist to start with. Psychiatrists may immediately push you to use drugs, since that's the current dogma. My theory is that some of these feelings are normal at this age, but our society medicalizes everything.

    November 2, 2010 at 15:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Rachael

    My daughter told me by writing me a letter. She said she didn't want to go through the school to handle it because she'd seen that approach turn out badly for her best friend. The school had chosen a counselor, doctor, and medical course of action that made things worse before they got better. We were able to find a counselor who was able to address my daughter's fears of a pharmaceutical course of action and try talk therapy and behavior modifications first. There are a lot of heartfelt replies here. I hope you find the course of action that works for you. Good luck, Alida.

    November 2, 2010 at 16:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. antenna

    Good answer. We don't know a thing about this child's family. I am a mom, and when my kids were teens, I was personally aware of parents who were meth addicts, pot smokers, verbally and physically abusive, alcoholics, etc. I am so glad you told the child to confide in her parents only if they were supportive, etc.

    November 2, 2010 at 17:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Abbyka

    I dunno. I thought I could trust my mom when I told her about my depression. I'm pretty close to her. But she slapped me across the face when I told her I was a cutter. That killed my desire to ever confide in anyone I knew on a personal level ever again.

    November 2, 2010 at 23:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Improve Concentration

    Get friends – there is nothing like having a good circle of productive friends. Unless you think its clinical in some kind of way.

    November 2, 2010 at 23:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. reid

    the child stated "I am 12 years old, and I think I'm depressed. How am I supposed to tell my mother and stepfather?" (think being the key word here)
    first ,and foremost you would think a professional , would want to ask the proper questions,in order to find out if the child is going through a depression (he seemingly may not be) by giving this advice he might percieve you to be confirming what he thinks is his diagnosis,and possibly adding more stress,to the situation.....just a thought!!

    November 3, 2010 at 06:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Feeling your pain

    I suffered for years with depression, starting as far back as I can remember. I never knew what was wrong but I knew I was always sad and would have dreams about ending my life. After my husband left me for another woman (6 weeks after my second miscarriage) I attempted suicide twice. Although my parents helped me through the initial pain and process, they still have not admitted I suffered from depression. I saw several doctors and each agreeing I was suffering from bi-polar disorder. 3 years ago I started on medication and talk therapy. My life has been changed for the better. I never knew life could be so great. Depression is a disease and people are often too ashamed to tell those they love for fear of rejection and, in my case, denial. I hope beyond hope this young girl and so many like her can find help early. I look back often and wonder how different my life could have been if someone had help me get help. My thoughts are with this child.

    November 3, 2010 at 08:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Kristen

    I am 14 I have a really hard life and know that I am depressed, but I know that my parents will tell me that I am prop ably just upset about something and think that at the heat of the moment. I have taken many quizes and have talk to counselors and all of them say that I am at a high risk of being depressed. How should I tell my parents that I need help, when I now they won't believe me.

    September 5, 2011 at 23:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Nidhi

    M 16 years old and i think m depressed . I am really not dat much close 2 my parents. I hv nvr shared even a small problem wid dem. So it is very difficult as well as weird 4 me 2 tell them dat m depressed. Actually i hv nvr shared my problems wid anyone. I dont hv true frnds so dat i could share wid dem. M totally alone. I think dis is the only reason of my depression. M having sucidial thoughts bt i dont wanna quit. Sometimes itz very difficult 2 control my emotions. M always crying widout any reason. I feel very insecure. I need someone who can understand my problems to whome i can share. I feel i m worthless. And one more thing my father and 2 more members of my family has suffered wid depression. I always feel sleepy i can sleep even for whole day. Bt this is not me. I ate very less and since both my parents r working so i hv 2 take care of myself. N i dont take breakfast due 2 dis reason. N i am nt being wid frnds (so called) n stopped socializing. I hv lost interest in d things earlier i used 2 enjoy. I easily get irritated. I hv lost the power 2 concentrate.Plz tell me m i really in depression n if yes den how do i tell my parents.

    February 15, 2012 at 11:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. destiny

    I'm depressed and don't know how to tell my mom I'm scared if I tell my mom she wont understand and just blow me off

    November 10, 2015 at 23:12 | Report abuse | Reply

Post a comment


 

CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

Advertisement
About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.