Written by Raealyne Olarte, LMSW, clinically reviewed by Jacqueline Mitchell, LMSW

Mental health can be a difficult subject to talk about, even with the people we’re closest to, like our families. 

But because mental illness is so common among young people in the United States — more than 1 in 5 youth (ages 13-18) currently have or previously had a seriously debilitating mental illness — it’s extremely important to create a space where your family can have an open conversation about mental health.

Even though the conversation about mental health may be uncomfortable, the people closest to us can be a valuable source of support. 

Parents can model open communication about mental health by initiating conversations with their children, which can help alleviate any fears of judgment or stigma.

5 Tips for Talking About Mental Health with Your Family

1. Determine a method of communication that feels right for you

For example:

  • Create a script for what you’d like to say.
  • Conduct research online or complete a brief online screener and print out the results.
  • Talk face-to-face with a trusted friend or family member and maybe include a neutral third party to act as a mediator, if needed.
  • Break up the awkwardness; play a board/card game with your family to help ease your way into a conversation about mental health.
  • Type or write a letter, explaining how you feel and what you’ve been experiencing.
  • Watch a movie – movies can spark conversations about mental health. People often share instances where they related to a character in a movie or TV show, perhaps because the character faced similar experiences or had a particular diagnosis discussed in the story.

2. Find a suitable time and place. 

If you wait for the “perfect time” to talk about mental health then you may never find one. But there are things you can do to make the conversation more comfortable for you and the people involved. Choose a time when you won’t be rushed, and pick a location you feel safe and comfortable in.

3. Practice what you want to say 

You may find that starting the conversation is the hardest part, so don’t be afraid to practice. You can even jot down some notes if you think that would help you feel prepared. And don’t worry about saying exactly the right thing. You can start by asking questions like:

  • “How are you feeling today?”
  • “What are some of the things that are stressing you out right now?”
  • “What are you most worried about?”
  • “How long have you been feeling like this?”
  • “What can I do to help/make you feel supported?”

If your family member asks further questions beyond what you have chosen to share, know that it is perfectly OK to politely decline going into more detail. 

4. Use references to explain how you’re feeling

Is there a book that expresses the feelings you’re having? Is there a movie,TV, or anime character you relate to right now? These reference points can be a useful way to express what you’re feeling when you don’t feel like you have all the words to say.

5. Be clear with family about what you want from them

Is there something specific you need from your family to help you better manage your mental health? Maybe you want space to process your emotions, or maybe you’re looking for some extra support on things like chores and homework. Or maybe you need your parents to help you get connected with a doctor or therapist who can provide you with treatment.

Don’t hesitate to ask for what you need, even if you’re unsure. Those who care about you will want to support you in your journey towards improvement, whatever that entails.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, April 25). About mental health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/learn/index.htm 
  2. National Alliance on Mental Illness. (n.d.). Mental Health Facts in America. General MH Facts. https://www.nami.org/nami/media/nami-media/infographics/generalmhfacts.pdf 
  3. Talking about your mental health problem. Mind. (n.d.). https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/seeking-help-for-a-mental-health-problem/talking-to-friends-family/ 
  4. Important talks: How to start conversations about mental illness. Premier Health. (n.d.). https://www.premierhealth.com/your-health/articles/women-wisdom-wellness-/important-talks-how-to-start-conversations-about-mental-illness

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