When to Involve Parents Into Your Friends’ Mental Health Discussion
Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.
Here’s a truth you don’t hear everyday: sometimes parents aren’t helpful. Or sometimes it takes some time to accept them as helpful. As teenagers, we have two contradicting feelings toward parents. Sometimes, they know nothing. They don’t know what clothes are “in style”, they don’t know what’s “good for you” and they definitely don’t know that “it’s going to be okay”. However, other times parents are the all-knowing source of knowledge. Like when they edit your English paper on Huckleberry Finn, tell you which medications to take when your allergies start acting up again, and explain things like “investing” or “making a portfolio”. When it comes to mental health, parents can be a gamechanger. Many say that they owe their entire recovery to the love and support of their family. And that’s incredible. However, getting to that place can be tough, especially if you don’t necessarily have that loving, supporting, understanding family.
Sometimes, a friend is the first one to notice their friend being swept under the arms of depression or an eating disorder. I am going to speak from that perspective. Let’s say your friend has begun confiding in you; you’re the only one that knows. It’s a secret. No one can know the scars on their arms or that the reason they go to the bathroom after every meal is not just because they have a small bladder. That’s a difficult position to be in. After all, you don’t want to betray your friend. You’re the only one that they’re telling, so you have to keep their trust so they keep telling you. That is a valid thought. You want to keep that trust, and it’s okay to keep their secret while you figure out the best way to support them, as long as you are confident that they are safe.
Do you know their family well? If they’re in college away from home, you may not have met their parents. Do they have a good relationship with their parents? Does depression or eating disorders run in the family? These are all questions to think about before confiding in a parent or taking the next step. If they do have a good relationship with their parents, encourage your friend to be open with their family about their mental health. Oftentimes medication and therapy are vital to help the individual return to a positive mental state, and parent support can make this process infinitely easier. There are circumstances where individuals are afraid to speak to their parents, whether that be due to fear of receiving help or not wanting to make their parents worry. This situation is where your judgement as a friend comes into play. It can be difficult to know how parents will respond. However, if there are no signs of an unhealthy childhood relationship, parent involvement may help. Your friend may be unhappy with you, and you must prepare for these feelings. If you are the one that they trust and confide in, they will realize in their own time that you were placing their life and well-being first.
Back to the beginning. There are circumstances where parents aren’t helpful. Whether they do not believe in mental health support or they have contributed to the development of the illness, sometimes going to a parent will not help the individual, and it can make the situation worse. It is easy to believe that parents can solve everything, and it is unfortunately not true. However, it is also not fair for a friend’s negative thoughts to be weighing on you. You should never be in the place where you feel like someone’s life is in your own hands. Whether it is speaking to a guidance counselor, trusted professor, or an additional friend outside of the picture, it is important to release the stress built up from supporting your friend, and also to help your friend receive the support they need.
There are many ways to go about supporting your friend, and unfortunately, every situation is circumstantial. It is crucial to evaluate every experience separately, addressing the differences by communicating with your friend and making sure to take care of your own mental health as well. Being a friend is one of the toughest but most rewarding relationships.
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