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Ask a Therapist: My Parents Don't Take My Depression Seriously

Depression, Family, Ask a Therapist
4 min read

Dear Therapist: My parents don’t believe me when I say I’m depressed. They always say things like “life is hard! / life’s not fair!” How can I deal with this?

Frame Therapist Nancy Denq weighs in…
The need to be understood and validated is something we all experience, so it can feel especially painful and frustrating when the people closest to us dismiss our experiences. You may have already noticed but being told that “life is hard” does very little to help us when we’re already feeling low. If anything, we might feel worse and learn to stop sharing our experiences altogether.

So how can we effectively address our mental health needs when the people around us can’t seem to acknowledge what we’re going through?

  1. Understand that it’s probably not about you. In family systems theory, there is something called "homeostasis". This essentially means that whenever one member makes a change and starts acting differently, other members tend to resist that change in order to keep things predictable and familiar. It may not always be the case, but family members who deny or invalidate our experiences sometimes do so because they themselves are not ready to confront larger issues that might already be going on. This can be either within themselves, within the family system, or both. It’s important to know that the resistance you face could be pointing to other issues that probably did not originate with you. Learning about this dynamic can relieve us from thinking that our feelings and experiences are somehow wrong.

  2. Set an emotional boundary. Emotional boundaries are invisible barriers that help us separate our feelings and emotional needs from other people. It’s understandable that a parent’s opinions can carry a lot of weight, but it might be helpful to remember that we do not need their permission to give ourselves the kindness and validation that we deserve.

    Setting an emotional boundary can mean trusting how you feel and prioritizing what’s important to you despite what your parents or family system might think. Having emotional boundaries can also mean protecting your psychological well-being by only disclosing information that you are comfortable sharing, and only with people who can respond respectfully. Know that it is not your burden to convince others that you feel depressed. Your experience is valid.

  3. Seek out people who do understand. Develop a supportive network outside of the family system. Start by identifying qualities that a supportive figure would have and seek out those around you who can reciprocate respectful and kind behaviors. If you’re unsure, a good safety measure is to ask for permission before you share, e.g. “I’m having a hard time today, do you have space to talk?” Specify whether you are looking for practical advice or simply a safe space to vent. Their response will help you determine if they are an appropriate person to share with. There are also a lot of great organizations like NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) that offer free support groups for people to share their experiences with others who are going through similar challenges.

Having our mental health struggles minimized by a parent is painful and never easy. Although we cannot control how our parents respond to us, we do have the power to give ourselves the acceptance and validation that we need.

Hopefully these tips can empower you to access the healing that you deserve. 

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About the author: Nancy Denq is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist and Art Therapist based in Los Angeles, CA. Nancy specializes in therapy with adults who experienced parentification and childhood emotional neglect. Explore other resources Nancy has authored, or connect directly, by visiting her Frame profile here. 

 


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** This blog series is not suited for people who are in immediate crisis. If you are in crisis, please call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or contact Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.