Mental health struggles are so prevalent, they affect 1 in 5 Americans. According to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 19.1% of adults experienced a mental illness in 2018. Symptoms are on the rise now. Unemployment is skyrocketing. Life plans are terribly off course. Folks are stuck indoors and sometimes with people they would prefer not to share so much space with. 

We know that people experience mental health symptoms frequently, and yet there is still a significant gap in understanding, often by those closest to people affected. In my work with young adults especially, I often see parents who are loving and supportive and want to do all the right things for their children. And my clients, the “children,” want their parents to “get it.” I have often met with family members with my clients. I provide a safe space to express their concerns while also answering basic questions about mental illness and treatment. Many parents simply don’t have the language necessary to support their children in a meaningful way. I also work with my clients to let go of perfect standards and comparing to live more fully the way that works for them. 

Why is everyone else in my family normal and I’m not? 

This is a common frustration: everyone else can hang with life and I just can’t take it. Sometimes this is explained by the person being highly sensitive. While this is considered a personality trait and not a disorder, it can be linked to depression and other mental health struggles. Being sensitive means you are likely to experience both internal and external stimuli more intensely. Things in the world make you sadder than others. Sensory input is more. It is a sometimes painful way of living but it can be navigated more easily with understanding rather than judgment. 

Another area for exploration is to consider what your family defines as “normal” and what seems to work best for you. Do you share the same primary values as your family members? Have they narrowly defined what being okay means? The answers to these questions may require examination with a therapist and can help ease the tension felt within the family as you understand yourself better.

How can I get my parents to understand I’m not just lazy?

I encourage open communication between clients and parents all the time, especially when it comes to expectations, participation and household rules. Whether you live with your parents or are perhaps just financially reliant to some extent, it is crucial that you both have a clear understanding of what is expected from both parties. Clarify when chores need to be done rather than assuming they’ll be done first thing. Recognize that interests may change and quality time looks different than it did when children were younger. Job prospects have also changed drastically over the past ten plus years. It is increasingly unlikely that a person will go from high school to college to a job they end up retiring from seamlessly. Almost certainly, there will be multiple jobs, sometimes overlapping and barely meeting ends. 

Discuss your schedule with your parents so they understand how it looks and why that might be different than they prefer. Parents, understand that your children are not likely trying to disregard your wisdom or make your life miserable. Assume the best of everyone; we are all doing the best we can to navigate the world we live in with whatever resources and experiences we have. 

Everyone needs to understand the symptoms that may accompany a diagnosis if that is part of the picture. Know the signs of struggle before they get huge. Know the difference between lazy and depressed. Talk in your family about what everyone is experiencing, without judgment or comparison. Understand one another with compassion and curiosity. 

How can we talk about what’s going on without them trying to solve everything for me?

In my experience, parents are generally coming from a place of love and concern. In some cases, they may have some of their own mental health issues and that is a somewhat separate type of issue. If abuse is ongoing, this is not likely going to be as applicable and you should seek the support of a professional. 

If your family is concerned about your wellbeing and wanting to understand better how to communicate with you, I recommend starting with some basic information. I like families to understand the idea of dialectics, that two seemingly opposite ideas can both be true. Parents, especially dads, want to offer Solutions! It can be difficult for an outsider to see that some things you are doing are helpful despite not looking like what they’re recommending. 

I also teach the DBT skills of GIVE and FAST in order to provide a framework for effective communication. The common language helps everyone understand and not take things personally. With GIVE and FAST, you are able to focus on needs or the relationship, and the directions are clear. Being open and curious about what is going on for everyone is the key. 

Some of the hardest work I’ve witnessed is by folks where the space between how they are and how “they should be” is so great. They have perfect families so why is everything so hard? The discordance there creates such strife on top of whatever the actual symptoms might be. Find someone to talk with, it is not an impossible gap to close. 

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