September is National Suicide Prevention month, and a major part of prevention is facilitating connections and access to mental health services. Talking to your loved ones about wanting therapy is difficult, and there is still real stigma around mental health in many communities. The Asian, Pacific Islander, and Desi American community (APIDA) is three times less likely to seek mental health care than other Americans. Approximately 13.1% of APIDAs meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental health related issue, and suicide is a leading cause of death among this community.
Asking for help can be extremely difficult and scary, even when asking your loved ones. It is important to first recognize and acknowledge the bravery it takes to be vulnerable and ask for help when you need it. Below are some tips on how to talk to your loved ones about wanting therapy:
Plan out what you want to say
It can be incredibly tough talking about our feelings when we are struggling, especially if there is stigma around therapy in your family or community. Starting difficult conversations can sometimes feel more manageable with some preparation. Take some time to think about how you are feeling and write out what you want to say as practice. If it feels too overwhelming to talk in person, try writing a letter or an email first and taking it from there.
Find a time and explain to them how you are feeling
Even though your loved ones may press you for more information, know that you don’t need to tell them exactly what you are going through. Share whatever you are comfortable sharing and try to steer them away from personalization or minimization:
Personalization: This occurs when someone tries to make your experience about them. Your loved one may express that they have “failed you,” or that they just need to do a better job supporting you, rather than accessing mental health services. Try to explain that, while you understand their feelings may be coming out of a place of concern or care, that your desire to get therapeutic support is more about you and your own needs at this time.
Minimization: If your loved ones hold stigma or misunderstanding about mental health services and its purpose they may respond with minimization. Minimization is when your experiences are dismissed or made to look smaller and less important. This may look like responses such as “you shouldn’t be struggling in this way,” or “you don’t have anything to be this upset about.” Responding by emphasizing that your pain and emotions are very real to you, and that you are worth getting support and help.
Seek help from others who are supportive
You might also consider having a supportive person present with you when talking to your loved ones about wanting therapy. This could be a trusted friend, partner, or family member who will have your back and help support you throughout the conversation.
If you are under eighteen and still in school, your school guidance counselor can be a great resource and advocate for you. Tell them you need help connecting to mental health services and want some support in speaking to guardians and loved ones about your decision to go to therapy. A pediatrician or primary care physician can also serve a similar role in helping to advocate for you getting access to mental health services with loved ones.
Assess if you can access mental health services on your own
If you are a minor, laws around needing parental consent to begin therapy differ from state to state, but New York state does have some policy that permits participating in therapy without parental consent in certain circumstances. You can read more about specific regulations in New York State in this article.
If you are a legal adult but money is a barrier without support from family or other loved ones, you can connect to low cost therapy services such as Open Path Collective, or therapists who offer sliding scale fees on a need basis.
Also remember that there are immediately accessible and free mental health services that you always have access to if you are in a crisis, including the National Suicide Prevent Hotline (1-800-273-8255), NYCWell Mobile Crisis (1-888-692-9355), and the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233).
Samantha Waldman (she/her) is a NYC-based psychotherapist and a Bridges Co-Founder. One of her passions in her work and education has been exploring biracial or multiracial identity, multiethnic identity, transracial adoption, and Asian-diaspora identity. Samantha currently works as a member of the Intuitive Healing Psychotherapy team and was trained at Teachers College, Columbia University.