When & How to Get Help for Yourself When Your Parents Can’t or Won’t

By Diversity in Health Training Institute

Every person growing up as a refugee, asylee or immigrant in the United States has their own unique life experiences as they navigate multiple cultures. Some are the first in their families to pursue a career in arts, and others are the first to go to college or marry outside of their religion or culture. In some spaces you have to assimilate to Western culture. In others you have to meet the expectations of your families’ cultures. It is something you may do so regularly that you don’t notice the effect it has on your mind and body.

Therapy can help many first-generation individuals find their way through multiple cultures and identities. It can also provide a confidential space where you can work through the problems and challenges you face in life. In therapy, you can have someone to talk to in a safe and secure setting. In this space you can process and manage the trauma that you or our families have experienced like mental illness, immigration, war, abuse , and grief. 

In some communities and cultures, accessing mental health services carries a lot of stigma and shame . This is usually because many people are not taught or do not have access to information about mental health support. Older generations may even view therapy as being just for people with serious mental health needs. When people do choose to seek out care, they may be met with questions and reactions such as, “Why can’t you just do it yourself? Why do you need someone else for help?” For younger generation individuals, many of their parents have done it on their own. They endured years of trauma, moved to a new country, started new lives and assimilated to a new culture. They did all this without help. So they sometimes believe that their children will not need help and support. Many of these parents are taught that they can fix or heal their children. They might even think that if their child seeks professional help that they have failed as parents. You cannot blame these parents for not always having access to information about what mental health services can offer you, but you can try to communicate and help them understand while setting boundaries for your own wellbeing. 

Even if your parents do support you getting connected to professional mental health support, they may not know how or may not be able to afford it. The reality is that finding a therapist or other forms of mental health support can be challenging and expensive, but there are options available! If your parents cannot or will not help connect you with mental health support, there are options that you can seek out on your own. 

It may be difficult to find professional mental health support because it often requires parents’ consent , but there are other options out there. Some options you can explore on your own include:

  • Start by learning more about mental health. Search the internet to read more about different mental health challenges, the symptoms associated with them, different techniques to reduce stress or anxiety , and so much more. Just make sure the website you are looking at is a reliable source. (Tip: you can browse the internet using a private browsing window if you are worried someone might look at your search history.)
  • Get connected with a counselor, social worker or therapist at your school or other spaces in your community. They can likely provide free or low-cost therapy to you or connect you with someone who can.
  • Find a support group, online or in-person. Joining such groups is usually for free or at a low cost.
  • Talk to an adult that you trust and feel safe around like a teacher, coach, or mentor.
  • Try different forms of self-care. Remember there is no correct way to do self-care. Do what feels good for you. Here are some ideas:
    • Try journaling or tracking your mood/thoughts.
    • Spend time with friends or other people who make you feel good.
    • Try a hobby you have always wanted to do.
    • Take a warm bath and play your favorite music.
    • Do absolutely nothing!