Why You Should Tell Your Kids If You’re Seeing a Therapist

A look at parental stress from The Verywell Mind Mental Health Tracker

Parents talking to their child

Verywell / Joshua Seong

The Verywell Mind Mental Health Tracker is a monthly survey of the overall mental health and well-being of adults living in the United States. Fielded online, this survey of 4,000 people seeks to measure current attitudes and behaviors, as well as feelings about the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For June, Amy Morin, LCSW, Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind, takes a deep dive on why stressed-out parents should be up-front with their kids about mental health treatment they may be receiving.

To find out what our May survey said about the state of mental health across the generations, check out our previous release.

Many parents have come into my therapy office over the years saying things like, “I don’t want my kids to know I have depression,” or “I tell my kids I’m going to the chiropractor every week when I come see you.”

It’s a noble endeavor that parents don’t want to burden their kids with their distress. But there are some compelling reasons why it may be helpful for kids to know that mom or dad sees a therapist.

Parents Recognize the Value of Help, but Also the Stigma

As part of our ongoing Mental Health Tracker, Verywell Mind has found that parents are more likely than those without kids to see a therapist. Thirty-two percent of parents said they’ve seen a mental health professional in the last month as opposed to just 19% of individuals who don’t have kids.

Another 32% of parents said they are considering seeing a mental health professional but haven’t taken the step yet.

These results aren’t particularly surprising. Parents tend to experience higher rates of stress, and they may be more invested in self-care since they have kids depending on them.

Fortunately, most parents consider talking to a therapist to be a valuable investment in their lives.

Three out of four parents who are seeing a mental health professional say they would recommend it to someone else who was in their situation. And a whopping 74% say they think society would be better off if more people sought help.

Despite the fact that two-thirds of parents either already see a therapist or are strongly considering it, 62% of parents say there’s a stigma attached to seeking mental health treatment.

Why You Should Be Honest With Your Kids

Parents who fear the stigma associated with mental health treatment may keep their appointments with their therapist a secret from their children (or even their partners). They may also go to great lengths to hide their symptoms of distress.

As tempting as it may be to keep your mental health treatment private, telling your kids you see a therapist could be really good for them (and good for you).

After all, you probably don’t keep it a secret when you see a dentist. And if you need dental work done, you might not hesitate to tell your kids. You might even tell them about a cavity in an effort to get them to brush their teeth.

Of course, seeing a therapist might feel a little different than seeing a dentist or a doctor. You might feel embarrassed that you have depression or anxiety. Or you might be concerned that your kids will think you’re “crazy” if they know you’re talking to a professional.

If you’ve never talked to your kids about mental health before, they may raise an eyebrow for a second when they learn you see a therapist or that you take an antidepressant. But there’s a good chance they’ll also appreciate the fact that you’re taking care of your mind.

By telling your kids that you see a therapist, you’ll be teaching them the following important lessons.

Seeing a Therapist Doesn’t Mean You Have a Major Mental Illness

Some people see a therapist to talk about a specific event or circumstance. Others benefit from information on stress management or want reassurance they’re practicing good self-care. There are many reasons to see a therapist, and doing so doesn’t necessarily mean you have a serious mental health problem.

It’s Just as Important to Care for Your Mind as Your Body

There’s no shame in having an annual check-up with a physician or for taking medication if you have high blood pressure. And parents usually aren’t afraid to let kids know they’re doing those things for their bodies. But it can be just as important for kids to see that you’re invested in taking care of your mind too.

Talking to Someone Helps

It can be healthy for kids to see that you talk to someone about how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking. When they know you talk to someone, it might help them become more open too. This is important because many young people feel very alone, and a little emotional support can be really helpful.

Asking for Help Is a Sign of Strength

Sometimes kids assume parents never need help with anything—an assumption that can reinforce the idea that asking for help must be a sign of weakness. Making it clear that you are comfortable seeking an expert opinion shows kids that you are brave enough to ask for assistance when you need it.

It’s Healthy to Grow, Learn, and Improve

Therapy doesn’t just have to be about “not being sick.” Talking to someone can also be the key to helping you reach your greatest potential. Whether you want to improve your athletic performance or you’re looking to sharpen your communication skills, talking to a professional might help you feel and do your best.

Individuals With Mental Health Issues Can Live Good Lives

News stories and movies often portray individuals with mental illness as being homicidal or unable to function. If you live with a mental health issue, it can be helpful for kids to know about it so they can see that you’re still able to live a full, healthy life even if you have a mental health issue.

It’s Good to Know Your Family History

When I ask therapy patients about a family history of mental health issues, most people have no idea what runs in the family. But mental illness can be genetic, and it’s important for kids to know if there’s a family history of mental illness. They may be able to prevent certain mental health issues before they start or know what symptoms to look for when they understand their risk for certain illnesses.

We Don't Have to Stigmatize Mental Health Care

While the above reasons may be more directly personal to you and your kids, your openness now may have far-reaching benefits later on. In the last year alone we have witnessed a major shift in the perception of mental health issues.

Millions of people are acknowledging the need for self-care for the first time, whether or not they’re in a time of crisis. Yet the stigma of seeking help persists, and change in this area seems to be lagging behind our newfound awareness.

These conversations with your kids, however, can help lay the groundwork for future generations that will be more open about their mental health, will readily ask for help, and won’t share our fears of unfair judgment.

What to Say and How to Say It

Telling your kids you attend a support group, take medication prescribed by a psychiatrist, or talk to a therapist might feel a little uncomfortable if you’ve been avoiding it. But you don’t necessarily have to sit down for a formal conversation where you “break the news.”

Instead, you might casually mention that your therapist has been helping you manage stress or that you’ve started taking medication that is helping you feel calmer. Make mental health an ongoing discussion in your household.

Of course, you don’t want to burden your child with adult issues. Telling them about a traumatic incident that happened to you might be too much for them to handle.

If you have questions about how to talk to your kids, bring it up with your mental healthcare provider. Talking it through with someone can help you discover a strategy that works best for you and your family, depending on your kids’ ages and your exact circumstances.

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