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Wellness > Mental Health

An Expert Shares How To Navigate Talking About Your Mental Health With First-Gen Parents

Talking about mental health can be difficult, but more so when you want to discuss how you’re feeling with your parents — especially when they’re first generation. Talking about your mental health with first-generation parents can potentially stir traumatic memories and be emotionally taxing, but hopefully, this openness can lead to bonding, and eventually healing. 

“First-generation parents usually are private in nature, based on culture and religious beliefs,” clinical psychologist Dr. Nadia Teymoorian says. “Communication can be tricky, but possible with empathy. Choosing your words for approaching first-gen parents, who may have come from an environment of tragedy and poverty is a delicate issue.” It’s always best to approach first-gen parents with tact and patience, as their mindsets are likely to be different from yours because of their own hardships and experiences, such as immigration and intergenerational trauma

“When coming to the United States, most are seeking a better life for their family,” Teymoorian adds. “Sacrifice may be the only thing they understand, and therefore place great expectations on their offspring.” One can realize that these high expectations can be a heavy burden to carry, and the fear of not meeting these goals and facing your parents’ disappointment can heavily impact your mental health and self-esteem. However, remembering that your parents just want what’s best for you can help ease any worry that you have about talking about your mental health concerns with them. 


Bringing light to some of these issues, because we cannot heal what we cannot see ❤️‍🩹 part 2? #firstgen #healinggenerationaltrauma #breakingcycles #latinxmentalhealth

♬ Cumbia Buena – Grupo La Cumbia

Approach the conversation in an open, honest way.

Additionally, the timing of this conversation is an essential thing to keep in mind. Ensure there are no distractions that can possibly fuel stress or anxiety; maintaining a calm environment is ideal so that everyone can listen to each other’s thoughts with open-mindedness. This gives way to the importance of “checking in” with each other. “When a family practices ‘checking in’ with each other, it will be easier to ask questions such as, ‘How are you processing your day?’ or ‘What are your thoughts today?’” Teymoorian says. “Make room for self-expression.” 

When everyone feels like their opinions are being heard, this invites a more open, vulnerable conversation without any judgment. You want to be a good listener, and being aware of your body language and facial expressions is an essential part of maintaining that calm atmosphere. How you move and the cadence of your voice says a lot: Dr. Teymoorian points out that breathing and grunts are some things you want to avoid doing — they send messages of disapproval, and that’s not the kind of route you want the conversation to go down. 

When The Conversation Gets Tough, Keep Calm And Have An Open Mind.

As the conversation progresses, first-gen parents may make comparisons between their experiences and yours; “This generation has it easy” is a common phrase one might hear, and while their lives were difficult and tumultuous, it can still be disheartening to hear them invalidate your tough experiences even if they don’t mean to. “There is a comparison, first-gen parents, and their families, may have had to sacrifice everything to reestablish a life in another country,” Teymoorian says.

“Navigating this conversation well will be important to developing an understanding of what one’s parents have experienced,” Dr. Teymoorian says. “Validation is called for when they share their perspective on the concept of mental health and what their experiences have been.” Focusing on the good that your parents have accomplished will foster an optimistic environment as well, which is exactly what you need when it comes to talking about something as heavy as mental health. 

If your first-gen parents have negative reactions to therapy, for instance, then it’s best to remember to be positive — holding what makes your family unique in high regard makes a difference. “I believe it is essential to clarify the meaning of confidentiality,” Dr. Teymoorian adds. “Example; what is said stays here. First-gen parents may appear supportive while reacting in a manner that obstructs the progress of the child. This is a hurdle to overcome, first and foremost. I think including the family in all decisions will help with ironing out concerns or fears.” 

It’s important that parents keep an open mind toward mental health for the sake of their children, and understand not to take their children’s concerns personally, as Dr. Teymoorian says. While first-generation parents might feel shame, guilt, or even anger, it’s best they become informed and even advocate for mental health. They can seek resources to help them cope with their own negative emotions after having this conversation, and in turn, they can have a better understanding of what their children might be grappling with as well.

If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.

Sofia is a third-year Writing & Literature major at UCSB. In her free time, she enjoys watching anime, playing video games, and drinking chai tea.