A mother and son holding hands on a bench looking at each other

A guide for young people Struggling with family

Family can be there for you and be a huge support for your mental health. But things between you and your family may not always be easy. If you're struggling with your family, we have information and advice that can help.

A man and woman seated opposite each other at a picnic table

Family can be there for you through the good and bad times. You might love spending time with them and have great memories of growing up. They can also be a huge support for your mental health. Family can be there to listen when you need to talk, help you understand your thoughts and what support you need, or spend time with you so that you don’t feel alone.

But we know that every family is different. Things with you and your family may not always be easy or straightforward. And not getting along with them can make life tough. But whatever is going on between you and your family, we have information and advice that can help.

Talking to your family about how you are feeling

If you are struggling with something in your life, like a situation at school, or with how you are feeling, you may find it helpful to talk to your family. We know that opening up to family is a different experience for everyone, and it might not always be easy. It can feel scary and you might be worried about how they will react, or that your feelings will be ignored. That’s okay, many people feel like this and there are things you can do to help you feel more comfortable, like choosing to talk to a family member you trust and feel most relaxed with.

Here are some other things that can help you to start the conversation:

  • Pick a good moment

    If possible, try and pick a time when neither of you are busy or distracted, or likely to be interrupted. This can help you feel in control of the conversation.

  • Find an activity you both enjoy

    Sometimes, it can help to have something else to focus on while you are talking, and it can help you feel more relaxed. This could be going for a walk, cooking or watching your favourite show.

  • Take your time

    If you’re finding it difficult to explain how you’re feeling, you can try writing it down. It’s okay if you don’t share everything at once; having small conversations at first can help you feel more comfortable to share your thoughts over time.

  • Ask for support

    If you feel okay to do so, you can say what you would like help with such as coming with you to the GP.

  • Try to keep calm

    Your family might ask questions that you find upsetting or they may not react the way you expected which can be frustrating. If you are feeling like this and it becomes overwhelming, remove yourself from the situation so you can both calm down and gather your thoughts.

  • Tell your family if you want to keep things private

    If you want what you share with your family to be kept between you, it might be helpful to say this before you start the conversation. It may also help to explain why this is important to you.

  • Use language that they will understand

    Sometimes, the person you decide to talk to might not share the same understanding of mental health as you. This could be because they have different values, worldviews and belief systems. They might have even experienced mental health as a taboo subject. If this is the case, it can be helpful to think about how to explain what you’re going through or feeling in a way they can understand.

  • Choose the language that works for you

    If you speak more than one language at home, it can be helpful to have a think about which one will work best for you when speaking to your family about how you feel.

Our Activists, and other young people like you, share their tips on how you can open up to someone about your mental health.

  • You can start small by speaking to the person you are closest with first about how you’re feeling. This can then help you talk to other people if you need more support.
  • Talking to people about your mental health is possibly the hardest thing to do, but also the best thing you’ll ever do. Try not to worry if they don't understand, the people who love you will do their best to learn more.
  • If you’re struggling with talking to someone, then talk to a toy or a pet. It may feel strange at first, but sometimes voicing your thoughts can make them feel less scary.

For more tips and advice on reaching out for help, take a look at our guide.

Reaching out for help

Barriers to opening up to family

A father and son sitting at a table with hot drinks and serious facial expressions.

Across the world, people from every country, culture, and religion, can experience the most positive and helpful support with their mental health. Equally, no matter what background, some people will experience barriers opening up to their family, which can negatively impact their mental health, and their ability to talk about it.

Talking to your family about your mental health might be particularly difficult for a number of reasons, such as:

  • worries about burdening other people with your problems
  • fear of judgement
  • your family members not having much awareness about mental health issues, or having a different understanding of them
  • having to deal with cultural stigma around mental health
  • different communication styles, or struggling to find the right words if you’re not having the conversation in English
  • worries that you will be treated differently, or even blamed for what you’re going through
  • having a lack of shared experience and things in common with your family
  • finding a good time if your family members are busy

Whatever the barrier you are facing, you are not alone. While it can be really helpful to speak to your family about what you’re going through, there are other people who can support you if that feels too difficult right now. Instead you could try speaking to a friend or a trusted adult, like a teacher, a lecturer or a local faith leader. You could also reach out to a doctor or other health professional. They might be able to help you think of what to say to your family, or even be there when you speak to your family for moral support.

See the bottom of this page for helplines and organisations that you can reach out to for confidential support.

Whether you’re able to speak to your family about what you’re going through or not, your feelings are valid and you deserve support.

A mother and her daughters sitting together using a mobile phone and tablet

If your family don't understand how you're feeling

We know that sometimes, it can feel like your family don’t understand what you’re going through or how you’re feeling, or that they don’t accept it. This might be particularly difficult if you have opened up to your family about something you’re going through and they haven’t reacted in the way you expected or hoped. This can make you feel like nobody understands you or what you’re going through. But if this happens, remember it’s not your fault. It’s likely your family need a bit of time - they might not have realised how you’re feeling and it might have been a shock to them.

After some time, if you feel ready to talk about it with them again, you may find they are also more open to discussion and have questions to help them understand how you are feeling.

If your family are not supportive, or if they are not willing to listen to how you are feeling, there are other people that can help you, like your friends, helpline services or a teacher. It may not always be the first person you speak to, but there will be someone who will listen. See the bottom of this page for a list of helpline services that you can use free of charge.

  • Remember there is still at least one person who does love you and thinks you are worth something.
  • Take things one step at a time and be patient with yourself.
  • It's easy to get frustrated when you feel like you can't express yourself. Don't feel you need to explain everything in detail straight away, go with what you feel comfortable with first and take small steps.

If you're struggling with family

We know that there can be times that are really difficult with family – no family is perfect and it’s common for families to have their ups and downs. There are lots of different reasons why you might be struggling with family. It could be things like:

You might have different opinions on topics, or your family might argue with each other and you find yourself getting caught in the middle.

You might argue a lot with your sibling/step-sibling, meaning you find it hard to live together.

Whether it’s your hobbies, the way you dress, or the people you choose to be friends with, you might feel as though your family don’t get the way you choose to live your life. This might cause arguments if it goes against their expectations of you or the culture you are from.

You might feel as though your family don’t understand more fundamental parts of who you are, like your sexuality or gender expression.

You might wish to express your cultural identity in a particular way, and your family might not always agree with you, or understand your reasons behind it. This can make it difficult to get along.

You might be sharing a house with lots of family, meaning you don’t get quiet time or space for yourself.

If you’re in a foster family, you might find it hard to connect with your foster family and talk about how you’re feeling. Or, you might have siblings in foster care, meaning you might not see them as much or feel as close to them.

A family member may have a long-term illness, which can be really tough for you and your family. You might also help look after a family member who is ill, which can be tiring and overwhelming.

Your family might be struggling with paying for a place to live, or you might be working to help your family pay for things like food and bills. This can make you feel under pressure and stressed.

For more information and advice, take a look at our money and mental health guide.

Money and mental health

Someone in your family might be struggling with drugs or alcohol, meaning that their behaviour might be unpredictable, making you feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

You may have lost a family member that you were close to, which can be really hard to cope with.

Changes in your family

  • This can be things like a family member moving out, your parents separating or getting a divorce, you and your family moving home, or a parent changing job and not being around as much, which can be unexpected and upsetting.

    It’s very normal that changes in your family will affect how you think and feel. You might feel lonely because you’re not seeing a family member as much, or you might be worried about reaching out for help because you don’t want to be a “burden” when things are already tough. But it’s okay if you are struggling and you need support.

A father and son sitting together outside in nature

Our Activists share what can help you cope during this difficult time:

  • It’s easy to feel like these changes are your fault because of something you’ve done, but remember that isn’t the case. Family changes happen for so many reasons and it doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong.
  • It’s normal to feel uncomfortable, scared or apprehensive about change. Speak to someone about how you feel and see if there’s a way of making the situation more comfortable for you.
A girl wearing a bright orange jumper in deep conversation
I started to worry that the people I loved the most would also leave my side. I really struggled to sleep as my anxious thoughts would keep me up at night.
Ffion, 21
A boy and his parents smiling during a family meeting
It can be horrible listening in on the situation and hearing them disrespect one another. I know I can’t just jump in and try and stop the argument.
Sophie, 17

If you are finding it tough to get along with your family, it can make you feel lonely, anxious, overwhelmed, angry or misunderstood. If you feel like this, that’s okay. No two families are the same, but every family will have its differences or difficulties – this is completely normal.

Here are some things you can do if you’re struggling with family:

  • Take time out when you’re arguing

    If you are arguing, try to remove yourself from the situation. If you feel uncomfortable or you or your family member are getting angrier, try to walk away if you can. This can help you take a moment to breathe, calm down and think about what you want to say. It can also help the other person to think about how they are feeling.

  • Set boundaries with your family

    Try talking to your family about having time for yourself or try to agree a time each day for you to have space away from them. This creates a clear boundary for your family to respect. Take a look at our page for tips on how to look after yourself and practise self-care.

  • Speak to someone outside your family

    You might feel like you should rely on just your family for support but there are lots of other people you can talk to. Try to build a support network of people you trust, like friends, a teacher, someone in your community or a student counsellor. By talking to someone you trust, they can help you find the support you need. You might even find it useful to ask someone else to explain things to your family in a helpful way to smooth things over. This could be a family friend, teacher, or religious figure.

A group of young people sit on a picnic bench together in the park. They are smiling and talking together.

Sometimes, friends can end up feeling like your chosen family. They can be the ones who support you when you’re struggling, or the ones who you feel most comfortable around.

If you are struggling with your family, remember there will always be someone to support and help you.

See the bottom of this page for helplines and organisations that you can reach out to for confidential support.

Our Activists share how they have coped when struggling with family.

  • I always make sure I do something nice for myself every single day.
  • My relationship with my family has improved over the past year. Having space from them has helped both myself and my parents.
  • Whenever you’re struggling keep reaching out to others.
  • Have something to live for, I use my pet but whatever works for you. If you can't see the future, just focus on any good you can find in the present, no matter how small.
  • If you have friends, talk to them. They'll be invaluable.

Getting support with family issues

If you don't feel safe in your own home

  • If you don’t feel safe at home, it’s so important that you reach out for help. If you feel at risk you can:

    • speak to a trusted adult outside of your home like a teacher at school who can help you find support
    • talk to Childline on 0800 1111 or speak to one of their counsellors
    • contact one of the help services on our urgent help page

    If you feel that you are not able to stay safe and you might be hurt by someone at home, call the emergency services on 999.

    It’s important that you try to remove yourself from the situation and find a safe space if you feel at risk.

Having occasional arguments or disagreements with your family is normal. But there are times when family relationships can become unhealthy. This can look like:

  • constant pressure for you to take part in family gatherings that make you feel uncomfortable
  • pressure to see a family member that you do not feel okay around
  • falling out all the time, making you feel on edge around them
  • bullying behaviour like constantly being shouted at, being left out and ignored, or a family member making you feel guilty, ashamed or bad about yourself
  • abuse or violence happening to you or another family member

If you think you are being abused by someone in your family, or you see a family member abusing someone else, it’s really important that you get help.

There are different types of abuse that might be affecting you or your family. There is physical abuse, which is when someone physically hurts you, emotional abuse when someone is always making you feel bad about yourself, or sexual abuse, which is when someone is forcing you to do something sexual.

Abuse is always wrong, and although it can be very difficult to talk about, you’re never alone. Find out how you can get support.


Where to get help

When family relationships become unhealthy, it can impact how you think and feel. You might feel like you can’t trust others, creating feelings of anxiety and loneliness. If you do feel like this, it’s important to get support. You might feel you have to get along with your family, but it’s okay if you reach out to people outside of your family for help.

See below for a list of organisations and helpline services that have information to support you.

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