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 sometimes, 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 sometimes, things with you and your family may not always be easy. 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 choosing to open up to your family can feel scary and you might be worried about how they will react. 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. You could also:

  • 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 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 sharing 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.

Our Activists and other young people like you, share their tips on how you can open up to someone about your mental health. For more tips and advice on reaching out for help, take a look at our guide.

Reaching out for help
  • 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.

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. 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, there are other people that can help you like your friends, helpline services or a teacher. There will be someone who will listen.

  • 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:

  • Family arguments: You might have different opinions on topics, or you might be getting caught in the middle of family arguments.
  • Arguing and not getting along with your siblings/step-siblings.
  • Family not understanding you or your choices: Whether it’s something small, like changing the colour of your hair, or it’s something more fundamental to who you are, like your sexuality or gender expression, you may feel misunderstood.
  • Housing problems: You might be sharing a house with lots of family members, meaning you don’t get space for yourself.
  • Foster care: If you’re in a foster family, you might find it hard to connect with your foster family or, you might have siblings in foster care, meaning you might not see them as much.
  • Illness in the family: A family member may have a long-term illness and you might be helping to look after them which can be tiring and overwhelming.
  • Money problems: Your family might be struggling with paying for a place to live, or you might be helping your family pay for things like food and bills.
  • Drug or alcohol problems: Someone in your family might be struggling with drugs or alcohol, meaning that their behaviour is unpredictable, making you feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
  • Grief and loss: 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.

    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."

If you are finding it tough to get along with your family, it can make you feel lonely, anxious, overwhelmed or angry. 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 taking time out for yourself.
  • 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 or a student counsellor. By talking to someone you trust, they can help you find the support you need.
back-shot-of-two-boys-wearing-jackets-comforting-each-other-while-sitting-on-a-park-bench-in-front-of-a-lake

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

  • Covid-19 has allowed the time for me to start understanding boundaries a lot better as well as more open communication with my parents.
  • 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
    • text YM to 85258 where you will speak to a trained adviser who can help you get the support you need.

    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 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.

Abuse

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.

  • Childline

    If you’re under 19 you can confidentially call, chat online or email about any problem big or small.

    Sign up for a free Childline locker (real name or email address not needed) to use their free 1-2-1 counsellor chat and email support service.

    Can provide a BSL interpreter if you are deaf or hearing-impaired.

    Hosts online message boards where you can share your experiences, have fun and get support from other young people in similar situations.

    Opening times:
    24/7
  • The Mix

    Offers support to anyone under 25 about anything that’s troubling them.

    Email support available via their online contact form.

    Free 1-2-1 webchat service available.

    Free short-term counselling service available.

    Opening times:
    3pm - 12am, seven days a week
  • Albert Kennedy Trust

    Supports LGBTQ+ young people aged 16-25 in the UK who are facing or experiencing homelessness, or living in a hostile environment.

    You can refer yourself online to arrange a face-to-face appointment with a member of staff in their Bristol, London, Manchester or Newcastle centres.

    Offers free webchat service.

  • LawStuff

    Provides free legal information to children and young people aged 10-25.

    Fill out their contact form online to get support.

  • Cafcass

    A website that gives information on the interests of children involved in family proceedings for children, teenagers and adults.