National Runaway Safeline

Can you get mental health services without your family knowing?

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Since 2020, organizations around the country, including the National Runaway Safeline (NRS), are hearing from an increasing number of young people about mental health struggles. Further, more kids under the age of 12 are reaching out reaching out to NRS than ever before; this is likely because young people are becoming more aware of their mental health struggles, particularly their own anxiety and depression, and increasingly comfortable seeking anonymous help.  

Turning to the NRS crisis services team – and taking it a step further to speak with a therapist – takes courage! Young people may fear being judged by their peers, worry about how their family/guardian may react, or be concerned that the information they discuss will be shared with their family.  

If you’re under 18, you might ask, can I speak with a therapist without having to inform my parent/guardian? That’s a reasonable and important question. The answer is: it depends.  

In order to be treated by a mental health professional as a minor, you must provide informed consent. According to Mental Health America, in many states, minors cannot provide consent to treatment on their own – a parent or legal guardian must do this on your behalf.  

You might also ask, how would a therapist get paid if my parent/guardian doesn’t know I’m receiving mental health services? For minors who are on their parent’s/guardian’s health insurance plan, the insurance can be used with parental consent. Additionally, the policy holder will receive an “Explanation of Benefits” notice any time the insurance is used. Therefore, it may not be possible to hide the fact that you are seeing a mental health professional from your parent/guardian. 

We were intrigued by the findings of a 2022 survey by The Trevor Project that identified common reasons LGBTQ youth do not seek mental health care. Sadly, 45% of LGBTQ youth who wanted mental health care did not receive it due to “concerns with obtaining parent/caregiver permission.” See the top 10 reasons below:  

trevor graph 04 AC3 1

Based on this information, you might ask what you can do if you need mental health counseling, but want to keep this from the adults in your life? Fortunately, there are options for support — and these can be kept private from your parent/guardian.  

  • Support groups: These may be available for free, and are often held in person or online. Support groups enable people with similar issues and concerns to openly share stories and experiences with one another.  
  • Online forums: Several organizations offer online forums, which are message boards or online discussion sites. By searching topics on a forum, such as sexual identity, divorce and bullying, you may find lots of insights and ideas from people who have faced similar struggles. Check out some of the forums we recommend: National Runaway SafelineMental Health America and TrevorSpace for LGBTQ+ identifying individuals looking for a like-minded community and safe space. 
  • Service providers: School counselors, coaches, teachers and nonprofit crisis centers are valuable resources to listen and provide non-judgmental advice. At the National Runaway Safeline, we offer 24/7 crisis support through our hotline and online crisis services (chat, email and forums). Another trusted resource for young people is loveisrespect, which offers 24/7 information and support for those who have questions or concerns specifically about their romantic relationships.  
  • Self-care: Don’t underestimate the healing power of caring for yourself. Writing in a journal, exercising, expressing yourself through art and spending time outdoors are small steps that can have a big impact on your daily mood. Do things that you enjoy and comfort you, such as spending time with people you love and trust, or trying a new hobby.  

Taking care of yourself and starting the journey toward bettering your mental health may not be easy, especially if you are still living under the supervision of your parents/guardians. But remember that there are resources available to support you in times of need. 

Remember, if you are unsure of where to look or what steps to take, please know you can contact the National Runaway Safeline at 1-800-RUNAWAY or chat online with us at 1800RUNAWAY.org. 

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