Talk About It

Considering how common mental health problems are, you’d think we’d speak more about mental health however it is often still a topic many people avoid.  You don’t need to be an expert or have the answers to talk about mental health with a young person.  Even if you aren't sure quite what to say, the important thing is that you say something. 

Let them know that you are concerned and why. They may be experiencing anxiety or depression, or they might be struggling with a personal issue. By starting a conversation and showing your concern and willingness to support them, you’re giving them an opportunity to share what they are going through. This can make all the difference in ensuring they get any support they might need. Following are some tips for having a conversation.

Take the lead. 

Don’t be afraid to ask how someone is.  They might want to talk about it, they might not but just by letting them know they don’t have to avoid the issue with you is helpful.  Don’t assume that they are talking with their friends about their feelings either.  Most young people actually fear the reactions of their friends when they talk about their mental health problems.

If they don’t want to talk, don’t take it personally. 

Respect their wishes and let them know you are ready to listen whenever they want to talk. Young people may find it uncomfortable discussing their thoughts and emotions openly with you. They may even get angry when you ask if they’re OK. Try to stay calm, and realise you may need to try raise the conversation in different ways over time to get a response. Be patient.

Be supportive and validate their experience.

By invalidating  or dismissing what they are experiencing, this will create barriers to them asking for further support.

Don’t just talk about mental health. 

Keep in mind that having a mental health problem is just one part of the person.  People don’t want to be defined by their mental health problem so keep talking about the things you always talked about.  Just spending time with the person let’s them know you care and can help you understand what they’re going through.

Knowing what to say can sometimes be difficult.

You might not be sure how to start a conversation with them, or you might be worried about saying the wrong thing. You could say things like “I’ve noticed that you seem a bit down lately”, “I am really worried because you seem to be so sad and tired lately.  Do you want to talk about it?  Has something happened?”or perhaps, “You seem like you are really down, and not yourself, I really want to help you. Is there anything I can do?” Showing that you are willing to listen to what is going on can be really supportive for the young person. You don’t need to have all the answers.

If the young person talks about thoughts of suicide or shows signs of being out of touch with reality look for guidance on their management care plan or else consider contacting local psychiatric crises support.

Further Resources