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Do you want to talk to your Young People about Mental Wellbeing? Top Tips for conversation starters.

Monday marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week. In an ideal world, the approach to mental health would be the same as that of physical health; yet with the stigma attached, along with fear and social pressures, many bouts of mental ill health go undiagnosed and untreated. 

However, mental health isn't just about being unwell and getting a diagnosis to receive treatment. We all have mental health in the same way we all have physical health. So just what can we do to boost our mental well being?

  • Connect with people around you. Other people matter when it comes to our mental well being, as forming good relationships gives us a sense of purpose and security. By spending time developing our relationships, we are able to share our feelings and know that we are understood, which in turn gives us a sense of belonging and increases our feeling of self worth. Sharing positive experiences allow us to not only gain emotional support but also provide support to others. Positive mental well being can be passed on through relationships, as spending time with others who have a strong sense of mental well being can improve our own. So take some time each day to be with family, arrange to go out with friends or even bite the bullet and speak to someone new!

  • Be Active. There is a definite proven positive link between our body and our mind, as physical activity causes chemical changes that increase our mood through the release of endorphins. Being active doesn't have to mean going to the gym, you could simply go for a walk or cycle. It's all about finding an activity that you enjoy and incorporating it in to your daily routine, in order to increase your feelings of self-esteem, your self control and also your ability to rise to a challenge.

  • Keep Learning. Learning doesn't have to stop at school, there are plenty of things you can still learn in order to get the most from life and it could even mean taking up a new hobby. Learning something new gives you the opportunity to interact with others whilst gaining a sense of achievement through success, along with increasing your ability to cope with stress. Why not learn to cook a new dish or try some DIY!

  • Give to Others. Our actions and thoughts have the biggest impact on our mental well being, from small acts of kindness such as a simple smile or a thank you, to the grander gestures such as volunteering for a good cause. It gives us a chance to build our social network by supporting others in working towards a shared goal, which can stimulate the reward areas of our brain.

  • Be Mindful. It is easy to run through life without stopping to notice exactly what is going on around us, so this is all about being directly aware of what is going on not only around us, but also inside us from moment to moment. It's about reconnecting with our body and the sensations we experience, our thoughts, feelings, body and the world, by using our senses in the present. We become aware of our thoughts and feelings, taking less things for granted and enjoying life more. It also allows us to take notice of negative events occurring, allowing us to look after our mental well being more closely. To be mindful, it's about taking notice of the everyday, so you need to keep it regular and practice! It's about taking notice of your thoughts, naming them and dealing with them, working out exactly what is going on in that moment.

Check out the Mental Health Foundation for more mindful hints and tips.

For more information and ways of following these steps, why not check out Radio One's 30 day mental health challenge to mark mental health month.

Looking after your own mental well being can be tricky enough, but discussing a young person's mental health and well being with them can be difficult.

There are so many factors to consider and signs to look out for, and sometimes simply starting the conversation can be the biggest challenge. So how exactly should you approach the topic of mental health with young people?

Firstly, find an appropriate time and an appropriate yet relaxed place to have the conversation. If the conversation develops in a public place, say at a meeting night, offer empathy and invite the young person to talk in a safer and more private setting where they feel comfortable to seek advice - following our safeguarding practice at all times. One thing to consider here though are the limits to confidentiality. Remember to ensure that the young person is aware that you may need to refer information they share; if it's in their best interests to do so. The key here is to be open and honest, offer to listen and help where you can, but also remind the young person that you can't always keep this information to yourself and it's the best way to keep them safe and make sure they get all the support they need. Be clear about how you will deal with any information they disclose and ensure they feel included in how things develop next.

  1. Open with a statement like "You didn't seem yourself today, is there anything I can do to help you?"
  2. Talk at their level and be approachable. Use language that they understand and can relate to, without looking to over complicate the situation.
  3. Listen carefully, be patient and friendly, giving the young person your full attention throughout. Along with this, remember to check your body language.
  4. Be open and engaging, focusing on them. It's always worthwhile checking if any other trusted adults know or could be spoken to. Seeing what support network the young person feels they have access to could shape what steps you take next. It's really important to take them seriously.
  5. Don't over react but also try not to minimise or dismiss anything that they tell you.
  6. Ask open questions and encourage them to talk, without putting words in their mouth.
  7. Offer empathy and understanding rather than solutions, as this will help you to develop a trusting relationship. 
  8. Be calm and acknowledge their feelings e.g. 'I'm hearing that you're feeling sad today', whilst giving them time to think about what ever it is that comes up for them. However, if you sense that something is wrong, but the young person doesn't want to open up and converse, don't push the matter.
  9. Simply be there for them, let them know you will listen whenever they are ready and try again at a later date, as more often than not they will come to you when they feel the time is right. Also, let them know that if you're not the person they want to talk to, that's okay too, encouraging them to talk to someone they do feel comfortable with.

An important thing to remember is that we are all different. We all respond in our own unique way to our experiences and seek comfort in different ways. Not everyone will be open to the idea of talking about their feelings and exploring emotions straight away. If you know a young person has a particular interest, use it to your advantage by encouraging them to draw, be active or even play whilst the conversation develops. People are far more likely to be open and honest when they feel comfortable in their environment and are trusting of the person they are sharing with. Along with this, those with Special Educational Needs may need further support, as they can struggle to articulate their feelings and thoughts. The key here is to make it visual, simplify your language and give them more time to process information whilst checking that they understand what is going on.

Remember to be open and honest, and take things at their pace. They will open up when they feel ready and with your help can begin to understand why they feel the way they do.

Our team of Mental Health Awareness Coordinators are beginning to put plans in to place to support our members through raising awareness and signposting to help when needed, integrating positive mental well being in to the program. Keep a look out for further tips and information in the coming months.

Jess Makin
County Mental Health Awareness Co-Ordinator