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Tips for starting a conversation about Mental Health.

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.