If you’re concerned about the mental health or substance use of a young person in your life, but they haven’t said anything about having difficulties try to initiate a conversation with them.
Tips for Starting the Conversation
- Ask how things have been going for them lately. What’s been good? Is there anything that has been troubling for them?
- Use everyday language to talk about the changes you’ve seen – not as “symptoms” or “mental health problems”. For example: “I’ve noticed that you haven’t really been going out much lately.”
- The goal is to try and figure out what has led to the changes you’ve noticed.
- Talk while doing an activity – this makes the conversation less intimate and easier to talk about personal troubles.
- Treat them like an adult.
- Ask them what they would like to do or think they need. This is great opportunity to help them learn how to solve problems – an important life skill.
- When it comes time to work on finding solutions, make problem solving a collaborative effort.
- It never hurts to remind them how much you care about them and you’re there if they want to talk.
- Help connect them with resources. Suggest that they explore foundrybc.ca.
- If you’re looking for more resources, visit BC Children’s Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre for information and resources for families and caregivers.
The young person in your life may not be ready to open up about what’s going on for them the first time you ask them.
They may need a little time to build up the courage.
It’s okay to drop the subject and look for another opportunity to talk again.
Conversations Initiated by a Young Person
Research tells us that young people often will turn first to their friends and family about problems. Here are some additional suggestions for when your young person turns to you for help:
- Don’t panic (breathe deep, stay calm).
- Just listen. Show that you are taking their concerns seriously. Dismissing their concerns, judgmental statements or giving superficial advice will likely shut down any further conversation.
- Empathize with them. Let them know you understand what they are feeling. “It sounds like you’re feeling (the emotion) about/because (situation or event).”
- Be curious (“Tell me more”). Don’t assume you know what the young person is going through.
- Ask how you can best help and support them. The young person might just want some advice on what they should do or may want you to be very involved in helping them.
- Acknowledge their ability to recognize their feelings and their courage in coming to you (I’m really proud of you…”). This is also an opportunity to point out that all of us have problems from time to time.