Young people are still in the process of learning about how experiences in their lives can influence their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and how to manage challenges. They may be aware that something is not right but don’t know exactly what is going on for them.

They may:

  • Think this is just the way life is
  • Try to ignore it, hoping it will go away
  • Believe they can get over it on their own
  • See mental health as something that only affects other people – not them

Parents, caregivers, siblings and teachers are often the first to notice changes in a young person. When others notice, it can be validating for the young person that their struggles are real. They may be relieved to see that they no longer have to deal with it on their own. Concerns raised about mental health challenges can be threatening, no one wants to be seen as having a mental health challenge.

If you are struggling to start a conversation about a young person’s mental health:

  • News stories can be good opportunities to do so. You can ask the young person about their thoughts and feelings around mental health and get the conversation started.
  • Ask if mental health is taught or talked about at school.
  • If the young person mentions “I’m worried all the time about school,” you can try asking them if their friends struggle in the same way. If so, what do they do that helps?

Show the young people in your life that you are open to talking about mental health and substance use. Beliefs about mental health and substance use challenges can make it difficult for young people to seek help. Help them understand it is okay to reach out and talk to you or somebody else they trust. 

Mental Health – More than Mental Illness

Like physical health, mental health is a fundamental component of our overall health, it can change from day to day, and we must look after our mental health just like we do with our physical health. Our mental health can influence how we see ourselves, our ability to carry out daily activities, our ability to achieve our potential and how we relate to others around us.

Dr. Manion stated, “We have socialized our children to tell us right away when they experience physical symptoms like an earache, and we act on these early signs right away, knowing that the problem will get worse if it is not treated. For mental health symptoms we have actually socialized our children to ‘suck it up’ unless it’s really bad. Our watchful waiting can contribute to untreated issues becoming more severe and more difficult to treat” (RBC Children’s Mental Health Project, 2012).

The transition from childhood to adulthood is a critical stage of human development and presents many new challenges to a young person. It is also a time when mental health challenges first show up. Nearly 75 % of mental health and substance use challenges identified in adults begin between the ages of 12 and 24 years (Kessler, et al., 2005).