How To Encourage Your Teen To Talk About Their Mental Health

It's important that young people feel comfortable and supported to talk about their mental health. Here are some things you can do to encourage this:

  • Keep communication open, show empathy, and listen.
  • Be available without being intrusive
  • Spend time with the young person - you might be surprised what doing one activity together each week can do
  • Take an interest in the young person’s activities and encourage them to talk about what’s happening in their life
  • Take the young person’s feelings seriously
  • Encourage and support positive friendships (this doesn’t mean being critical of relationships you do not view as positive)
  • Encourage exercise, healthy eating, regular sleep, and doing things the person enjoys – this helps mental as well physical health
  • Let the young person know that you love them. They may not always admit it but this is likely to be very important to them

How to talk to a young person when I am worried about their mental health and safety

Raising sensitive issues with young people can be challenging. Some points parents may need to consider include:

  • Often young people are worried about their parents being upset, anxious, overwhelmed, shocked, angry, blaming, etc
  • If a young person can see that their parent might be able to respond calmly and listen they are more likely to begin a conversation
  • Think about what might help the conversation. For example, does the young person find it easier to talk while driving or going for a walk? Would the young person find it easier out of the house with no interruptions? or to have someone else there for support?

Here are some tips for talking with a young person if you are worried about their mental health and safety:

  • Let them know that you are concerned
  • Talk openly and honestly with the young person
  • Acknowledge that opening up about personal thoughts and feelings can be hard and sometimes scary
  • Tell the young person that talking about a problem can help
  • Reassure the young person that you will be there for them, and ask what they need from you (they might not know what they need)
  • Join the young person in finding information and an appropriate service
  • Offer to support them in attending a chosen service
  • Ask direct questions if you are concerned about suicide. For example, “Have you ever thought about death?” or “Have you ever thought about ending your life?” (if you are not sure how you might feel hearing ‘yes’ to this question seek professional support to help you manage the conversation)

Some young people might deny there’s anything wrong and/or refuse help. You could suggest other people the young person could talk to, for example, a trusted adult or a GP. It’s okay to raise your concerns again and again - letting the young person know you’ll do this can be reassuring.

How to start a conversation with a young person about their mental health

There is no perfect way to start a conversation about mental health with a young person. Using ‘I’ statements is a good way to talk about your thoughts and feelings. Below are some examples of things you could say or ask a young person to start a conversation.

Keep in mind that some young people can find it challenging to talk about their mental health - listen carefully and don’t judge.

Example conversation starters:

Sometimes it can be helpful, to start a conversation with a general and open question such as:

  • How is [e.g. school / sport] going?
  • How are you getting on with [e.g. your friends / your siblings]?
  • How are you feeling about [e.g. studying / exams]?
You might start also try more specific questions or comments such as:
  • I've noticed that you seem to have a lot on your mind lately. I’m happy to talk or listen and see if I can help.
  • Its ok if you don’t want to talk to me, you could talk to [trusted/known adult].  I will keep letting you know I love you and am concerned.
  • It seems like you [haven’t been yourself lately / have been up and down], how are things?
  • You seem [anxious / sad], what is happening for you? We can work it out together.

How you start conversations with young person will depend on their age and understanding, and the language you use should feel natural. If a young person opens up about their mental health it is important that the first thing you say lets the young person know you’re glad/relieved that they are talking to you.

Remember to look after yourself!

When you are look after yourself you have greater patience and can offer a more considered approach to helping a young person. Families and friends supporting young people should remember their own needs and know where to get information and support for themselves.

Some ways you can look after your own health and wellbeing include:

  • There is no such thing as a PERFECT parent – go easy on yourself.
  • Asking for help from family and friends.
  • Making time every day to do something you enjoy.
  • Seeking information and support for yourself. Your GP, or counsellor is a good person to talk to about this.

Source: Headspace National Mental Health Youth Foundation