Worried about a young person’s mental health?

You don’t need all the answers, to ask if we’re ok. Young people have shared their thoughts on how, you, as a trusted adult, can approach them and guide them to support.

Sometimes it’s hard to know if a young person is struggling with their mental health. Everyone can act differently when they’re going through a tough time.

Finding the words to start talking to someone else about how they’re feeling can be difficult. If someone has shared how they are feeling, it might be the first time they have spoken to someone about their mental health and they may struggle to put their thoughts into words.

They may say something like ‘I’m finding things hard right now’ or ‘actually, I’m not fine’. Or they might share things they are struggling with at home, school, university or work.

Signs and symptoms that a young person may be struggling with their mental health

Some of the ways young people might act differently are:

  • seeming distant, or not themselves
  • spending more time on their own, particularly if usually a social young person
  • low mood or decreased self-esteem
  • talking about feelings that worry you, or saying ‘I can’t do it any more’
  • not doing things they normally like
  • erratic behaviour like crying or shouting
  • evidence of drugs or alcohol misuse when they didn’t before.

Some of the physical changes you might notice in young people include:

  • Changes in personal hygiene or self-care
  • Physical changes like weight, clothing or how they present themselves.
  • Eating more or less than usual or feeling reluctant to eat with others.
  • Lacking in concentration, looking tired or listless.
  • Evidence of hurting themselves on purpose.

If you have tried to talk to a young person but they do not feel ready to talk, try not to pressure them. They will open up to you, or someone else they trust, when they’re ready. Be clear with them that care about their wellbeing and that the option to talk to you is still available.

What to do if you believe a young person needs support

LISTEN – Offer to talk to them somewhere more appropriate, if there is a risk of being interrupted or overheard by others.

Listening can make a huge difference to how someone feels. If they’re finding it difficult to talk, let them know you’re there when they’re ready. They may prefer to write down how they are feeling. Let them know that’s ok too.

Listen carefully when a young person opens up to you about how they are feeling. Let them share without interrupting or judging them.

Show you are listening by nodding or repeating what they say to show you have understood.

REASSURE – A young person struggling with their mental health can feel isolated and alone. By letting them know how they feel is valid, you are letting them know that they are not alone. Using kind and reassuring language like ‘its okay to feel like that’ or, ‘what you’re going through sounds really tough’.

VALIDATE – Often, when a young person has opened up about how they are feeling, they might immediately feel worried that they’ve said the wrong thing or shared too much. They may be worried that they will be in trouble. The first way you could respond to them is to reassure them that they have done the right thing by speaking about it. You could say, ‘I’m really glad you told me this’, or ‘it might have felt difficult but it’s good that you spoke to me about it.

ACT– encourage them to access support, either by talking to a parent, doctor or clinician. Remember, this can seem overwhelming for a young person. If possible, consider offering to go with them to talk to them. Understanding how they have managed similar situations can help you support them too. They may already have things that help them like listening to music, quiet time or going for a walk.

If you need further guidance on how to have a conversation you may wish to consider using the Resilience Conversation tool. It enables you to explore with young people the areas in their life that promote resilience and how to build on this.

Looking after your own wellbeing

Supporting a young person who’s going through a difficult time can be hard and you might not notice how much it affects you. It’s okay to feel upset, shocked, or worried. It is important to make sure you look after yourself, so that you stay well and you’re still able to help them.

  • Try not to take on too much – supporting someone on your own can be a big responsibility. If it’s appropriate you may want to encourage them to reach out to other people they trust too, like their family or other adults they are close to.
  • Set boundaries – like letting them know what support they can expect from you.
  • Think about how it affects you – if supporting a young person feels overwhelming, or upsetting, discuss any concerns with your designated safeguarding lead.

There is more information available on how to look after your own wellbeing on the Staff Wellbeing pages.

Training opportunities to find out more

If you have read this guide and want to learn more about how to support the mental health of young people you work with, why not check out the range of FREE staff training available to you in Kent including YMHFA accredited courses.