Parents and caregivers are often the first to notice changes in their youth. This can often lead to a sense of relief for the young person, as it means they no longer have to deal with challenges on their own.
When young people face challenges, it can be hard to know what is going on and how to help. Mental health challenges often start out as small changes you barely notice. If you’re concerned about the mental health of your youth, or a youth in your life, a great place to start is by just having a conversation with them. You don’t need to have all the answers – being willing to listen and to be open, curious, and compassionate is what matters the most.
Here are some tips for:
- Starting a conversation with a youth you are concerned about
- How to respond if a youth turns to you for support
- What to do if a youth shares thoughts of suicide with you
- Taking care of yourself
Tips for starting the conversation
- Try to talk about mental health and well-being regularly in your family. Mental health is an important part of everyone’s health, and like physical health, it can change over time. If it’s a common topic, your youth might be more comfortable talking about changes they’ve noticed and asking for help.
- Ask how things have been going for your youth lately. What’s been good? Is there anything that has been troubling them?
- Use everyday language to talk about the changes you’ve seen – not as “symptoms” or “mental health challenges”. For example: “I’ve noticed that you haven’t really been going out much lately.”
- The goal is to listen and try to understand what has led to the changes you’ve noticed.
- Talk while doing an activity (like driving to the mall, shooting hoops, doing an art project) – this can make it easier for your youth to talk about personal troubles.
- Treat them like an adult.
- Ask them what they would like to do or think they need. This is a great opportunity to help them learn how to solve problems – an important life skill.
- When it comes time to work on finding a way to solve the problem, make it something you do together. And if your youth can take the lead, support them to.
- Remind them how much you care about them and you’re there if they want to talk at any point.
- Help connect them with resources that are for youth - Foundrybc.ca has mental health and substance use resources for youth and young adults ages 12-24.
- If you’re looking for more resources on supporting your youth’s mental health, check out the rest of our website or connect with a parent peer support worker at the Kelty Centre.
How to be supportive when a young person starts a conversation
Research tells us that young people often will turn first to their friends and family about problems. Here are some 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. If you dismiss their concerns, sound judgmental or give quick advice it will likely shut down any further conversation.
- Let them know you understand what they are feeling. Empathize with them. “It sounds like you’re feeling (the emotion) 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 ideas on what they could do. Or they may want you to be very involved in helping them.
- Recognize their ability to be aware of 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 and it’s so helpful to lean on those we are connected to.
- Offer to search with and connect your youth to information and services that may be helpful. You could even offer to go with them if they are looking for that.
- Some young people might deny there’s anything wrong or refuse help. You could suggest they talk to another trusted adult in their life, such as their family doctor, school counsellor, a trained peer support worker, etc. Click here for support options.
If you think your youth might be considering suicide
- Talk to them. Let them know you are worried about them, you care about them and you are there to support them.
- Ask open-ended questions to help them talk about what’s going on for them, such as “I’ve noticed you are feeling sad quite a bit. Can we talk about what’s going on for you?”
- Ask about suicide directly. Ask them if they are thinking of suicide or if they have a plan for how they would kill themself. Know that asking them about suicide won’t give them the idea to kill themselves.
- “You seem really down and I heard you say you wish you were dead. Sometimes when people are feeling this way, they are thinking of suicide. Are you thinking about suicide?”
- Never promise to keep a suicide plan a secret. Let your youth know you are there for them and you care about them but if you are concerned about their safety you will have to talk to someone.
- Encourage them to talk to someone. They can reach out to a family doctor, school counsellor or mental health professional. You can also call the BC Suicide Help Line 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) with your youth or if you need help having the conversation.
- “I’m glad we are talking about this. Let’s look together for someone that can help.”
- Don’t leave someone alone if you feel that they might kill themself or if they have already tried to do so. Call 911 or the BC Suicide Help Line 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433).
You can read more about how to respond to a youth who may be thinking of suicide here. This is not an easy subject to talk about and the language used is very important. Find some suggested language here.
Remember to Look After Yourself
You may be tempted to put aside your own needs or forget to take care of yourself while you are supporting your child. It’s important to remember that by taking care of yourself, you are helping yourself be the best caregiver you can be. You are also teaching your children how to take care of themselves. Self-care can greatly improve your ability to handle the ups and downs of life and prevent burnout. It makes it possible for you to better support your youth. Below, are some tips for taking care of your own health and wellness.
- Remember, parenting can be hard – go easy on yourself and practice self-compassion. You are doing your best.
- Lean on your networks – ask family and friends for help and support when you need it.
- Take time every day to do something that you enjoy – even 5 minutes can have a positive impact and give you the energy you need to keep going.
- Look for information, resources and support for yourself. Your family doctor, a counsellor, or Kelty Peer Support worker can be a good starting place.
*Majority of content in the sections above adapted with permission from foundrybc.ca