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What to do if you suspect a young person has a mental health problem


Step 1: Ask and Assess (AA)

How you approach a young person will directly impact the extent to which they will confide in you. A relaxed approach tends to yield better results compared to a direct approach, so try to establish a rapport with them first before addressing anything mental health related.

If you do suspect something is wrong, try to resist the urge to label it straight away. Instead, ask questions, be curious: “You seem a bit tired today”, ”I can see you’re finding it hard to focus”, “Is everything ok?” Young people often internalise their emotions and are not very open about how they’re feeling so try to read between the lines and refer to the “signs and symptoms” list to make your own assessment.

Step 2: Listen non-judgmentally

If they reveal to you that they feel they’re struggling with something, first of all, that’s very brave on their part, so it’s important to respect that by listening without judgement or having any preconceived ideas about their condition. It is a legitimate illness and it doesn’t mean they’re being weak or lazy; they’re simply unwell and struggling.

Try not to put pressure on them to get better or think you’re going to ‘fix’ them within a certain timeframe. Recovery is a slow process and it has to be in their own time. You can recommend certain books to read or things to try, but ultimately if you push them too much, they will become withdrawn and close themselves off from you, so try to establish the right balance between helpful and hindering.

The speed of recovery, or lack thereof, can be incredibly frustrating, but never lose your temper and say things like “pull yourself together” or “grow up”, as this can be very damaging to their progress and destroy whatever trust you’ve worked hard to establish.

Step 3: Give reassurance and information

Reassure them that they’ve done the right thing in confiding in you by letting them know the following:

  • What they have is a real medical condition
  • It doesn’t make them weak or any less in character
  • It’s very common; a lot of people have it and are still successful (you could give examples)
  • Full recovery is possible. It can sometimes take a while, but will get better quicker with the right help

Step 4: Enable them to get appropriate professional help

Recommend they pay a visit to their GP. They will give them an assessment and based on the results, prescribe either one or both of the following:

  • Talking Therapy – Speaking to a trained professional will give them an opportunity to look at their problems in a different way and explore what is causing them and how they can manage them more effectively. Young people often find it easier to talk to a stranger than their friends or family, so this form of help can be very beneficial.
  • Popular forms of therapy include: Counselling, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Psychotherapy. These are available both privately and on the NHS; however, if going through the NHS, the waiting list can be anywhere from 3 to 6 months. Local charities such as Mind can sometimes be a bit quicker to offer counselling, so it’s worth exploring that option as well.
  • Medication – This can have great success in helping to relieve the symptoms of a range of mental health problems. For a lot of people, this can provide enough temporary relief to make the changes necessary in order to improve their situation to the point where medication is no longer required. However, medication can sometimes have unwanted side effects, and is not recommended as an initial treatment for most issues.

Step 5: Encourage self-help strategies

There are many things young people can do to help their situation. The problem is when they’re struggling with a mental health issue, it can be very difficult to have the concentration or energy levels required to carry them out. However, knowing what works and what doesn’t can be a very useful tool for a parent or tutor. That’s why we’ve come up with the following “Five Ways to Wellbeing”:

  1. Growth mindset
  2. Connect with others
  3. Be present
  4. Practice gratitude
  5. Diet/Exercise

If you would like to know more about these, check out our section on “Five Ways to Wellbeing”.