Life can be tough at times, and we all go through ups and downs in our health, relationships, work or school. Good mental health means having the skills and support networks to deal with life’s challenges.
And just like physical health, mental health can range from a ‘best possible’ state, through to having a serious illness, but affecting thoughts, feelings or behaviour rather than our physical bodies. Most of us find ourselves somewhere in the middle of the range, just as we do for physical well being, but our state of health can change over time.
We know that the presence of One Good Adult (OGA) in a young person’s life has a positive influence on their mental health. Be it a parent, teacher, football coach or school bus driver, we all have a role in supporting the young people around us.
Evidence from the My World Survey 2 (Dooley, O’Connor, Fitzgerald & O’Reilly, 2019), highlights the positive influence that OGA can have in the lives of young people.
76% of young people growing up in Ireland today said they receive high or very high support from OGA.
If you have concerns about a young person’s mental health seek help from your GP or see Local Supports.
- Listening more than talking is a good starting point.
- Give young people time.
- Don’t jump to conclusions.
It may sound obvious but being a good listener is a skill and takes effort; it doesn’t necessarily come naturally. If we don’t really listen to young people we cannot hope to build open, trusting relationships with them. It can be difficult to get a young person to start talking but once they do, remember to allow them to talk. Be mindful of interrupting, finishing their sentence or changing to a topic of our choosing.
Although this may seem obvious it’s critical to really give young people time and attention if we want them to experience us as good listeners. If we don’t have time, make time or set aside a time in the near future with the young person to come back to the conversation.
It’s amazing how often we are all guilty of doing this. Once we start jumping to conclusions we have stopped listening, as rather than hearing the story from the young person we are making up the ending in our own minds. Jumping to conclusions is closely related to being judgemental; young people often feel judged by adults so don’t fall into this trap. Keep an open mind and allow your ears to really hear what is being said not what you think is being said or will be said, based on your past experience.
Hints and reminders
The importance of listening cannot be overestimated.
e.g. find a quiet moment, sometimes it easier to talk when already engaged in another activity.
e.g. are you ok?
e.g. I notice you haven’t been yourself lately….. You seem really tired
try to be relaxed and open; a gaping mouth, regular clock watching or looking uncomfortable won’t go unnoticed.
Young people will want support at different times in different ways, so don’t forget to ask them how we can help.
We can encourage young people to reach out and seek help through parents, teachers, Guidance Counsellors, GP, Jigsaw etc.
Fear of being judged is one of the main reasons why young people don’t share worries/concerns with others.
No matter what a young person tells us, we need to try not to overreact but to listen, stay calm and then decide how to respond.
If a young person comes to talk to us, we shouldn’t brush it off. Equally if we have some concerns about a young person’s mental health don’t ignore it and assume someone else will pick up on it.
As adults, we can very easily forget what it’s like to be a teenager. From our perspective, a particular issues might not seem like a big deal but it’s the young person’s perspective that matters.
Explore the young person’s strengths too; what is going well, how are they coping, what else is going on in their life? Keep in mind that having a mental health difficulty is just one part of the person.
The first step is to listen and try to understand what is going on for the young person. Helping or attempting to solve the problem comes next. Be guided by the young person.
There are no ‘wrong’ feelings. Accept how the young person is feeling as that is their experience. Rushing to try to encourage them to ‘change’ how they feel prematurely can be unhelpful.
E.g. ‘pull yourself together,’ ‘there’s always someone worse off than you,’ or ‘you’ll soon snap out of it.’
When keeping an eye out for signs a young person may be struggling remember that what is typical for one young person is not the same as for another. It’s important to have a sense of how the young person typically appears or acts most of the time and to pick up on any changes in their behaviour or demeanour.
If you have concerns about a young person’s mental health seek help from your GP or contact Mindspace.