Having a serious conversation about mental health with a young person can be challenging, to say the least. How do you start the conversation? What should you bring up? How much is too much information? Should it even be discussed?
The Mental Health First Aid curricula says national studies estimate that 22.2 percent of youth in the United States will have a mental health challenge that significantly impacts their life. This makes it likely that an adult will interact with an adolescent who is experiencing a mental health challenge. Adults who interact with young people need access to information and resources about how to have conversations with kids and answer the tough questions.
Youth Mental Health First Aid can help. Youth Mental Health First Aid is designed to teach parents, family members, caregivers, teachers, school staff, peers, neighbors, health and human services workers, and other caring citizens how to help adolescents (age 12-18) who are experiencing a mental health or substance use challenge or are in crisis. YMHFA is primarily designed for adults who regularly interact with young people. To learn more, download the Mental Health First Aid for Youth information sheet.
According to the Youth Mental Health First Aid curriculum, conversations can be initiated by anyone close enough to the young person that he or she can detect noticeable differences in behavior, thoughts and feelings. This person could be a parent, coach, teacher, family member, youth group member, or other trusted and responsible adult.
Before talking to a young person, consider looping in a parent, caregiver, or guardian. You can help them find affordable mental health care options or help a youth navigate their legal right to access care. Be aware that rights vary from state to state. For example, in some states, a 14-year-old can access substance use counseling without parental permission.
Still, how do you effectively talk to youth about this challenging topic? This can depend on the age and maturity level of the young person, but there are things you can keep in mind to help make the conversation hopeful and helpful. Use these tips from the Youth Mental Health First Aid curriculum, coupled with the 5-step MHFA Action Plan, to get started.
Recognizing mental health challenges is the first step toward helping a young person. According to MHFA, studies show that with proper care and treatment, children and youth with mental health and substance use challenges get better, and many recover completely.
Interested in learning more about YMHFA? Find a course near you today and #BeTheDifference for young people in your community.
Mental Health First Aid. (2020). Mental Health First Aid USA Manual for Adults Assisting Children and Youth. National Council for Mental Wellbeing.