Looking for mental health support tips? This guide gathers together some of the top tips from young people, based on their experience of getting support for mental health difficulties – including info on how to be accessible, how to help young people feel comfortable, and how to communicate effectively.
This will help you to:
- understand the service needs of young people
- support young people in appropriate ways
- provide accessible services to young people
1. Be accessible
Issues such as geographical location, access to transport, family or peer support, age, gender, disability or socio-economic status can all have a negative effect on our help seeking experience. For some, it gets easier and easier to sweep problems under the mat and never return. Please help us by making it easier to come back to you!
We would ask you to ensure that your service fits as much as possible with our needs. We would appreciate knowing we have your support even outside sessions. By directing us to services like ReachOut.com we can access information and mental health support anytime, anywhere. It might also be good to think about counseling via the phone or web as an option, or arranging to meet at a location which is more convenient or comfortable to us (e.g. a room booked in a local library). Don't forget to be clear about when you are available and how you can stay in contact (e.g. email or sms).
2. Recognise our achievements
When we are feeling down, it's almost too easy to convince ourselves that getting treatment will not be worth it or that we are just incapable of achieving our goals. The last thing we need reinforced in our minds is a sense of failure or stagnancy. By letting us know that we are moving forward and helping us recognise our achievements, we will feel confident and better able to make the changes needed in our lives.
Please help us by setting simple and feasible goals so that we do not feel overwhelmed. We would also ask our health care professionals to take the time to notice our efforts and praise us for it. At times, we may need to be reminded of how far we've come and how much more we can do. Consider setting aside time before the end of each session to write about our accomplishments and reflect on our progress. A little confidence boost will go a long way for any young person going through a hard time!
3. Help us feel comfortable
Each young person is different and will need to face their issues on their own time. Some of us prefer to sit in silence to process the information you provide, while others have long been waiting to be heard and will communicate very readily. Accounting for these differences and adapting your approach accordingly is vital to winning our co-operation and involvement in our sessions with you.
We would ask health care professionals to set aside time to make themselves more aware of what makes the young person feel comfortable. You could discuss these with us or outline "boundaries" during the first session and use them as a guide in future. Please be aware of the fine line between pushing us beyond our comfort zone and encouraging our involvement. Whatever happens, keep trying to reach out to us, because we are doing our best to reach out to you too!
4. Be flexible
Young people sometimes build walls around them for others to break down. The walls we build are unique and they vary in their resilience - some walls are so dense we can no longer hear you calling out to us on the other side. Even as it gets to this point, please don't give up on us. Using different strategies and approaches to overcome our barriers will help us be more involved in our sessions with you.
We would ask you to be flexible in your approach when working with young people. Please be open to using a different approach when certain techniques don't work for us. Try to engage us in different ways or use an approach that highlights the young person's strengths. We don't always feel comfortable telling you that something isn't working for us, but inviting our feedback on our treatment plans will make us more co-operative with you.
5. Be non-judgmental
Admitting our innermost problems to a complete stranger can be embarrassing - and there are so many stigmas out there in society around mental health, it's no wonder we feel that way! It would be really nice to know we won't encounter the same judgmental attitude with our health care professional.
Please take the time to build rapport and trust with us. Let us know you understand what we're going through and that we're not alone. It will make us more open to talk about things that bother us, and also more willing to co-operate with you. Giving us a good first experience will mean that we are far more likely to return.
6. Tell us what to expect
Most of us feel like we've we're searching in the dark for what is affecting our lives. Being unaware of actual solutions to our problems is very scary. Also, for many of us it would be our first experience of seeking help and therefore we don't know what to expect from our health care professionals.
Please take the time to explain your role as a health care professional and what you can do to help us. Making us more familiar with the issues we are facing will lessen our fears. You can do this by showing us resources from Reach Out.com. Linking us to information that explains what we're going through in a way that is easy to understand will make us feel less intimidated and more able to get the best out of our experience with you.
7. Explain confidentiality
Many of us are unaware of what we are entitled to through confidentiality. Though we know it's an important issue, we might not ask because we either know where to start or we fear the consequences of asking. While there are situations where a breach of contract might be necessary, it may still incite feelings of betrayal and distrust if the "reasons why" are not explained clearly. We would appreciate it if our health care professionals can provide us with this information instead of us having to seek answers from other sources that are not so reliable.
Please explain what the boundaries of confidentiality are, and why they exist. Help us to recognise that there are situations in which boundaries must be breached - but help us to realise that these actions are for our best interests. Approaching us with sincerity and true concern instead of explaining our entitlements verbatim from protocol may make all the difference in our openness with you. Understanding that you may disclose our details because you care, or because it is of benefit to our situation will help us trust and co-operate with you in future.
8. Openly communicate - Engage and Listen!
Sometimes opening up to others about our problems is hard because previous experiences of talking to our peers, parents or professionals have proven so. Two way communication is important! It would mean a lot if you could not only instruct us in our next steps, but also listen carefully - sometimes that's all we need.
We would ask you to emphasise positive aspects too! Be aware of your body language and use open ended questions to get to know what keeps us going (e.g. plans for the weekend). Keeping us optimistic does a lot for relieving the kind of pressure we put on ourselves to get better. Paraphrasing complex statements and summarising at the end of every session is also helpful to make sure there are no misunderstandings.
9. Help us feel connected and valued
Experiencing a life changing even or the development of a mental illness is not only hard to acknowledge but also takes away the sense of control we have over our lives. We can't help but feel alone - because we are different and that differences is difficult to mask. Our experiences with our health care professionals should emancipate us from these feelings.
Please allow us enough scope to make choices. Providing help on our terms makes us feel more empowered and better able to contribute to achieving the goals we set together. Please also value our inputs and efforts, no matter how small. Some of us have to fight an inner battle just to be present in the next session with you. By keeping in contact with us, you're also letting us know that we're not alone.
10. Use technology
We have been exposed to technology all our lives that it's no wonder we view it almost as an extension of who we are. It connects us in a way we enjoy, feel safe and familiar with. It also provides us sense of control and security. At times, feeling as though we don't relate with our health care professionals compromises how co-operative and enthusiastic we can be about our experience with you. Using technology in your work might be a way of engaging us more personally and in a way we understand.
We would please ask you to be open to the technologies young people use today. By being familiar with such a vital aspect to our lives, you have instantly become "cool" and much more comfortable to be around. Technology can be used in so many different ways to make supporting young people easier. Consider online diaries, computer games like Reach Out Central or mobile text messages that deliver tips on coping with difficult situations. By using technology to connect with our health care professionals, we will feel engaged, involved and empowered to make positive changes in our lives.