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Other Ways to Help 

If you’re concerned about the mental health or substance use of a young person in your life, try to initiate a conversation with them. Here is a step-by-step approach to reaching out.

Here are 15 tips to consider when discussing mental health and mental illness with a young person.

  1. Get this important message across: “It is important to reach out for help to someone you trust when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed.”
  2. Be clear that mental health issues are common, and everyone deserves support. Show them that you are open to talking about mental health and substance use.
  3. Remember the importance of respecting privacy and using discretion when finding a time to talk with them.
  4. Pace the discussion; don’t ask too much too quickly
  5. Ensure they understand that negative attitudes and behaviours towards people who have a mental illness cannot be tolerated.
  6. Be aware of stigma. Be cautious of stigmatizing language: “freak”, “psycho”, or “drunk.” Instead, be a role role model by using non-stigmatizing language: “he has a mental illness”, “she has a substance use disorder”.
  7. Provide positive feedback and acknowledge their strengths, i.e. “You have so much courage and strength”, “That is not your fault”, “Thank you for sharing”, “You are resilient.”
  8. Demonstrate concern; i.e. “How are you?”, “Tell me what I can do to help”, “I haven’t seen you lately. I am worried about you”, “Do you want to talk to someone for more support?”
  9. Ask questions about how they feel and think rather than make assumptions. Encourage youth to speak about their feelings.
  10. Acknowledge and validate their feelings. Well-meaning adults often try to help by diminishing the situation or downplaying its impact. However, youth can perceive this as belittling or correcting their feelings.
  11. Paraphrase to show you understand, i.e. “I hear that you feel anxious because you did not complete your assignment on time.”
  12. Model kindness and empathy, i.e. “I understand”, “me too”, “I can understand why that was difficult.”
  13. While you should not interrupt by inserting your own experiences, do acknowledge your own struggles, weaknesses and biases.
  14. Use open body language to show genuine interest and care.
  15. Identify opportunities for youth to practice self-care, and social and coping skills, i.e. nature walks, meditation, art, and listening to music.

Remember, there is always help and hope. As a parent, caregiver or teacher, keep in mind that you are not expected to be a therapist or a mental health professional. The tips above can help you navigate conversations when you are concerned or when a youth reaches out.

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If there is immediate risk, take immediate action.

Call 911, or your local Mobile Crisis Service

Call Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868
Text CONNECT to 686868
Available 24/7

LGBTQ2S+ Crisis Line: 1(800) OUT-IS-OKAY (688-4765)

For non-urgent support, find your local CMHA or suggest they reach out to Kids Help Phone. Kids Help Phone is there even if they’re not in crisis. They can call or text for information on local services or if they just need someone to talk to.