Mental health: When a young person opens up to you…

When a young person opens up about a mental health issue, responding in the right way is crucial. Caroline Hounsell from MHFA England offers five tips for school staff in SecEd.

In an average group of 30 young people aged 15, 10 are likely to have seen their parents separate, seven are likely to have been bullied, six may be self-harming, and one could have experienced the death of a parent (Public Health England).

Record levels of young people are struggling. Academic pressure, social media, bullying, poverty, and lacking professional mental health support are all thought to contribute to this epidemic of poor mental health. It is clear that young people are not getting the support they need. 

However, the key figures in a young person’s life, such as teachers, tutors, and school staff, are often best-placed to first spot when a young person is struggling – the school community is in an empowered position to make a difference. 

In response to these recent numbers, MHFA England urges more schools to act now to take a proactive step towards supporting young people with their mental health. Below are five tips for talking to students about their mental health.

Right environment for the conversation

When it comes to starting a sensitive conversation with a student, it is really important to consider the time and place where the conversation is going to happen. First off, you need to make sure you have plenty of time to commit to the conversation. It is not something to quickly broach between classes – instead choose a moment when you have plenty of time and don’t need to rush off somewhere. It is also best to choose a location that’s neutral ground, such as a quiet room or pastoral room, so it feels removed from a classroom situation. 

Be open and non-confrontational

First, if relevant, make it clear to the student straight away that they are not in trouble. Then take a seat, even if they are not sitting down – this can instantly make you seem less intimidating. When speaking, be empathetic, think about your body language and take them seriously. Also make sure to consider any cultural differences when they are communicating – for instance, understanding how much eye-contact is appropriate.

Read more tips Mental health: When a young person opens up to you…

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