Supporting children and young people

If you’re concerned that a child or young person you care about is experiencing anxiety or depression, or at risk of suicide, it’s important to let them know that you’re worried. Supporting your loved one and getting them to open up can be challenging. It's important to stay patient and listen.

Talking about thoughts and feelings can be difficult for young people – it doesn’t always come naturally. They might get angry when you ask if they’re ok, or they might shut down and say nothing. You might find it difficult to talk openly too. Approach these conversations with respect, thoughtfulness and try to avoid judgement. Let them know why you’re worried and what you’ve noticed. Encourage them to talk about how they are feeling and share any current things that might be stressing them out.

Regardless of where your loved one is at, all young people need to know that they are loved, respected and trusted. Anything you can do to reinforce this for them will be valuable.

 “Professional help and a supportive environment were the main things in my recovery. I always had somebody to go to when things were bad or when I was feeling really down. I had people who were constantly checking up on me to see if I was okay.” Tianna, 19

Talk about what’s going on

Let your young person know you’re concerned and want to help. Create an environment where they can open up, and make sure you give them space to talk. Don’t be afraid to ask about how they’re feeling and talk about what is going on. It can also help to find out more about anxiety and depression – either before you have the conversation, or by doing some research together.

Help them seek professional support

  • Reassure them that help is available – they don’t have to feel like this.
  • Monitor changes in their symptoms and let them know if you notice things getting worse. This might help them to see that they need some professional support.
  • Suggest they have a review with their local doctor to ensure there is no physical reason for how they are feeling.
  • Encourage your young person to stick with treatment once it has begun, whether talking therapy, medication or both.
  • Learn more about different health professionals and the services they provide.

Be understanding and offer practical support

  • Ask how you can help. Young people will want support at different times in different ways.
  • Work on creating a balance between self-responsibility and offering support. Understand that young people do things differently from you – that’s normal.
  • Provide consistent limits and boundaries but be flexible and willing to negotiate changes when necessary.
  • Talk to your child or young person about what practical support would be most helpful for them, like a break from chores, talking with a respected Elder or a lift to school, work or appointments.
  • Tackle challenges together and help them hone their problem-solving skills.

Ask questions

  • “How can I be involved in my young person’s treatment?”
  • “What is the treatment plan?”
  • “What are my young person’s goals?”
  • “Are there any mental health services provided in my young person’s school?”
  • Ask questions about anything that you don’t understand.
Look for small ways that you can make a positive difference and provide comfort and support, and keep doing them – in my case I realised that a simple back or foot massage before bedtime helps my daughter relax and go to sleep. It helps both of us to know that I can help in this way.

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