How to support young people with mental health problems

Practical tips for families and friends of young people experiencing mental health problems

Young people experience mental health problems and need support too --- Image by Unsplash
Young people experience mental health problems and need support too — Image by Unsplash

Would you know how to support young people experiencing mental health problems? I’ve just watched a short video on Twitter where a young boy of 11 spoke about his mental health and how the pandemic has led to depression. To be honest, I really hadn’t thought about people as young as that having mental health problems.

Young Gary told how the pandemic restrictions made him feel angry towards the world and everyone in it. He spoke of not being able to play football with his friends, or have them stay over, and how the constant isolation made him think too much. He also mentioned having bad thoughts and being unable to talk about them because he felt he would be judged.

However, eventually and fortunately, Gary was able to open up to his parents and they sought advice from their GP. He was able to refer the family to online counselling and they received the help he needed — quickly. While he’s not out of the woods yet, Gary feels confident that therapy is helpful and he’ll continue to accept this support.

While Gary is extremely young, many young people of all ages are feeling the negative effects of the pandemic. It’s likely that many of them either don’t know how to articulate their feelings, are unable to open up to their parents, families or friends, or wouldn’t know where to get help.

Did you know

Most lifelong mental health issues begin in childhood. But talking about wellbeing early on can help them cope better with life’s challenges (Mental Health Support, Action for children).

Not all mental illnesses are visible

Underage drinking and mood changes
Underage drinking and mood changes — Image by Charisma Magazine

Not all mental illnesses are obvious in the beginning, but you may notice some changes in a young person, such as:

  • lack of self-care, looking bedraggled, unkempt, or uncared for
  • loss of interest in activities/hobbies they used to enjoy. Okay, we have lockdown but hopefully they have interests at home that they can continue
  • mood swings, angry outbursts, spiteful towards and bullying siblings, lashing out verbally or physically
  • being disruptive or even destructive, kicking, smashing or damaging things
  • shouting, swearing and being very argumentative
  • change in eating habits, either not eating or eating too much
  • stealing either at home or in shops
  • becoming secretive, isolated, withdrawn
  • change in sleeping pattern, like too much, too little, or not at all
  • smoking cigarettes, using illegal substances, or drinking alcohol — which may lead to changes in mood

While this list may be long, there are other changes you might notice and want to keep an eye on.

Family and friends can support young people with mental health problems

Secretive and isolative behaviours in young people
Secretive and isolative behaviours in young people — Image by Pixabay

If you know a young person who’s experiencing mental health difficulties, you may find the following tips useful:

  • encourage them to talk to you or another family member or friend. Ask them open-ended questions like “Tell me about your day.” or “How did you feel when ……….?” to get a conversation going. Asking closed questions like “Did you have a good time?” will only receive a “yes” or “no” answer.
  • make yourself available to listen to your young ones, even if you have to schedule a time, and stick to it. Let them know they will be heard. You’ll lose their trust if you don’t follow through.
  • talk to your youngsters about current affairs such as the pandemic and lockdown. Be as open as possible. Ask their opinions, and respect their views, however much they differ from yours (apart from anything illegal obviously).
  • ensure they always have the means to contact you, say if you work or go out, let them know where you are and when you’ll be back.
  • have a designated person they can contact if they cannot get hold of you
  • if you must leave them alone, make sure they have food and drinks available to them. Their favourite, but healthy, food always helps 😉
  • keep the home warm and welcoming with electricity and hot water available to them.
  • help them maintain their living space, and to keep it clean, like changing their bedding together or helping sort out their drawers (if they’ll allow it).
  • help and support them in good grooming like teeth brushing, clean nails, and haircuts.
  • arrange and be aware of appointments, say with the dentist or their pastor.
  • monitor their intake of any prescribed medication-taking.
  • provide appropriate clothing for the changing seasons.
  • always remember their birthdays and other anniversaries such as “the date his dog died” or the date school results are due. Celebrate (or commiserate) with them, however simple.
  • where possible and within reason, let them have access to their laptops, phones, video games, arts and crafts etc
  • have them involved in family decision-making, like rules. and the consequences of not following them.
  • reinforce the need for physical activity and go with them on outdoor walks, where possible.
  • don’t just tell, show your love for them. Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady said “Don’t tell me. Just show me how much you love me.”
  • encourage your youngsters to write down things that are bothering them. Perhaps let them have a journal and if they wish to keep it private, then you mustn’t sneak a look.

Find out how your youngsters are feeling

Negative thoughts and feelings may be just the tip of the iceberg for your youngster --- Image by Pexels
Negative thoughts and feelings may be just the tip of the iceberg for your youngster — Image by Pexels.com

Your youngster’s behaviour is a communication about how they’re feeling. If they’re behaving differently or acting out, it might be useful to think of an iceberg. The changing behaviour is the tip, but there’s likely to be a whole range of emotions hidden under the surface.

By regularly opening up conversations with your youngsters, you can find out more about how they’re feeling and what’s going on for them. Effective listening skills will help them open up further. Don’t interrupt, don’t judge and don’t assume you know what they’re going to say. Often, all they want — is to be heard.

Young people need to feel safe

Children need to feel safe --- Image by Pexels.com
Children need to feel safe and supported— Image by Pexels.com

I often remember my youngest son when he was about 11 and we were driving home from school, “Mummy, I like it when you tell me what to do. It makes me feel safe and I know you care about me.”

Okay, just making them feel safe isn’t the answer to everything. But it certainly helps. Let them know it’s safe to talk about their emotions. In fact, encourage them to talk about their thoughts and feelings, both positive and negative.

Explain that it’s normal to have negative thoughts and feelings sometimes, particularly during times like the pandemic and lockdown. My wee old mum used to say “Ye cannae get sent to the jail for your thoughts.”

Teach youngsters different ways to deal with their emotions and if you’re unsure how to do this, seek professional help.

Over to you

Any questions? Want to know more about young people and mental health problems?
Any questions? Want to know more about young people and mental health problems?

Has any of this been useful, and do you have any more tips you think I could add? Do you know of any young people who experience mental health problems and need support? I’m happy to let you have details of professionals who can help.

For those of you who know me and my blog, I’ve stayed away for almost three months, just resting, and now I’m back. Not with a bang, unfortunately, more of a whimper. But at least now, I’ve found the will to continue writing.

I’ve mentioned many times — mental health knows know boundaries, and it can attack at any time. I’m only too aware. But I’m feeling better and look forward to catching up with my blogging friends.

Caz 🙂

Author: mentalhealth360.uk

Mum to two amazing sons. Following recovery from a lengthy psychotic episode, depression, anxiety and anorexia, I decided to train as a Mental Health Nurse and worked successfully in various settings before becoming a Ward Manager. I am a Mental Health First Aid Instructor and a Mental Health Awareness Trainer, Mental Health First Aid Youth and Mental Health Armed Forces Instructor. Just started my mental health from the other side blog.

40 thoughts on “How to support young people with mental health problems”

      1. well, it couldn’t be me, could it?
        Daughter apparently met some fuy just before lockdown, so for company they decided to move in together. Now she has this guy living there and hates his guts!

  1. Welcome back,Caz.

    Spook spent the better part of a year either silent or angry about restrictions and I worried about how lack of contact would impact the lil social butterfly…but at some point,I got so wrapped up in my own stuff I stopped worrying…
    And she had a big blow up about how I did not care how covid effected her. It was not lack of caring,honestly. It was a little denial and kids are resilient mentality.
    She does not want to talk about it in general. I offered to find her a counselor and she said I could not make her talk.
    11 should not be such a complicated age but it is and I am at a loss how to help someone who rejects help.
    Just gotta be here and keep talking and listening,best I can figure.

    1. Hey Morgs, thank you and so lovely to hear from you. Sorry to hear about the little ‘un. I think lots of parents have been worrying too – hence my post 😉 Yep, all you can do is keep listening and giving her little openings encouraging her to join in conversations. I’m just so happy my boys are grown up and not having to go through this damn Lockdown!! I hope Spook’s been able to stay in touch with the rest of her family and some friends, even by zooming and facetime?

      Other than what I suggested in my post, I’m not sure what else you can do. I always used to say to the boys when they were angry or upset, “have I upset you Sunshine? Is it something I’ve said or done?” They always responded with “no” as they stomped up the stairs to their rooms. I knew that if it wasn’t me, then all I could do was wait, happy and comfortable that it wasn’t anything to do with me. They’d return a little while later, get themselves comfortable on the kitchen worktops (I was always cooking and baking) and tell me what’s been upsetting them. It could have been something simple like a friend hadn’t invited them over or a teacher was getting on their nerves.

      It’s almost unbearable for us adults too! Tho I have been sneaking over to see our grandchildren and spending time with them in the parks. They’re only small so they probably won’t remember much about all this.

      I’m sure it’s a phase, and she seems quite mature for her age, kids tend to go through different issues at different ages and she’ll come out of it when she’s ready. Good luck x

  2. Yes , awareness and pure love are non-judgemental and non-dualistic but if you observe anger, allow it and let it go  or  transforming it into peace , love and light, then you have gained .
         Reframe things and  refocus on the good to turn it better because energy flows where attention goes…
    Renewable hope and renewable energy in divine connection …

    1. Aaawwww! Thank you and lovely hearing from you too. Life’s challenges are sometimes overwhelming and this damn lockdown isn’t helping anyone. Feeling way better than I did and not quite out of the woods yet. Still, shouldn’t complain – most people are having tough times right now 🙁

  3. Great to see you back posting, Caz! What you’ve written here is excellent; I definitely saw myself in some of these symptoms and feelings as a kid, and I think what made it difficult was that I didn’t know what to call it. I saw an excellent documentary called “Angst” (https://angstmovie.com/) that helped bring to life a lot of what you’re saying, and showing the symptoms and signs for adults to look for in kids. Very glad you’re feeling better.

    1. Hey Nathan, how lovely to hear from you and I’m glad you enjoyed my post. Yep, there’s a bit of most young people in there. At least these days, people are a little bit more aware about mental health problems, including in kids and I like to hope they have better skills than the last generation, I’m sure. Thank you for that link, I’m definitely going to have a look at that now!

      So good to be chatting with my blogging pals and I look forward to catching up with all your news – slowly lol. You take care x

      1. Remember that the things we might dislike might be blessing in disguise …
        The lockdown has inspired some corporations to promote online remote working, the thing that reduced traffic and air CO2 emissions…
        This promotes both new intuitive and rational insights …

  4. Welcome back Caz, great to see you posting again. Hopefully you’ll continue to feel better as time goes on, sometimes you have to just stop don’t you so I’m glad you took the time you needed.

    An interesting and thought provoking post as always, I think it’s underestimated how much the kids are struggling with all the restrictions. My eldest nephew is 8 and my sister has mentioned many times how he’s struggled with not being able to see his friends 😕

    1. Thank you for your lovely words Jess. And yes, I’m enjoying being back and really looking forward to catching up with everyone’s news.

      I know, it’s such a shame for the little ones. We’ve broken the rules once or twice, sshhh!! I don’t know what it would be like not to see our grandchildren!

  5. A 2007 study (“The Science of Early Childhood Development”) formally discovered what should have been the obvious: “The future of any society depends on its ability to foster the health and well-being of the next generation. Stated simply, today’s children will become tomorrow’s citizens, workers, and parents. When we invest wisely in children and families, the next generation will pay that back through a lifetime of productivity and responsible citizenship. When we fail to provide children with what they need to build a strong foundation for healthy and productive lives, we put our future prosperity and security at risk …

    “All aspects of adult human capital, from work force skills to cooperative and lawful behavior, build on capacities that are developed during childhood, beginning at birth … The basic principles of neuroscience and the process of human skill formation indicate that early intervention for the most vulnerable children will generate the greatest payback.”

    And mental health-care needs to generate as much societal concern as does physical health.

    1. Yes, I agree with the study and your comments entirely.

      I’ve always said to anyone with or teaching youngsters “children are the adults of of future and they’ll be making the decisions when we’re old people. So teach them well, be kind and compassionate and instil those characteristics in them.”

      I’m proud to say that my adult sons have all the good qualities that will make them great parents one day. My youngest son was a teacher and Head of Science for some years, where his pupils, their parents and his colleagues all adored him as he championed a mental health first aid programme.

      1. Thank you for your reply, mentalhealth360.uk, which brings further thoughts.

        Physical and mental abuse commonsensically aside, high school students could be taught what child development science reveals about, for example, the potential psychological repercussions of the manner in which they as parents may someday choose to discipline their children; therefore, they may be able to make a much more informed decision on the method they choose to correct misbehavior, however suddenly mentally clouded they may become in the angry emotion of the moment.

        And being that their future children’s sound mental health and social/workplace integration are at stake, should not scientifically informed parenting decisions also include their means of chastisement?

        Our young people are then at least equipped with the valuable science-based knowledge of the possible, if not likely, consequences of dysfunctional rearing thus much more capable of making an informed choice on how they inevitably correct their child’s misconduct.

        While such curriculum can sound invasive, especially to parents distrustful of the public education system, I really believe it’s in future generations’ best interests.

        Thanks again for your posts.

      2. Thank you once again for your well-thought out comments. I’ve always said, a lot of this stuff should be taught to kids. My now adult sons lovely learning all about mental health, parenting and so on when I was training to be a mental health nurse.
        I had the boys apologise for their mistakes and discuss what they thought would be suitable consequences i.e. if they came home 15 minutes late, they would agree to come home 15 mins early the following evening. They loved having the choice and the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them.
        One became a teacher, head of Biology then Head of Science and he saw how badly some parents behaved! He said “What chance do those kids have?”
        However, all the kids and the teachers loved his way of teaching.
        He retrained and became a physiotherapist so he’s still working with people, he’s kind, caring and compassionate. They both are lol. Proud mummy moment 🙂

      3. Your parenting sounds psychologically and emotionally sound and healthy. It’s reflected in your children’s character and mental health, no doubt.

      4. Thank you again. What I love is that they’ll seek support and counselling when they feel the need. As young men, I’m proud that they’ll ask for help when they need it.

  6. I can definitely see how the unusual and extreme circumstances many people are facing would have an impact on children’s mental health as well. Thank you for the great list of tips! That one about remembering important dates really struck me. Keeping the key life history events of a person really does make them feel cared for. And it helps more accurately interpret why their mood may be up or down on a certain day!

    1. Thank you, as always my lovely. Obviously with my nurse training I learned different ways to talk with different patients; asking “what can I do to help (or support you)?” rather than “can I help you?” where you’ll get a direct yes or no answer.

      And that one tip where I said to my sons “Is it something I’ve said or done that’s upset you?” made me feel at ease when they said “No.” and I let them go on about their day, knowing they would come and tell me eventually. But at least it stopped me worrying about it being me.

      We also have a thing in our family. If I call one of the boys and they tell me they’re upset about something and don’t know what to do, we talk it through. They’ll normally sort the issue out say with a colleague or a friend. Then they always call/text me to let me know it’s sorted. That way, I didn’t worry for days, weeks, while they’re now happy and having fun now it’s fixed. If I know it’s fixed, then I can relax too.

  7. I’m so glad to see you back!

    As someone who has been having mental health problems from a young age I always appreciate posts like these. I think just being there for them and letting them know they have someone in their life who cares about them helps a lot. Also make sure you keep an eye on them and talk to them if they start acting differently. Especially if they suddenly start acting like everything is okay because that can be a sign that they are suicidal.

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