How I talk to my teenagers about mental health

It feels like many moons ago that I worked as an occupational therapist in the mental health sector; working in hospitals, and communities, leading teams and lecturing. Now with teenage children, I'm sadly being asked regularly for advice about how to help their friends struggling with mental health issues. Feeling I should check that my knowledge and advice was up to date I enrolled on a mental health first aiders course. 

As I read through my course materials, I was filled with hope to see a focus on ‘person-centred care’. Support informed by what the individual wants from their life, enabling them to develop knowledge, skills and confidence to make decisions about and manage their own support. So often in the past, I had wanted to ask other clinicians in patient meetings

The Golden Rule (treat others as you would wish to be treated) sitting quietly on my tongue in a system that had its own set ways of doing things. Now older and I think wiser, I see these questions everywhere, especially when I see others and the planet in need. I feel bolder now to ask them of people in power. Our founder and chair Kim Polman suggests using the Golden Rule as a guide and I find such wisdom and boldness in this approach.

So what will I say when my teenagers ask me how they can help a friend struggling with their mental health? Drawing on my experience as an occupational therapist and my work for Reboot the Future, as a mother and now from my mental health first aiders course I would say 

  1. Listen Deeply: show curiosity to the lived experiences and needs of others without judgment.
  2. Show Compassion: ask what help and support they want instead of enforcing it.
  3. Take Action: instead of trying to fix someone, stand beside them to champion their needs.

I advise my kids to show they value their friend by listening to them with curiosity and without judgement, to ask what help and support they want and to think of the support they also need as they support their friend. Not trying to fix someone, but standing beside them to champion their needs is courageous. I want my kids to be courageous friends.

Written by Sandy Glanfield, 
former mental health practitioner, mother and Project Manager at Reboot the Future.