Back to School: Talking about Mental Health with Children and Youth

September 5, 2019. Article by: Government of BC

Picking up supplies, getting back into the routine, looking forward to seeing friends again – a new school year is an exciting and busy time. But while back-to-school season comes with lots of positive energy, there is also the potential for stress and the uncertainty of starting something new. 

This makes it the perfect time for parents and caregivers to refresh their mental health knowledge, including thinking about how to talk to children and youth about their mental health.

How to talk about mental health with youth

It’s important for parents and caregivers to be open, supportive and non-judgemental when talking to a young person about mental health:

Do

  • Listen without judgement
  • Take their concerns seriously
  • Let them know you recognize their courage in talking about it
  • Ask how you can best help and support them

Don’t

  • Give superficial advice
  • Dismiss or disregard their feelings or emotions
  • Assume you know what they are going through
  • Panic or worry about having all the answers right away – you can learn together

For example, if a young person says, “I can’t deal with how I’m feeling. I’m so stressed and worried all the time.”

Do say: “I’m glad you feel you can talk to me about it. Maybe we can sit together and think about ways to overcome some of the things you’re worried about?”

Don’t say: “Just think positive. It’s not such a big deal.”

The first, supportive approach will help a young person feel more comfortable, be better able to navigate any challenges they could be facing and be more likely to turn to adults for guidance in the future.

Keep the conversation going

Making mental health an ongoing topic of conversation also helps young people gain greater understanding of what it is, and how to effectively manage their own well-being. This could be especially important at a busy time like going back to school. Discuss things like:

  • Mental health is an important part of everyone’s health. Just like physical health, everyone has mental health. It can be affected by stress, diet, exercise and environmental factors. It’s normal for mental health to change over time, so don’t ignore problems when they come up.
  • Everyone has bad days. It’s normal to feel sad, stressed or angry sometimes. Life throws us difficult situations and being able to cope with these setbacks is a sign of resiliency. What is important is that our feelings should reflect the situation we’re in, and that as things improve, so do our thoughts and emotions.
  • Speak up if you’re having problems. Encourage young people to reach out if they’re concerned. It’s better to cope with problems before they get bigger; keeping mental health challenges to ourselves can make them worse.
  • Be aware of stigma. Young people may be worried about being judged. Remember that everyone deserves respect, and that talking about mental health openly and with kindness helps everyone feel comfortable reaching out when they experience challenges.

There are lots of great resources to support young people’s mental health, including information for parents and caregivers and supports for children and youth.

Foundry offers health and wellness resources, services and supports for people ages 12-24

Conversation cards: How would you like adults to talk to you about mental health? (PDF)

Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre

Canadian Mental Health Association: Improving Mental Health

Difference between mental health and mental illness

erase: expect respect & a safe education