Are you worried about a young person and not sure what to say? Are you worried you’ll make things worse by saying the wrong thing? It might feel difficult but talking with someone can be an important first step to helping them.
Let the young person you're helping know you want to listen to them
Ask open ended questions
Let them know you believe their feelings are real
Don’t be offended if they don’t feel like talking - let them know you're there for them if they do want to talk
Offer to find professional help for them
Sometimes it’s hard to talk about thoughts and feelings, no matter what age we are. When we try to talk to rangatahi / young people about what’s going on in their lives, they might stop us straight away, yell at us, or even ignore us. They might struggle to talk about their feelings or make sense of their emotions.
Rangatahi / young people need to know they are loved, respected, and safe. Anything you can do to show this is valuable so it’s also worth trying to talk with them.
The best way to talk with a young person you’re worried about is to approach them with respect and an open mind. The last thing you want is for them to feel judged so make sure you focus on listening rather than sharing your views.
By asking to talk with them, you’re showing them you’re there to support and be there for them. Do it on their terms - let them choose the time and place to talk.
You need to create a safe space where they’re likely to feel comfortable sharing what’s on their mind. Let them know you’re worried and why.
If you’ve noticed changes in behaviour, appearance, or state of mind, bring them up but make sure you do it in a kind, non-judgemental way.
If it helps, have a think about how you’d feel if someone was raising the same things with you.
Find a comfortable way to bring it up and let them know that you’re genuinely concerned.
If you are unsure what to say, try reading about anxiety, suicide and depression as this will give you a better background of what they might be experiencing. Here are some tips that might be helpful for listening:
Be an active listener. Sit in a relaxed position, show your willingness to listen and put away any distractions like your phone.
Let them do the talking – give them time to find their words and organise their thoughts.
Ask open ended questions instead of yes / no questions. This will help get them talking.
Acknowledge their feelings are real and genuine. It can be hard to share feelings so you want to make sure you don’t downplay how they feel.
Be mindful of your reaction. You don’t want them to see a critical, judgmental, shaming or angry response, as they feel less safe to share with you.
Respect their privacy by finding out what info can be shared and what they want to keep private.
Reflect back what you hear, for example, “you sound pretty worried about your brother,” and get clarification when you need it.
Share some of your related experience. If you went through a similar experience when you were young, briefly share your memory but remember to connect it to the rangatahi / young person’s experiences to show your empathy and understanding.
Try not to take it personally if a young person doesn’t want to talk to you about what’s going on. If they are not ready to talk, you can make sure they know that you are there for them when they are.
Sometimes direct questions aren't the best way to get rangatahi / young people talking.
You might need to give them the time and space to come to you. It could happen out of the blue – they may mention something that’s on their mind. Be ready, it could be the start of a good chat.
A young person might want to talk to a professional or raise issues with you that need to be talked about with someone else. Don’t take it personally. Here’s how to get them the help they need:
Let them know that professional help is available.
Keep an eye on them. Pay attention. Are they getting worse? If so, let them know they might need professional support.
Suggest an appointment with their doctor, or another trusted person in their life like a teacher, coach, or mentor.
Research different local health services.
Search our community group listings to find professional support in your region