Seeking Help for Youth
Depending on your helping role with a child or teen, you may notice changes in their emotions or behaviour quite quickly, or it may take more time for concerns to be noted. Some helpers have regular contact (such as teachers and counsellors), while others (including social workers and primary health care providers such as doctors and nurses) may see youth periodically at appointments and reviews.
Regardless of the level of contact you may have with a child or teen, if you are made aware of changes in emotion and/or behaviour, or you notice these changes yourself, you will want to know what next steps to take.
Talking to the child or teen is usually the first step to assessing the concern, here are some helpful ways to get started:
- Arrange for discussions to take place in a private space that is comfortable for the child or teen as well as yourself.
- Approach calmly and openly.
- Choose a time without competing priorities such as recess time or time to go home.
- Talk honestly about your concern – perhaps it’s a change in mood or behaviour, or a change in friends and interests – and try to express your concern in a non-blaming manner.
- Reassure the child or teen you are there for them and will support them if there is a decision to seek further help, such as talking to their family or other helpers.
- Ask them what they need from you, giving them some examples of how you can help if they aren’t sure – do they need someone to talk to, someone to check in with periodically, someone to help find ways to cope?
- Don’t be afraid to ask direct questions.
If you are concerned about suicide, you can ask if they have had thoughts of hurting themselves. You should also advise the child or teen that you will need to act to keep them safe should they tell you they have experienced suicidal thinking or behaviour. This may involve talking to their family or guardian or even accessing help for them.
Seek help right away if the youth you are working with is experiencing the following: • Having suicidal thoughts or behaviours, or thoughts of harming others;
- Having trouble with alcohol or drug use, or having other mental health concerns;
- Thinking the symptoms could be linked to a physical health problem;
- Reporting significant trouble with sleep, appetite or changes in mood; or
- Measures to assist the problems have not helped.
Ensure that the child or teen is not left alone during the process of seeking help.
Depending on your role as a helper, you may have access to a mental health resource such as a community mental health worker, school guidance counsellor, school psychologist, nurse or other health practitioner. If you have concerns about a child or teen you are working with, you may consult these professionals for help, within confidentiality policies and PHIA guidelines. If you do not have access to this type of resource, you may need to contact a referral centre by telephone.
Manitoba also has Child and Adolescent Mental Health services available through the Regional Health Authorities (RHAs) across the province. You can obtain more information by going to the website of your RHA and following the links to mental health services.
Early Help is Important
Experts agree that the earlier problems are identified, the earlier treatment can begin, which leads to a more complete recovery. This is true of most illnesses like diabetes, but also true for mental health problems and concerns. Early help means the symptoms may not become as severe and there is less disruption to home, school, work or in the community.
There are many ways to help – medication may be an option, and counselling is often recommended. Counselling can help with many factors – finding ways to cope with stress, finding strengths and finding helpful activities such as exercise, meditation, and relaxation techniques.
Communicating your concern to the youth’s parent or legal guardian is the next step in accessing further assessment and/or help. Prior to contacting them, you will need to gather the reasons for your concern – these may include changes in behaviour or emotions. If you remain concerned even after having had a discussion with the child or teen, you may wish to communicate this as well. Points to keep in mind:
- Check your confidentiality policy prior to disclosing the content of your discussions.
- In general, it is always okay to share concerns about health and safety, but information not related to this may be kept private.
- While there may be exceptions to the benefits of including family in the information-sharing process, the majority of family involvement is beneficial. This should always be the starting point for helpers and educators dealing with youth and their parents.
- Families are valued and respected members of the care team.
- Families can provide a rich source of information and context about their children and teens and their history.
- Working relationships are based on mutual trust and respect.
For places to find local help, visit Finding Local Resources.