Updated: Sep 12
In mid 2022, R U OK? commissioned research agency YouthInsight to conduct research on the mental health of Australians aged 12-25 years. This research found that 81% of young people don't discuss their struggles because they don't want to appear weak or vulnerable. 70% of young people said they are worried about how they'll be viewed by their friends, and 60% are unlikely to talk to their family because they feel a lack of understanding about mental health and the issues that affect them.
54% of high-school-aged students reported procrastination and lack of motivation to be their top cause of stress, followed closely by exams and the pressure to get good grades. Comparisons to other people and having a lack of time to complete a high workload were also among the top stressors for this age group. After leaving school, young people report feeling more uncertain about the future, and finances become an issue.
Across all life stages and demographics, friends are the leading source for information and support, with 63% of young people reporting they have turned to a friend when struggling.
This is why it is SO important to talk about mental health with teens and young adults. These open, honest and connecting conversations help to break the stigma, build resilience, prevent issues, encourage support, and promote well-being. Talking openly about mental health also lets your children know they can turn to you when they are struggling, and it helps to keep them prepared and informed on what to do if a friend or peer turns to them for support.
Noticing the signs
It won’t always be obvious when someone’s not okay, but there are changes you can look out for that might signal they need some extra support. Here are a few things to look out for in your teen or young adult children:
What are they saying?
Are they voicing concerns or uncertainty about school or the future?
Are they lacking self-esteem and confidence?
Are they expressing feelings of sadness, loneliness, or stress?
Are they voicing concerns about their friends, relationship, or another family member?
What are they doing?
Are their significant or long-lasting changes in their behaviour or mood?
Are they experiencing mood swings?
Do they seem constantly down, worried, or stressed?
Are you noticing a loss of focus, lack of motivation, or inability to switch off?
Do they seem dismissive or defensive?
Are they becoming withdrawn?
Are they losing interest in the things they used to enjoy?
Are their drastic changes in their appearance, sleep patterns, or personal hygiene?
What's going on in their world?
Have they experienced anything traumatic?
Is there a change in their home, living, school, or work circumstances?
Are they feeling pressured due to expectations or workload?
Is there significant or constant stress?
Is there conflict at school, work, or home?
Are they experiencing relationship issues?
Are there any major health issues (personally or with a close connection)?
Is there financial difficulty?
Have they lost someone they care about?
If you’ve noticed a change, no matter how small, trust your gut instinct and ask, "Are you okay?"
How to have the conversation
1. Ask "Are you okay?"
Before checking in with your teen, are you in a good headspace? Can you give them as much time as they need? Have you chosen somewhere relatively private where you’ll both be comfortable? Ask them if they are free to have a chat. Tell them the changes you’ve noticed in their behaviour as a way to help them open up to you.
"I've noticed you don't seem as interested in school as you used to. Is everything okay?"
"’I'm worried as you haven’t been as chatty lately. Would you like to talk about what’s going on?"
"You seem a little down lately. Can we chat for a moment? I'd love to hear how you're feeling."
2. Listen with an open mind.
Active listening means giving your full attention, resist the urge to ‘fix’ the problem or offer solutions - just listen without judgment. Reflect back what they’ve told you, this helps them feel heard. Let them know you’re asking because you care and are worried about them. If they become angry or upset, stay calm and don’t take it personally. You might need to ask more than once before they feel comfortable sharing.
"Thank you for telling me. It sounds like you're upset because..."
"I'm sorry you're struggling. That sounds really hard. Have you been feeling like this for a while?"
"We don't have to talk if you're not ready. I will check in with you again another day. I care about you and am here to listen whenever you want to talk."
3. Encourage action.
If they are not okay, it's important to encourage appropriate action to ensure they get the help they need. Ask them what they would like to do and come up with a plan together. Sometimes going over the options can help you determine the most appropriate support for them. Help is always available, and as a parent or caregiver, there are also support numbers that you can call for advice on what to do next if you're unsure. Take action together to access support. This might be a call to a support service, making an appointment with a doctor, or organising other professional support, like a school counsellor or therapist.
"Want to look into some help options together? Maybe we can start by speaking to the doctor."
"Sometimes it can help to speak to a counsellor. They can listen and give you some tools that can help. Can I do some research and book an appointment for you?"
"Would you like me to come along and chat to them with you?"
4. Check in.
It's important to check in with your teen to see how they're doing and if they need any additional support. If they have been hesitant to speak to a professional, keep encouraging them and remind them that you're always there for a chat or to help. Sometimes it can take a while for them to accept they might need extra help, so it’s important to be patient and continue to be a supportive person.
"I’ve been thinking about you and am wondering how you’ve been since we spoke the other day?"
"I just wanted to check in and remind you how much I love and care about you. How have you been feeling?"
Support is available from the following organisations: (remember you can always call these free services for support and advice on what to do next). More resources: ruok.org.au/findhelp Lifeline (24/7 ) 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service (24/7) 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue (24/7) 1300 224 636
Kids Helpline (24/7, for youth 5-25) 1800 55 1800
MensLine (24/7) 1300 78 99 78
For more tips on how to talk to your loved ones about mental health, visit https://www.ruok.org.au/how-to-ask