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Building the conversation
Stuart: Now we’re going to talk about building a conversation with a young person and what works for us.
Liv: When beginning a conversation with a young person, speak to us, not over us. And especially don’t speak to us as if we are not in the room. This can be an incredibly belittling experience and doesn’t set us up to work positively together.
Jo: The first step to building a relationship and ensuring that you are able to positively support the young person is to demonstrate you are trustworthy, non-judgemental and there to listen.
Stuart: Open up the conversation by asking questions about the young person – not necessarily about their mental health. For example, you could ask questions around their interests, hobbies or favourite subject in school. Talk to us about what we want to talk about.
Liv: It can also be helpful to share some similar information about you. This will help us trust you and feel more comfortable to open up to you and receive support from you.
Jo: It really helps me when people focus on things other than the crisis such as other activities that I enjoy or just different parts of me. This shift in focus can actually help to de-escalate the crisis.
Stuart: Some young people might want to jump straight in and talk about why they are in crisis, whereas some might want to take some time to warm up to you, and get to know a few things about you. Work with the individual in front of you to determine the best way forward. Allow the young person to guide the conversation.
Liv: Once you are both feeling more comfortable with each other, set the tone, expectation and goals for the meeting. Let them know what is definitely going to happen, and the steps that are going to be taken and what can be done. Be honest with them, and don’t make promises that you are unlikely to keep. Ask what they need out of the meeting, and what their goal is, and then work together to see how you can make that happen.
Jo: Be sure to explain what you can and can’t provide, so there is no confusion. We understand that you can’t do everything and we don’t expect you to be able to solve all of our problems. But we really appreciate you being honest about what you can and can’t do.
Stuart: Remember to offer reassurance that we have control over what is discussed and can lead the conversation, if we feel comfortable to do so.
Liv: Allow the young people time to vocalise how they’re feeling and what got them to this point. You could ask ‘what brought you here today’? If you’re online or over the phone, this is also a good jumping off point.
Jo: Understand as well that the young person might find it draining or even traumatizing to have to explain their entire history to you, especially if they then have to repeat this to multiple people. Sometimes it’s not even necessary to know their full history to find out what they need and how you can best support them.
Stuart: Focus on here and now, what brought them here and what can you do to support and comfort them in this moment.
Liv: Ask the young person what might be helpful for them, and how you can make that possible. They might know exactly what they need from you. And If they don’t, that’s okay. You can figure it out together. Many young people are very aware of their mental health needs and what they need to keep themselves safe.
Jo: Young people don’t want a scripted experience. They want to be treated and spoken to like a person, and not only assessed for their mental health, but to be regarded and viewed as a complete multifaceted human being.
Stuart: So bring your own personality and flare with you to the conversation. Using the personal skills you already have can help the young person feel more comfortable and at ease, and it feels more like a natural conversation.
Liv: We understand that there will be a lot of time pressures at your end, but try not to rush us. And be clear about any time constraints from the beginning. Don’t force engagement. Allow them to open up when they’re ready, and offer options around your time constraints.
Jo: Hopefully you’re feeling ready to begin the conversation with a young person in crisis. But, how do you continue to ensure this is a meaningful and beneficial conversation? Stick around to find out more!
Let us know that you are non-judgemental and will be here to listen, this will help set the tone for our meeting. Asking us a bit more about ourselves can help to build a rapport and shows that you see us as a person, not just a problem to be solved. Try asking us about our interests or hobbies, maybe you will be able to relate to some of them!
Asking us “What brought you here today” is a great starting point whether we are in the room, online or over the phone. Allowing us to lead the conversation if we feel comfortable can make us feel like we have more control over the situation. Much of the time we are aware of our needs and what helps us feel safe. Perhaps, asking what brought us here can be enough to help you support us.
Always be honest about what you can and can’t do, and avoid making promises you are unlikely to be able to keep. Unkept promises make it harder to progress to difficult topics in the conversation.
Lastly, using the personal skills or qualities you already have can help us feel comfortable and at ease, and can build a connection that will help us as the conversation progresses.
What are your strengths? How can you bring these into a conversation with a young person to help them feel more at ease?