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Jo: Hi, my name’s Jo, and my pronouns are she/her or they/them.
Stuart: And I’m Stuart, and my pronouns are he/his.
Liv: And my name’s Liv, and my pronouns are she/her.
Jo: We’re Young Advisors for Healthy Teen Minds and together we have worked to build these guides for you.
Stuart: We are going to be covering ‘How to start the conversation’.
Liv: We will be going over some practical ways to help us feel safe with you, building a positive relationship with us, and help us feel comfortable with you.
Jo: To start off, we are going to go through the steps of meeting a new young person, and what you can do to help us feel safe and comfortable whilst with you.
Stuart: Many young people reported feeling nervous, uncomfortable, or even scared, when they first meet the person who’s supporting them. We talk about some of the reasons behind this in other guides on our website, so please check them out.
Liv: It can be hard to open up to a stranger, especially when it’s about something you’re really struggling with.
Jo: There are a few things that you can do to help the young person you’re caring for feel more comfortable and open up, leading to a more positive interaction with you.
Stuart: Introduce yourself and say your pronouns. A pronoun is how we refer to a person in the third person, for example, some common ones are she/her/hers, he/him/his, they/them/theirs.
Liv: Once you’ve done this, ask them to introduce themselves and see if they have a name that they prefer to use, or, if they’re comfortable, want to share their pronouns. If they’re comfortable to share this information, thank them for sharing, and be sure to honour and respect their pronouns and name. If you’re going to make the effort to be inclusive and respectful, be sure to follow through using the correct pronouns and name, throughout this interaction and moving on forward.
Jo: This would also be a good time to ask whether alternative methods of communication would be helpful. Sometimes communication barriers can cause difficulties, but you can work together to find a way that’s accessible for both of you.
Stuart: When you first meet a young person, body language and tone of voice are incredibly important to make them feel comfortable. Making eye contact, smiling, and focusing on the young person will help them to feel safe.
Jo: Being calm, relaxed and not visibly in a rush can also help. During a crisis, we may have a lot going on inside, and feel completely overwhelmed or anxious about this meeting. Being a calm presence can go a long way.
Stuart: It can also be off-putting if you’re hunched over or buried in your notes. It makes us feel like you’re not paying attention, or even acknowledging that we are there. If you need to take, or consult notes, tell the young person what you’re doing. This will help build their trust and give them more confidence in you.
Liv: Pay attention to a young person’s body language; do they seem ready to talk? Maybe give them some time before jumping in to a conversation with them if they seem closed off or not willing to interact.
Jo: These tips can also be applied to phone and online services. Where body language is no longer a factor, tone of voice and other communication methods, such as wording, use of simple language and emojis, become even more important. Keep your tone welcoming and relaxed. Or, if online, use emojis, or tone descriptors, to ensure that you aren’t misunderstood.
Stuart: We know you want to help, and that’s why you’re here, trying to learn more and gain insight about our experiences. We hope that, by sharing what works for us, we can highlight some key things for you to keep in mind when building positive and meaningful interactions with young people.
The tips and experiences in these films were taken directly from our interactions with services when we are in crisis.
Many young people report feeling nervous, uncomfortable or even scared when they first meet the person who will be supporting them. It can be hard to open up to a stranger, especially when it’s about something you’re really struggling with. We highlighted some practical ways that you can help us feel safe with you, build a positive relationship, and how to help us comfortably open up to you.
We know that you sometimes need to make or consult notes. If this is the case, tell the us what you are doing, and check that we understand and feel comfortable with what you have written. This shows that you are paying attention and what we are saying is important.
These tips can also be applied to phone or online services. When body language is no longer a factor, tone of voice and other communication methods become even more important. Remember to keep your voice relaxed and welcoming, or if online, use emojis or tone descriptors to ensure you aren’t misunderstood.
Supporting us by phone?
We’ve outlined some of the pro’s and cons of supporting us over the phone, and how you can address the parts that are most difficult.
- You can keep anonymity, which you can’t in-person
- You can call whenever and from wherever, including late at night – this can be safer than going alone to a hospital
- It can be a good form of support in between main areas of support that you might have (friends/family, or treatments)
- Parents don’t have to get involved – you can call without needing parents/carers or them knowing, which can feel more comfortable
- It doesn’t matter how you look – sometimes in crisis you don’t want to show yourself or the state that you’re in physically
- Covid has changed the way we think and behave – a phone call can be a way good way of staying connected and getting help you need in a crisis when you have limited resources due to restrictions
- It can feel impersonal – there’s no emotional connection to someone on the line who you don’t know
- Having to tell your story all over again can be tiring
- The idea of being disconnected or your phone running out of battery/credit can be stressful and distracting
- Can feel worried about the call going on records and bills
- It can be difficult having people at home or in public places overhearing, especially if they aren’t supportive or don’t know about your difficulties
- Using phone minutes/data/credit can be an additional worry
Addressing the Cons
- Try and be aware of the surroundings of the young person you’re talking to – maybe even start by asking, “Is there anyone around you that’s making you feel self-conscious about talking?”
- Use genuine affirmative sounds occasionally to show you’re listening
- Offer alternatives for people struggling with calls – “If you’re too anxious to carry on talking, here are some text services or web chats that you could use instead.”
- Being on the phone can be quite impersonal, so the ability to chat and joke can be even more important in keeping us on the line. Another option is to have somewhere people can see a picture of the person they are talking to with a random fact about them, e.g. on the website
- Reassure from the start what could or will happen if they get disconnected. Can they call up again and speak to the same person? Will the service call back?
- Some of us prefer texting but then struggle with waiting for replies – let us know if that’s an option and, if so, how long we might expect to have to wait for a reply
- Finally, acknowledge and validate our experiences
This was taken from our report “Supporting us in crisis, 2020”
Where do you feel least comfortable in offering support (online, in person or over the phone)? How can the insights provided here help you in your practice?