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Healthy Minds, Healthy Kids

May is Mental Health Month. Today, Leah Colburn, Suicide Prevention Coordinator at Intermountain Primary Children's Hospital, shares how you can provide support to a person who has mental health needs. 

What if a child came to you with a pain in their arm? If there is no obvious bruise, cut or bump, you’d ask what happened. You’d listen to their story, give them ice and a hug. You’d sit with them until the tears slowed—but what if it still hurts when they play? Even though you couldn’t see the injury, you’d still know they are hurting and it’s impacting their day, so you would make the choice to take them to the doctor.

When someone is coughing, looks pale, or thinks they may be getting the flu, we accept it and encourage them to rest, take time off work or school, and go to the doctor if it gets worse. We take care of them. We know what to do when our children, family and friends become ill or injured. What if we offered the same support for a person whose brain may not be feeling well?

Emotional and mental wellness are health areas we typically do not feel comfortable talking about. We allow our worries, fears and lack of knowledge to lead our choices—we often say or do nothing. Just as you care for a person who is hurt or sick, you can help support a person who is experiencing emotional pain or has mental health needs.

When a loved one is having a hard time emotionally, you often see changes in their mood, behaviors, and how they interact with others. But even when you see these changes, you often aren’t sure if it’s your role to say anything. It is! It’s important when you notice something different about a person you care about to start a conversation and check in with them. Don’t wait—you may be the only person to ask. Below are some steps to help have this conversation.

Open the Door

  • Keep it casual
  • Make plenty of time to talk
  • Your words don’t have to be perfect
  • Be empathic and caring. Pro tip: cars are a great place to start conversations with kids
  • Starter hints: “I’ve noticed you have been down lately. What’s going on?” or ”I know you’re going through a lot. I’m here for you.” The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has more great hints on starting conversations.

Listen Up

  • Let them take the lead and open up at their own speed
  • Avoid offering advice or trying to fix their problems
  • Let them know it is OK to feel the way they do
  • Be present in the moment and limit your distractions, like cell phones
  • Sit near the person, if appropriate. This helps a person feel supported through nonverbal body language.

Provide Help

  • Keep it judgement free
  • Let them know this won’t change how you feel about them
  • Encourage them talk to their doctor or a mental health therapist/counselor
  • Know there are many resources to support people and families such as NAMI
  • Check back in with the person. Ask how they are doing and if he or she found help. Let them know you continue to be there for them.

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