Mental health is all about looking after your head.

Life can be tough at times, and we all go through ups and downs in our health, relationships, work or school. Good mental health means having the skills and support networks to deal with life’s challenges.

And just like physical health, mental health can range from a ‘best possible’ state, through to having a serious illness, but affecting thoughts, feelings or behaviour rather than our physical bodies. Most of us find ourselves somewhere in the middle of the range, just as we do for physical well being, but our state of health can change over time.

A mental health problem occurs when someone’s thoughts or feelings are troubling them, to the extent of affecting their day to day activities or relationships. They may not necessarily have a mental illness, but could need help to get them through a difficult time. A mental health problem that isn’t sorted out could lead to someone developing a mental illness.

A mental illness is a more serious or long-lasting problem, which can be diagnosed by a doctor or mental health professional. It may require medical treatment as well as support. There are many different types, just as there are different forms of physical ill health. Examples include schizophrenia and clinical depression.

We know that the presence of One Good Adult (OGA) in a young person’s life has a positive influence on their mental health. Be it a parent, teacher, football coach or school bus driver, we all have a role in supporting the young people around us.

Evidence from the My World Survey (Dooley & Fitzpatrick, 2012), highlights the positive influence that OGA can have in the lives of young people.

70% of young people growing up in Ireland today said they receive high or very high support from OGA. These young people in turn are more connected to others, more self-confident, future looking and better able to cope with difficulties than those young people who reported that they did not have the support of OGA.

Practical tips on being that one good adult

Being a good listener is key to being One Good Adult

  • Listening more than talking is a good starting point

It may sound obvious but being a good listener is a skill and takes effort; it doesn’t necessarily come naturally. If we don’t really listen to young people we cannot hope to build open, trusting relationships with them. It can be difficult to get a young person to start talking but once they do, remember to allow them to talk. Be mindful of interrupting, finishing their sentence or changing to a topic of our choosing.

  • Give young people time

Although this may seem obvious it’s critical to really give young people time and attention if we want them to experience us as good listeners.  If we don’t have time, make time or set aside a time in the near future with the young person to come back to the conversation.

  • Don’t jump to conclusions

It’s amazing how often we are all guilty of doing this.  Once we start jumping to conclusions we have stopped listening, as rather than hearing the story from the young person we are making up the ending in our own minds.  Jumping to conclusions is closely related to being judgemental; young people often feel judged by adults so don’t fall into this trap.  Keep an open mind and allow your ears to really hear what is being said not what you think is being said or will be said, based on your past experience.

Here are a few hints and reminders to help us in our role as one good adult



the importance of listening cannot be overestimated

Look for windows of opportunity

e.g. find a quiet moment, sometimes it easier to talk when already engaged in another activity

Ask direct questions

e.g. are you ok?

Comment on what you see

e.g. I notice you haven’t been yourself lately….. You seem really tired...

Be aware of body language

try to be relaxed and open; a gaping mouth, regular clock watching or looking uncomfortable won’t go unnoticed

Ask how you can be of help

young people will want support at different times in different ways, so don’t forget to ask them how we can help

Encourage help seeking

we can encourage young people to reach out and seek help through parents, teachers, Guidance Counsellors, GP, Jigsaw etc.



fear of being judged is one of the main reasons why young people don’t share worries/concerns with others


no matter what a young person tells us, we need to try not to overreact but to listen, stay calm and then decide how to respond

Don’t avoid/ignore the issue

if a young person comes to talk to us, we shouldn’t brush it off. Equally if we have some concerns about a young person’s mental health don’t ignore it and assume someone else will pick up on it

Dismiss their concerns

as adults, we can very easily forget what it’s like to be a teenager. From our perspective, a particular issues might not seem like a big deal but it’s the young person’s perspective that matters

Talk just about problems

explore the young person’s strengths too; what is going well, how are they coping, what else is going on in their life? Keep in mind that having a mental health difficulty is just one part of the person

Rush to solve the problem

the first step is to listen and try to understand what is going on for the young person. Helping or attempting to solve the problem comes next. Be guided by the young person

Tell them they’re wrong to feel a certain way

there are no ‘wrong’ feelings. Accept how the young person is feeling as that is their experience. Rushing to try to encourage them to ‘change’ how they feel prematurely can be unhelpful

Use clichés

e.g. ‘pull yourself together,’ ‘there’s always someone worse off than you,’ or ‘you’ll soon snap out of it.’

Signs a Young Person May be Struggling

When keeping an eye out for signs a young person may be struggling remember that what is typical for one young person is not the same as for another.  It’s important to have a sense of how the young person typically appears or acts most of the time and to pick up on any changes in their behaviour or demeanour.

If you have concerns about a young person’s mental health seek help from your GP or contact Mindspace.

  • Reduced attention span

You may notice a deterioration in a young persons capacity to pay attention. The key here is that their attention span is reduced compared to what it is typically.  Attention span can vary hugely from person to person so it depends on what’s typical for that young person.

  • Anxiety

Signs of anxiety or worry may indicate that a young person is struggling.  You may pick up on anxiety by what a young person says to you about feeling very worried, or they may come across as preoccupied about something, they may avoid performance situations (e.g. reading in class, team sports).

  • Reduction in academic performance

A change in a young person’s performance should always be questioned sensitively and followed up.

  • Behaviour problems

Any change or deterioration in a young person’s behaviour.

  • Excessive tiredness

Teenagers especially vary in their energy levels but if you notice a young person who seems lethargic, lacking in energy and tired compared to how they are normally this may be a sign that they are struggling.

  • Irritability

This may be a tricky one to spot as many teenagers will go through periods of irritability but what we are talking about here is someone who appears irritable over a long period of time or someone who displays signs of irritability when they wouldn’t typically do so.  Sometimes, low mood or depression in young people, especially young males, can manifest itself not so much as sadness but as irritability or restlessness.

  • Sadness

Signs that a young person is sad, upset or tearful. This may be apparent from their demeanour, what they say, in their written work, or interests (e.g. type of music, artwork).

  • Loss of interest or pleasure

This refers to a young person who loses interest or no longer derives pleasure from something they normally enjoy. This can be a sign of low mood or depression.  For example, a young person who normally loves to play with the local football team but stops going to practice and says they no longer enjoy playing.

  • Sudden changes in behaviour mood or appearance

Any sudden changes in their behaviour, their mood (from sadness and anxiety to anger and frustration), or their appearance.

  • Withdrawal

This refers to a young person who withdraws socially from others and isolates themselves.  They may be much quieter amongst their friends than normal, or they may remove themselves altogether and spend time alone.