Helpful language tools and guidance for discussing mental health concerns with youth.
Part of the Well Beings Mental Health Language Guide.
The purpose of this guide is to address stigma around mental illness and equip users with person-first language tools for discussing mental health concerns with youth. To operationalize the term, we define youth as ages 14-22 years old. In creating this guide, we hope to empower all individuals, regardless of their experience, to have meaningful conversations with young people about their mental health and lived experiences. Through these conversations, we may save lives.
Youth belonging to the collective lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, and asexual/allies (LGBTQIA+) communities often face discrimination and abuse that greatly impacts their mental health. It is important for those caring for these youth to use inclusive language that is also respectful of their identity. Using proper pronouns and non-judgmental language helps to make these youth feel safer in sharing their experiences.
To show care and compassion for these youths, it is important to avoid language that assumes that everyone is heterosexual and/or cisgender. Cisgender describes people whose gender identity coincide with their given sex at birth. When discussing gender identity, it is important to avoid misgendering and deadnaming. To be misgendered is to be referred to with a pronoun that does not encapsulate how that person identifies. When talking to community members who are transgender, deadnaming is calling the person by the name they were given before transition (i.e. birth name) and not acknowledging them in their current identity. If you are ever unsure, it is alright to ask for the individual’s preferred pronouns. Establishing how that person prefers to be referred to is a strong step in making them feel comfortable and respected.
Some examples of gender pronouns include:
He is walking the dog.
She is walking the dog.
They are walking the dog.
The term BIPOC refers to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Youth belonging to this population experience microaggressions, discrimination, racism, prejudice, and more that impact their mental health. In addition to these, young people may experience additional traumas when seeing negative treatment of people in their communities (i.e., reports of race-related attacks, mass murder in religious buildings, etc.). Adults may intervene by creating dialogue around these topics and involving young people not of the community to learn how to be an ally. Teaching tolerance and respect for people from diverse backgrounds can lower rates of anxiety, bullying, suicidal ideations, and more. To effectively tackle these issues, adults must first acknowledge their own biases and preconceived notions about these populations. To help with this, adults can approach engaging in sensitive conversations by asking any of these questions:
“Have you ever experienced racism?”
“Have you ever felt targeted or discriminated against because of your race?”
“Have you seen someone else experience racism?”
“How does racism impact you physically and mentally?”
People with Disabilities
Those with disabilities, whether physical, mental, easily perceptible, or not, deserve to be treated with the same respect and care as those without. In youth, particularly in a school setting, disabilities can exacerbate mental health concerns. Creating an environment of inclusion, where a person’s disability is respected, yet not singled out is important. Asking open-ended questions, without assumptions, can help to create an honest dialogue. Please see the Do’s and Don’ts of Mental Health Conversation below for guidance.
When speaking to youth with disabilities about their mental health, it is important to remove all ableist language. Ablelist language refers to words, phrases, and sentiments that are exclusionary to people with disabilities. Avoid phrases like “suffering from, “afflicted by,” “victim of,” etc. These phrases cast negative assumptions onto the person with the disability. For guidance on how to refer to a person’s disability, please review the chart on the Person-First Recovery Model here.