Caring for Diverse Populations

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.

L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ Individuals

Artwork from the Well Beings Mental Health Language Guide. Artwork by Kevin “Earleybird” Earley
Artwork by Kevin “Earleybird” Earley

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.
I had coffee with him yesterday.
The red car is his




She is walking the dog.
I had coffee with her yesterday.
The red car is hers.




They are walking the dog.
I had coffee with them yesterday.
The red car is theirs.


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. Ableist 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.


Refugee students and displaced youth face unique challenges that impact their mental health, however, most adults, teachers, and mental health professionals often receive little formal training on these topics and how to support them.

Refugee youth carry with them the circumstances that led them to leave their home country and obstacles that they may have encountered during their migration experience. Upon arrival to a new country, refugee youth can often experience immigration challenges, language barriers, isolation, culture shock, and family adjustments. When considering these hurdles, it’s important to consider the culture of their home country and how it may differ from your own.

It is important for those caring for these youth to use inclusive language that is also respectful of their identity, while making them feel welcome. Using non-judgmental and nurturing language helps to make these youth feel safer in their new environment, while addressing their social and emotional needs.

Social Needs

Emotional Needs

To help youth communicate and feel a sense of belonging, you can try:

1. Using welcoming language: “You belong here.” “You are safe here.” “You are valued here.” “I’d love to learn more about your culture.”

To help youth feel safe and assist in coping with separation, loss and/or trauma, you can try:


Most of us have experienced some kind of traumatic event in our lives, and it’s normal to not feel normal after going through a traumatic experience. For days or weeks, you may find yourself struggling with feelings of numbness, trouble sleeping, anxiety and depression as your mind replays what happened over and over again. If you’re struggling, you’re not alone.

These traumatic experiences can sometimes lead to post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. PTSD is a mental health condition that is diagnosed when the impact of trauma gets in the way of the things you normally do and enjoy for a month or longer. It can come shortly after a traumatic event or many months—or even years—later, when reminders of your past, referred to as triggers, come back into focus.

When a traumatic memory is triggered, youth may experience panic, anxiety, or shortness of breath. One way to manage those moments is to create a grounding and calm environment. You can support the young people in your life by taking their experiences seriously, listening, and suggesting coping skills they can practice. It’s also important to be able to refer youth who are struggling to effective mental health support. If they are open to it, help them seek out professional help. They can ask their primary-care physician for a referral or find a therapist who specializes in trauma.

When speaking to youth who are experiencing a PTSD trigger, it is important to use calming language that targets grounding exercises that can help them ride the wave and move forward. Avoid phrases like “calm down” and “you’re ok.” These phrases don’t provide any sort of guidance and can minimize what a person is feeling. Instead, remind them to take deep breaths and focus on their senses. These simple exercises can relax the brain and help root someone in the present moment so they can stop spiraling:



Help them practice grounding exercises.
“Try taking a deep breath.”
“Here are some breathing exercises that can help. Would you like me to do them with you?”
“Let’s try box breathing together.”Focus on your five senses. Name things you can touch, smell, taste, hear, and see. This helps someone realize they are safe where they are.

Dismiss mentions of panic or anxiety.“You’ll be ok!”
“Calm down!”
“Nothing’s wrong right now.”
“That happened a long time ago!”
“Get over it!”

Help the person step away as much as possible, to create
distance between themselves and the person, place or thing that caused the trigger.`Help them find their pocket of safety – a certain calm place or person or listening to music or enjoying a favorite TV show

Attempt to keep the person in any physical space that isn’t private or peaceful (e.g. at the family dinner table, in the middle of the classroom, etc.)

Be a safe listener while encouraging and offering continued
support.“How can I support you?”
“What do you need?”
“I’m always here to listen.”

Say that “everything is going to be alright.” No one can guarantee the future, and it takes time and, often, professional support to fully recover from trauma.

Finally, it’s important to always remind youth that struggling after trauma is not a sign of weakness, and that speaking up and asking for help is always a true sign of strength. For more detailed information on PTSD, click here.


Eating disorders are serious medical conditions that can become life-threatening, but they are treatable. Full recovery is possible with the right resources and support. Nearly one in 10 people of all genders, ages, races, and socioeconomic statuses will develop an eating disorder at some point in their lives, which can present themselves in many ways.

Eating disorders are often misunderstood, because of the diet culture we have all been brought up in, and it’s understandable if you are not sure how to open up a conversation with someone you are concerned about or feel hesitant to share your own challenges. But the sooner eating disorders are effectively treated the better the chance of full recovery. That means it’s important to speak up if you are struggling or if you are concerned about someone you love. Here are some ways to do it.

  • For adults who want to support teens and young adults, a really good starting place is getting curious about your own relationship to food and body image. You might ask yourself:
  • “Do I hold biases toward people in larger bodies?”
  • “What privileges and/or struggles do I have when it comes to my body image?”
  • “What is my relationship with food?”
  • “How do I talk about food and my body with others?”

Understanding where you are coming from will help you reduce the biases or assumptions you bring to your conversations with others. Here are some do’s and don’ts:



Express your concerns without judgment.Use ‘I” statements and calmly share specific examples of why you’re worried. “I’ve noticed you haven’t been eating lunch with your friends anymore.”
“I’m worried about how much you are exercising.”

Unload your fears and worries.
“You never eat!!”
“You look so sick and skinny!”
“I hope you don’t have an eating disorder!”

Provide support by encouraging them to get professional help.Eating disorders are serious but fully treatable and everyone deserves care and treatment. “You can recover from this.”
“I know getting help can feel really scary, but I’m here to support you.”

Make promises or demands/rules for recovery.“I won’t tell anyone.”“You just have to eat.”

Finally, it’s important to let youth know that while eating disorders are serious, they are also fully treatable health conditions, and they are worthy of—and deserve—care and treatment. Offer to connect them with resources and let them know they’re just one call, text, or chat away from people who know exactly what to do.

  • Contact the National Alliance for Eating Disorders helpline, which is run by licensed therapists who specialize in eating disorders.
  • Call 866-662-1235 or email to get referrals to all levels of care. The helpline is open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. EST Monday through Friday. If help is not immediately available, your call will be returned as soon as possible.
  • Text HEALING to 741-741 for a free, confidential conversation with a trained counselor any time of day.
  • Text or call 988 or use the chat function at

For more detailed information on eating disorders, click here.

  1. Supporting the Mental Health of Refugee Students ( ↩︎
  2. Mental-Health-Facts-for-Refugees.pdf ( ↩︎
  3. How to Cope with Emotional Trauma | JED ( ↩︎
  4. Understanding Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) | JED ( ↩︎
  5. What is Emotional Trauma | JED ( ↩︎
  6. How Are Trauma and PTSD Treated? I JED ( ↩︎
  7. Understanding Food and Body Image Struggles | JED (  ↩︎
  8. Understanding Eating Disorders | JED (  ↩︎
  9. Help Someone with an Eating Disorder or Body Image Issues | JED (  ↩︎
  10. Tips for a Healthy Body Image| JED ( ↩︎

Related Series & Films is a mental health resource, not a crisis or suicide response website. If you are in crisis, or experiencing thoughts of suicide, please call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988. The service is free and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.