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Lesson Plans

Lesson 1:
How Do You Know if a Young Person Needs Help?

It is important to note that anyone can experience troubling feelings or difficult times. The critical element in determining the need for professional help is how often someone feels troubled, how strong those feelings are, and how long they’ve been going on. (Professionals call this the frequency, intensity and duration of the symptoms.) If troubling symptoms appear over an extended period of time and make it hard for the young person to function effectively in daily activities, it is important to reach out to the young person and talk about getting help. (Remember: The actual diagnosis of a mental health condition and a treatment plan need to be done by a mental health professional.)

Youth practitioners and parents may be the first to notice troubling signs and  behaviors in a young person. Sharing this information with a mental health expert will secure access to an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. The following are just a few examples of warning signs that mental health services may be needed and that a professional should be consulted:

    • Sad and hopeless feelings that don’t seem to go away

    • Intense anger most of the time

    • Crying a lot or overreacting to things

    • Declining performance in school

    • Losing interest in things once enjoyed

    • Experiencing unexplained changes in sleeping or eating patterns.

    • Avoiding friends or family and wanting to be alone all the time.

    • Worrying about being harmed, hurting others, or doing something "bad"

    • Using alcohol or other drugs

    • Doing things that can be life threatening

How to Refer Young People to Professional Mental Health Services

If you or your supervisor think that a young person needs mental health services, it may be necessary to refer that person to a professional. In order to provide as much support as possible for the youth, it is important for the youth practitioner and parent to talk about the situation and work together to seek treatment. Please remember that in order for the child to receive professional mental health services, parental consent is always required.

Mental health centers typically have an “intake process,” which means that when a person calls for counseling, he or she will speak with a designated “intake” staff  person who will collect information to determine whether or not the agency can meet the person’s needs. Sometimes a face-to-face meeting is required to discuss the nature of the problem, and what treatment is needed and available. Finding the right service provider is important to the success of treatment and may take more than a single phone call. It might be necessary to call around to a few agencies before finding appropriate services.

Before making a referral, it might be useful to call a mental health provider to discuss the situation and determine if professional services are needed. If you and the  provider decide that a referral is necessary, it is best to have as much of the following information available as possible. (If you are missing any of this information, though, it is still important to call a mental health provider and discuss the situation.):

Communicating with Young People about Mental Health Concerns

Staff often play an important role in making youth feel  comfortable about receiving mental health services. Make time to listen to the youth, and give time for him/her to ask questions and express his/her feelings. Remind the youth that getting help does not mean they have done anything wrong, or that they are a bad person or are crazy. By providing information and discussing feelings about mental health needs and treatment, you may be able to reduce anxiety and help the young person feel comfortable about getting help.

A young person may want to know:

    • Why they are being referred for mental health services

    • Why an outside agency can provide more appropriate services

    • Details about the agency's mental health services or the outside agency to which they are being referred

    • Who they will be seeing at the mental health agency

    • Whether the sessions will be confidential

Make sure that in answering questions, you are open and honest and that you give the young person accurate information. Remember to reach out to the professional mental health provider and the parent to clarify any information about which you are unsure. (If the young person asks a question to which you don’t know the answer, tell them you don’t know, but that you’ll help them find the answer.)

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