youth mental health first aid australia

Supporting Adolescents: Youth Mental Health First Aid Australia Assistance

January 27, 2024

Growing up is difficult, especially for young people. Our previously-held assumptions are tested as our brains develop towards maturity. We begin experimenting with new social groups, world views, and self-expression. The space between adulthood and childhood is a ‘passing of the torch’ as the child’s personality changes and behavioural patterns become set. 

Just as a physical wound heals slower with age, so too do psychological trauma or mental health issues. That’s because the mental ‘elasticity’ of youth loses its resistance as we age. By the end of adolescence, we’ve learned most of the emotional skill sets, for good or bad, that we’ll use throughout our lives. This isn’t to say we can no longer change our behavioural patterns — it’s just much harder to do so after a certain stage of development. 


What is adolescence? 

Adolescence is the period of time normally assigned to puberty — typically beginning at 9-12 through to 18. These changes are only partially physical. Although the brain continues to develop up to twenty-five, much of our mental processing ‘switches’ in this period as we develop from children to adults. This includes the development of the logical centres of the brain, which control abstract thinking and problem-solving. Whilst the prefrontal cortex is forming the amygdala, the emotional centre, takes over this function, which can make for a confusing, emotionally charged development.


Why focus on mental health for young people?

Many problems in later lives develop during this transition, as we come to be influenced more by our peers and relationships with others. Our relationships with our family or friends may also change at this stage as adolescents begin to question authority figures or previously assumed relationships. At this stage, young people in abusive households begin to understand their circumstances more critically, making for a difficult transition and often a separation period as they distance themselves from negative relationships. 

Helping adolescents understand and come to terms with this development calls for a particular understanding of the young, developing mind. Young people are just as complex but may not be as well informed or able to recognise the thoughts and feelings they’re having. Many of these are new and will take time to learn how to learn how to deal with emotionally.


It’s critical, at this stage, that they learn how to do this correctly. Think of it like laying down tracks for a train, with the train being emotional reasoning. Once the tracks have been laid, it’s very difficult to change the direction of the train, especially when it’s moving at speed. With time and practice, change is possible, although it’s much easier to shape the final destination early on when the track is being built. 

Like this metaphorical track, the brain’s neural pathway is being ‘laid out’ at this critical juncture, learning how to respond emotionally to the surrounding world. Our thoughts about what we eat and how we look, for example, may be set at this time based on the stimulus and support (or lack of support) we receive. 


Creating a Mental Health First Aid action plan.

Youth Mental Health First Aid is about learning how to communicate and help young people. You can find out more by reading our other blog here, although some of it will be the same. 

Within Youth Mental Health First Aid, participants learn how to recognise and approach those experiencing a mental illness. The most common support system used is ALGEE;

  • APPROACH the young person and address any concerns. Learning how to approach someone and when, as well as finding the confidence to do it, is all part of the skills covered in the course. The key is finding a time and space which is comfortable for the person in question, ensuring they feel safe and able to confide in you confidentially. 
  • LISTEN and communicate without judgment. Don’t leap in with any critical analysis of their situation. Allow them to express their needs and talk through their problems. Remember that while what they’re going through may seem obvious to you, it’s only so from your adult perspective. Adolescents need to feel heard and responded to authentically. 
  • GIVE support and information. Once the young person feels like they’ve been heard, they’re more likely to hear you out. Offer emotional support and emphasis to them. Remember that this process is a bit of a journey, particularly if they’ve been reluctant to speak previously. They may go through stages of anger, distress, grief, or fear, running through the emotions before they can listen to you properly.
  • ENCOURAGE the young person to get help. The role of a Mental Health First Aider is not to treat someone in distress but to get them to a stage where they can get the support they need. They may not know all the options available to them, so it’s important to make this information available. 
  • ENCOURAGE other supports. Talk through other support the person may have in their lives, whether a family or friend who could offer support. 


Other things to know.

Understanding your role as a Mental Health First Aider can be difficult. However, your role does not take place over your previous one. If you’re a parent helping your own child, your parental role is still your main one. If you have professional responsibilities, they still take place. 

You may also wonder, especially if you’re not the parent, what your responsibility is in terms of what to do next. Should you contact the parents or health care authorities? Your answer will depend on the nature of the child’s problem and if supportive parental figures are present in their lives. If possible, parents should be involved, and in most cases, there will be at least one parental figure who is responsible and caring. Encouraging the adolescent to break through objections (‘they’ll be angry’ or ‘they won’t understand’) is important. If the issue is directly involved with the parents, other authorities may need to be involved.

Additional professional support should be sought as well. Encourage the adolescent to talk to seek professional help. If the emergency is of a medical nature or involves suicide or self-harm, contact support immediately. 



The decision to reach out for help should come from the child themselves, to respect their confidentiality and rights as an individual. It’s your job, as a Mental Health First Aider, to get them to approach others. Exceptions may be made if the person in question is at risk of harm or if they don’t have the capacity or maturity to make the decision themselves.


Talking to young people.

Here are some further tips for relating to adolescents:

  • Be genuine. Young people can tell if you’re faking it, so try to approach them as you would any other adult. 
  • Avoid slang. If slang isn’t natural for you, it’ll tell in your conversation.
  • Allow pauses. Don’t feel the need to fill the space with talk. Young people may have trouble formulating their ideas, so it’s important to allow them the space to communicate.
  • Try different settings. Particular settings may help with the activity of speaking to others. An activity that engages and takes away the focus from the situation, such as a game of catch, may help talk flow.
  • Don’t compare your life. Times change, and an adolescent’s experience may be very different from what you went through as a young person.
  • Don’t ask for an explanation. Young people often act without thinking through actions or having logical reasoning. If asked ‘why’, they may become defensive.
  • Control your body language. Try to match their body language and appear relaxed instead of authoritative or disapproving. 
  • Positive feedback. Try to make the action of communication positive by commenting on it. You may say it shows a sign of maturity.
  • Help them out. If the young person is having trouble vocalising their situation, help them find the language they need without patronising them. This can be a fine line to tread, but by considering all of the above, you should do alright.


Becoming a Mental Health First Aider.

Currently, we have a course being offered on the 1st of March at the PCYC building in Emerald, Australia. This is a two-day course, with part of the course offered online. Registration is still open, although if you’re interested, we suggest signing up now to complete the online component before the 1st of March and receive your full certification. 

For more details or to book your Youth Mental First Aid course, you can register here. Search for bookings on the 1st March in Emerald to enroll, or to find other courses near you.


Sites sourced:

  • Abrams, Zara. “What neuroscience tells us about the teenage brain” in American Psychological Association Vol. 53, No. 5. Date Published: 1st July 2022. 
  • “Alain de Botton on A THERAPEUTIC JOURNEY” on The School of Life YouTube Channel. Date Posted: 16th January 2024. Site Link:
  • “Brain development in pre-teens and teenagers” on raisingchildren-net-au. Date Accessed: 16th January 2024. Site Link:  
  • “Child development: the first five years” on healthykids.  Date Accessed: 16th January 2024. Site Link:
  • Kelly, Claire, Kitchener, Betty, Jorm Anthony. Youth Mental Health First Aid Manual: 4th ed. Date Published: 2017. 
  • “Parenting Teens – The Teenage Brain” on KidsHealth. Date Accessed: 16th January 2024. Site Link:
  • “The Growing Child: Adolescent 13 to 18 Years” on John Hopkins Medicine. Date Accessed: 16th January 2024. Site Link:
  • “What Is Early Childhood Development? A Guide to the Science (ECD 1.0)” on Centre on the Developing Child: Harvard University. Date Accessed: 16th January 2024. Site Link:
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