What every young person needs: One Good Adult

The simple act of listening can mean a whole lot to a young person

If you sense that a young person around you is feeling low, do your best to be there for them. Photograph: Getty Images

If you sense that a young person around you is feeling low, do your best to be there for them. Photograph: Getty Images


We’ve all been there: feeling low and needing someone to talk to. But at times it can be difficult to find somebody you feel comfortable opening up to: after all, you’re revealing a bare and vulnerable part of yourself to someone else. Knowing someone who is going through a tough time emotionally can be challenging. When someone close to you feels as though they have nobody, it can be scary to be the one to step in and try to relieve them of their stress and pain. But being someone’s One Good Adult is one of the most rewarding and noblest things you can do for a young person in need.

Vital relationship

“What is One Good Adult?” It’s that person you can talk to when there’s something on your mind; someone you can rely on, and trust to help you out in times of difficulty. The presence of One Good Adult has been found to be a key indicator of how well a young person copes with their struggles. Although it’s important for young people to have One Good Adult, it is equally important to be that One Good Adult.

It sounds more complex than it really is. First of all, you need to sit down and simply have a chat with the young person: build a relationship. Don’t start with the obvious questions. You need to ease into the conversation, and create a level of comfort.

Don’t expect the young person to do all the talking: they need to know you have a vulnerable side too. It can be very condescending to talk down to someone, and smother them in pity and sympathy. What we need is a relationship that feels as though both sides are bringing something to the conversation.

Body language

Body language is a big factor in getting someone to open up, and it is important to be relaxed and casual. It shouldn’t feel clinical or interventional. It’s simply two people connecting, in a relaxing environment. The phrases “cheer up” and “snap out of it” should be avoided at all costs: you are not there to make anyone feel as though their problems aren’t important. It may be difficult to listen to some of what you hear, and the problem may be worse than you anticipated, but you are their support system, and you have to believe that even the simple act of listening can mean a whole lot more to the young person than you will ever know. You also have to let them know you have faith in them, and that they can overcome whatever is holding them back. Professional help or even medication may be needed, but they have taken the first step towards recovery by simply having a conversation with their One Good Adult.

The first time I talked to my One Good Adult was the most refreshing experience I ever had. I felt so relaxed in their company, and after both of us talking about general topics – college, friends, and interests – I then felt it was okay to dig a little deeper into things that were bothering me.

No miracle cure

The thing about depression, anxiety or any other difficulty is that it doesn’t disappear after one conversation. Depression is not always circumstantial; there doesn’t have to be a tragic reason behind someone’s suffering.

As Stephen Fry once explained delicately, “Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.”

This can be frustrating for anyone to deal with when trying to help a young person in need. You may feel as though the help you are giving them should result in a miracle, but that is not always the case.

One Good Adult is a vital part of any young person’s team on their road to recovery from a mental health difficulty. If you sense that a young person around you is feeling low, do your best to be there for them. It’s a small favour that goes a long way in someone’s life. Trust me, you can make a difference. Today is International Youth Mental Health Day

Amelia Marley is a youth adviser with Headstrong and Jigsaw Donegal. Headstrong is the National Centre for Youth Mental Health, a charitable organisation supporting young people’s mental health.See headstrong.ie; (01) 4727 010

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