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Talking with your daughter about mental health and wellbeing


11 September 2020

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Penrhos College

We are all conscious that as our girls enter adolescence and young adulthood, we need to be subtly vigilant as to how they are travelling with regards to mental health. Around 1 in 4 young people have experienced a mental illness by the time they are 25* and it may be that your daughter experiences a period of mental health difficulties during her young adult years. She may have a peer or close friend who experiences something similar.

It can be difficult at this age, to work out the difference between what might be normal ups and downs and what might be warning signs for something a little bit more serious.  So being able to talk freely with your daughter about her mental health is going to be important.

Normalise conversations about mental health and wellbeing

In order to tease out the difference between bad days and something more serious, it is important to normalise talking with your daughter about mental health and wellbeing early… and when things are going well.  It is likely she will have been exposed to discussions about anxiety, depression, self-harm, possibly even suicide – particularly if she is on social media. So it’s important to be curious and to show interest in what she already knows – what she has seen online, what her experience and her friends’ experiences might be.

Look for opportunities to discuss mental health and wellbeing

Planning sentence starters can be helpful! For example:

  • what do you think about…’
  • ‘what do think is going on for this person…’
  •  ‘can you help me to understand what you know about…’

Let her know that she can come to you with anything… any time

If your daughter has had the experience of being able to come to you with difficult things before, and you have responded in a kind, soothing and connected way, she is more likely to feel comfortable talking with you about her mental health.

Initiating a conversation with your daughter about her mental health


  • I am noticing…
  • Do you want to talk?
  • Let me know when you feel comfortable…
  • Do you notice anything like this?

Acknowledge and empathise

  • I am wondering if you are feeling…
  • I would feel really sad, stressed, anxious…
  • How frustrating, exhausting, infuriating…

(physical touch can speak a thousand words here)

Be calm, be curious, be with, talk with

  • I am so glad you have let me know…
  • I love you…
  • Tell me more about…
  • Can you help me understand what it is like for you?

If in doubt, repeat what they say. Reflect rather than react. Be conscious of not jumping straight into problem solving.

Problem solve and plan

  • What do you need?
  • What would be helpful?
  • What would you like to do next?
  • How can I help?
  • Who else could help us with this?


  • What should we keep an eye on?
  • How do you think you/we could go about this?

Acknowledge and allow your own discomfort

One thing our young people notice, is that adults are not always comfortable talking about these sorts of things – even though we want them to talk with us about anything! We may feel anxious about what we might hear. We might anticipate some discomfort. Before you talk with your daughter, take a big deep breath and imagine the conversation – acknowledge any discomfort in your body or worries in your mind.

Avoid talking at your daughter rather than with her

When we don’t feel comfortable, it is easy to fill in the gaps and talk at our young people rather than talking with them… we all do this at times! So, it may be important to be a bit purposeful in planning for these conversations. You could use the above question starters to get into practice.

A framework for noticing

You can see that this framework normalises the idea that positive mental health is about biological factors interacting with environmental factors as well as what is going on in our ‘headspace’. Positive mental health is not a fixed state and it is not possible to have positive mental health all the time.

This framework can simply help you to explore things to check in on and can assist with planning. You may notice together, how a shift in one domain can lead to a change in another domain.

Some girls might be more comfortable starting in the physical domain

The physical domain can be a safe place to start a discussion about mental health, as you can normalise the impact of hormones and any other physical factors related to growth and change.

Normalising GP visits

Normalising going to check on physical health can be particularly helpful if something is just not quite right.  A Youth Friendly GP will inevitably ask some questions around mental health. You might even give them a heads up about your concerns when you make an appointment – make sure you book a long one.

Helping your daughter develop a sense of agency

Having a framework to discuss and plan with, can help you give your daughter a sense of agency. A sense that even though mental health is not a finite science, that there are things that she can control, things she can do that are helpful to progress. This can give her hope that things will not always be this way.

Some words of encouragement for you

We know that communication and positive interactions can be tricky and sometimes not very rewarding during these years! But we want to encourage you: if it sometimes feels like your daughter doesn’t want to talk to you, please know that deep down she does. Or perhaps it feels like she is quite capable and independent, and she doesn’t need you – deep down she does.

What if she refuses to talk with me?

Keep putting the invitation out to her even if it seems she doesn’t want to talk. Some girls might feel more comfortable responding to a letter or a notebook/journal exchange. Some girls might respond to texts or e-mails if face to face feels too overwhelming.  It might feel a little bit strange, but any means of connecting is invaluable.

You could ask:

  • What can I do that would help you feel comfortable to talk with me?
  • Would you like to go for a drive, walk, coffee?
  • Is there another adult you would feel more comfortable talking with?

Penrhos College Psychologists

If you would like to connect with a psychologist at Penrhos College to discuss your daughter’s mental health, please don’t hesitate to contact:

Jane Clarke             (Years 10-12)          clarkej@penrhos.wa.edu.au   9368 9522

Elissa Sarich            (Years 7-9)              sarice@penrhos.wa.edu.au     9368 9581

Kath Russell-Smith (Junior School)     russek@penrhos.wa.edu.au  9368 9560

References and recommended resources