How to do a Mental Health Check-In

The recent events of the last week around police brutality and violence have shown us that now, more than ever before, we need to fight for injustice and find the confidence to speak up for ourselves, our families, and our communities, and ask questions. The recent incident in Toronto involving the death of a young, black Canadian woman, Regis Korchinsky-Paquet, while interacting with the police and while experiencing mental health issues, underscores the need for a closer look at mental health in our society. Unlike a physical illness, mental illness is often harder to observe without adequate training. Therefore, we need to make an effort to check in on our family members, our friends, and our neighbors. We should also take the time to examine ourselves and seek out help when we feel we need it. One way to start is by doing a mental health check-in exercise, according to Karen Caldwell, a licensed counselor and founder of Ivy Vocational Services, LLC, an organization that provides certified vocational rehabilitation services and remote professional counseling services. 

“Now, more than ever, we need to address our mental health and heal,” says Caldwell.

Here she shares with the EmpowHERto staff some tips on how both teens and parents or guardians can conduct a mental health check-in. 

Find a quiet and safe space to talk 

Carve out at least 30-45 minutes to sit down in a quiet and safe space with only writing utensils, paper, rocks (optional), and an empty container (optional). 

Breathe deeply

Before talking, parents or guardians can lead the teen in deep breathing exercises for 30 seconds. For example, inhale through your nose while counting to four and exhale through your mouth while counting to five. This should be done three times back to back. This will help to relax your body and prepare your mind for the conversation. 

Find out each person’s definition of mental health and seek a better understanding of your current mental health state

The parent or guardian can start off by stating why they are meeting. For example: “We wanted to do a mental health check-in with you.” This may sound like common sense, but it is really important to set the tone for this type of conversation. Next, the parent may ask their teen a variation of this question: “What does mental health mean to you?” If the teen is non-verbal and/or a kinesthetic learner, the parents/guardians are encouraged to ask their teen to “draw what mental health looks like for you.” It is important to give the teen options on how they can answer the question. 

Observe body language

Parents and guardians are encouraged to observe their teen’s body language, particularly any tension in the body in places where tension is normally stored, including the shoulders, chest, jaw, and hands, and either take mental notes or write down their observations. Parents and guardians are also encouraged to observe stress related-symptoms while their teens are expressing themselves, including difficulty breathing, body posture, sweaty palms, etc.

Ask (open-ended) questions

Once their definitions of mental health are expressed, parents/guardians can follow up with a variation of questions. Here are some examples:

1. Why do you think mental health means “xyz”?

2. How did you come up with your definition of mental health?

3. What emotions did you feel when thinking of your response?

Give an opportunity for each person to validate and release their emotions

The purpose of asking open-ended questions is to allow the teen an opportunity to deeply express their thoughts. Open-ended questions start with “who, what, when, where, why, and how.”

Self-care tips and reminders

As a follow-up, you can do a “grounding emotions” exercise where each participant takes a permanent marker and labels the rocks with emotions that they are feeling. Next, they place the rocks in the empty container as a safe space for the emotion. This exercise allows for the participants to validate their emotions (by labeling the rocks) and to release them from their mind (by placing them into the empty container). 

Find out more about Ivy Vocational Services and check us out on social media @empowherto


Founded in 2015, EmpowHERto is a Toronto-based non-profit organization dedicated to helping 14-21 year-old women and girls reach their fullest potential.

EmpowHERto is as strong as the community that holds it up. Together, we can do more than we can do alone. Let’s bring our abilities and passions together to affect real change.

Toronto, Ontario