Mental health and guiding

1 in 4 people in the UK is affected by a mental health condition - learn how we can help everyone feel safe and thrive

Mental health affects how we think, feel and behave. Some people refer to mental health as ‘wellbeing’.

Every year, 1 in 4 of us in the UK is affected by a mental health condition, so it’s likely that you or someone in your unit will experience this.

Mental health, like physical health, is important at all stages of life - from childhood through to adolescence and into adulthood. An person’s mental health does not always stay the same and can fluctuate as life circumstances change or they move through different stages of their life.

Although everybody has times where they feel sad, stressed or worried, usually these feelings pass. However, sometimes these conditions develop into more severe and lasting conditions which can affect an individual’s ability to cope with life. This can happen to anyone.

Because it's a normal part of being human to feel occasional anxiety, worry and low in mood, it can make it hard to recognise whether you or people around you are experiencing a mental health condition or not. It's when these conditions persist for a long time, are severe, or when they start affecting someone’s ability to function in their day-to-day lives, that further support might be needed.

To foster and support an inclusive environment, we should make adjustments to make sure that young members and volunteers can be fully included in guiding.

It’s important to remember that many people with a mental health condition are protected under the Equality Act 2010 protection for disabled people. This means it would be unlawful to discriminate against them or treat them unfairly because of their mental health. These legal rights apply to many people with a mental health difficulty, even if they don’t describe themselves as disabled.

Mental health in young people

Mental health conditions can be especially hard on children and young people. The NHS estimates that 1 in 8 children between ages 5-19 have at least one mental health condition.

Our mental health e-learning on the learning platform supports members to talk about mental health and pressures with young people. There are many different mental health conditions, and everyone’s experience is different.

There are signs that can help you recognise when someone in your unit is struggling with their mental health.

Remember that mental health conditions aren't always visible. You might only realise someone is struggling when they start opening up to you.

Things to look out for

Changes in behaviour:

  • Withdrawing from others.
  • Loss of interest or engagement in activities they previously enjoyed.
  • Eating less than usual, or overeating.
  • Problems interacting with others in groups (in your unit, at school, or at work).
  • Self-harming.
  • Changes in play behaviour in young members, for example more fighting games with toys, or difficulties relating to others.

Changes in mood, thinking or perceptions:

  • Being more irritable or angry.
  • Persistent sadness or frequent crying.
  • Inability to relax or excessive worrying.
  • Problems with memory.
  • Mistrust of other people or paranoia.
  • Unusual thoughts or experiences, such as seeing or hearing things which aren’t there.
  • Talking about feeling worthless or guilty, or about feeling numb.
  • Expressing thoughts of not wanting to be around any longer, or wanting to die.
  • Having thoughts of wanting to self-harm.

Changes in physical health, or appearance:

  • Having low or no energy.
  • Looking tired or reporting sleep difficulties at night.
  • Changes in weight.
  • A decline in personal hygiene.
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, or panicky feelings.

If you have a concern, you should let the member know you would like to talk to someone about how you can best help them.

You should follow our safeguarding procedure for sharing your concerns.

The safeguarding team may ask you, or an appropriate volunteer, to share your concerns with the member or their parents or carers if you haven't already done so.

They'll also assess if you need to make a referral the local authority to be signposted to a mental health service. The team will provide advice or signpost you to any support that can be given to the member or their family.

Many people feel uncomfortable talking about their own and others’ mental health – you might feel worried about saying the wrong thing, not knowing what to do if something is disclosed to you that is worrying, or you may feel unsure about how to start a conversation about mental health. 

Those struggling might feel embarrassment or shame about experiencing their condition, which might make being open with you difficult, or prevent them from seeking help. 

If you notice changes in a member’s behaviour, or spot signs that they might be struggling, try to start a conversation about how they are feeling. 

When talking about mental health, you should: 

  • Find somewhere quiet to talk. 
  • Ask open questions. 
  • Give the member time. 
  • Repeat back what they’ve said to make sure you’ve understood and to show you’re listening. 
  • Validate the person’s feelings, so that they feel understood and heard. 
  • Try not to offer solutions or to fix things, unless they ask for your advice. 
  • Discuss what support you can offer. 
  • Take their concerns seriously. 
  • Let the member know you are there to support them. 
  • Don’t promise to keep what a member has told you a secret. 

If the member has experienced the condition previously, you might explore what has helped them in the past to cope. 

Talking to parent and carers to share your concerns about their child might feel uncomfortable or anxiety-provoking. You might feel unsure of how to start the conversation, or of how they will react. 

Here are some suggestions: 

  • Ask them how their child has been at home recently, and whether they have any concerns themselves about how they’ve been feeling or acting. 
  • Explain what you’ve noticed that made you concerned for their wellbeing and outline your concerns. 
  • If you have sought safeguarding advice, share the suggested action for supporting the young person and explore how they feel about this. 
  • Reassure them that there are support services to help them and their child, that young people can manage and recover from mental health conditions, and that the sooner they engage with help the better.

If a conversation with parents or carers raises more concerns, remember to follow the safeguarding procedure. If you’re concerned that by talking to the parent or carer, it would place the member at further risk of harm, contact the safeguarding team. 

Remember that in Scotland people aged 16 and over are classed as adults so it wouldn’t be appropriate to involve parents or carers in a conversation about their mental health. 

It’s important to make sure that members with mental health conditions are fully included and supported throughout their time in guiding. 

After an initial conversation, make sure you keep the member, and their parents or carers where appropriate, involved in any decision making. It’s a good idea to have follow-up conversations about their conditions and what ongoing support you can offer them in guiding. Mental health can change all the time and everyone has ‘good’ and ‘bad’ days. 

During your follow-up conversations, you might find it useful to ask the member about: 

  • What helps them stay as mentally healthy as possible. For example, having time to talk to their friends during unit meetings. 
  • Any situations that might arise in guiding that could trigger a worsening of their condition, for example, being asked to read aloud. 
  • What coping mechanisms they find useful, for example, listening to music with their headphones. 
  • What support or adjustments you can make that would minimise triggers or help them to manage the impact of these. For example, being allowed to take time out of activities to sit quietly. 
  • What changes you as a volunteer might notice if they’re particularly struggling, for example, withdrawing from the group. 
  • What you as a volunteer can do if you notice them struggling, for example, take them aside for a chat.

Based on this conversation, you should plan for how you and your team will support the member in unit meetings. 

This might involve making some adjustments to the way you run certain activities to support the member. For example, do you need to set aside a quieter space where the member can take some time out if needed? 

Some adjustments will require additional support and forward planning, so remember to plan and think ahead. You might want to use an adjustment plan to guide the conversation and agree adjustments with the member, and their parents or carers. 

There may be times where you can’t reasonably make adjustments for some members, because of cost or a need for additional volunteers. But every effort must be made if it's reasonable to do so. 

It’s a good idea to review any support or adjustments you put in place on a regular basis to check they’re still working well. An agreed review day is recommended and at least once a term may be useful. 

Wellbeing action plans are a simple and practical way of proactively helping you to support the mental health of your young members and volunteer team by promoting their wellbeing. 

They can also be used support your own mental health. 

Who are they for? 

Everyone and anyone can complete a wellbeing action plan. They are a personalised, practical tool we can all use and benefit from. 

Whether it's you, or someone we're supporting who is experiencing challenges or problems with mental health, the plan just means that practical steps can be put in place to ensure that everyone is supported when they aren't feeling at their best. 

The plan helps to identify: 

  • What keeps us well. 
  • What causes or triggers us to become unwell. 
  • The support we’d like to receive from our leaders, commissioners or volunteer colleagues. 

By giving volunteers and members an opportunity to complete a wellbeing action plan, they will be able to gain an awareness of what works or doesn’t work for them and plan accordingly. 

You then have an idea of the tailored support that could help them, or at the least a tool to use in starting that potentially important conversation. 

Wellbeing action plans 

How to use the plan 

You could start by giving your volunteer or young member, if this is appropriate for their age, a copy of a wellbeing action plan and asking them to have a go at completing it. 

Then schedule some time in afterwards to discuss their plan with you and finalise it based on the conversation you've had. 

The plan should be written by, or written for them in their words, and owned by the individual, expressing their own personal choices, experience and needs. Try to avoid influencing them by offering your own advice or suggestions. 

You might feel that through having this conversation, there are possible barriers raised that may need reasonable adjustments. In this case, it would be a good idea to complete an adjustment form with the individual.  

What if there’s a risk of harm? 

The plan and its contents are confidential but be honest that you might have to share information if you feel there's any risk to themselves or others. 

It's your responsibility to seek advice and support from your commissioner or the safeguarding team and to follow the process for reporting an allegation, concern or disclosure. 

If there's any imminent risk of harm, you must contact emergency services. Then report this to the HQ safeguarding team. 

You can contact the HQ safeguarding team on 020 7834 6242, 9am-5pm, Monday-Friday. For safeguarding emergencies only, call our out of hours emergency phone on 07508 032997, 5pm-10pm, Monday-Friday; 9am-10pm weekends. Or you can email [email protected]. 

It’s important to give some extra thought when planning for trips and overnight events - involve members, and their parents or carers where appropriate, in decision making. It may also be worth agreeing an emergency action plan in advance to prepare for what to do should their mental health worsen when you are away. 

Mental health conditions need to be more carefully managed and monitored while away from your normal meeting place. New environments and experiences may be a trigger, something that worsens symptoms, for some members. 

In some cases, it may be necessary to complete a risk assessment to determine whether a member can safely attend a trip or overnight event. You should do this in the same way you might do a risk assessment for a member who is a wheelchair user and wanting to attend camp. 

There may be times where you can’t reasonably make adjustments for some members, because of cost or a need for additional volunteers. But every effort must be made if it's reasonable to do so. 

There may be occasions where there are no previously known conditions, and the members starts to show signs of experiencing a mental health condition. This might be an understandable reaction to being in a new environment and should be handled sensitively, just as you would in a unit meeting.

Sometimes a person’s mental health can get worse, and they can have feelings they are really struggling with. They may feel they are at a breaking point or experience panic attacks or significant anxiety. They might feel overwhelming paranoia or hallucinate if they experience a psychotic episode. 

Some people may harm themselves - often this will be hidden from sight. They might cut, scratch or burn themselves, pull their hair or take a drug. Although it can be hard to understand, self-harm doesn't mean that someone wants to end their life. It can be a way for them to manage feelings or experiences that they’re finding tough.  

At times of crisis and significant distress, people are likely to become panicked and in ‘fight or flight’ mode. They may act more assertively, become teary, confused and irritable. 

If this happens, start by assessing the area. Who else is around? Is there anything hazardous? Is there an immediate risk of harm? Consider also how you're feeling and if you're the best person in the area to offer support. 

  • Don’t panic or show judgement. 
  • Be patient and listen to them. 
  • Give them physical, private space. Stay calm and avoid sudden body movements. Don’t give them hugs or close physical comfort, getting into their space can be upsetting for some people. 
  • Talk with a calm voice, don’t shout. Focus on listening and encouraging them to speak. Use short, clear sentences and don’t give advice or ask too many questions. 
  • Don’t try to label what is going on and don’t call them attention seeking. Take their experience seriously. 
  • Tell them what you are about to do before you do it. For example, explain you are asking someone to come help you. 
  • Many people find doing a practical activity or walking can distract them and help them find clarity. Ask if they would like to try this but don’t pressure them to do so. 
  • Ask them what strategies have helped them in the past when they have felt like this. 
  • Encourage them to seek support or look with them for immediate support from the links below. 
  • Seek their permission to call someone they trust or someone who can help care for them. If necessary, and to keep them safe, you may need to call them without the person’s consent. 
  • Whilst unlikely, if you feel someone is an immediate risk of harm to themselves or others you can contact emergency services for help. 

Every effort should be made to support a member with a mental health condition. This may sometimes include suggesting a break from guiding. 

There may be times where an adult volunteer is in crisis. If their behaviour becomes challenging, then the wellbeing of the young members in their care should be considered the priority. 

Self-harm is when a person deliberately hurts themselves as a way of dealing with difficult thoughts, experiences, and feelings. It describes any way in which someone might injure themselves or put themselves at risk. 

Self-harm can affect anyone, no matter their background or identity. There is no one typical person who self-harms. 

Everyone’s experience of self-harm is unique, it’s important that we don’t ever label self-harm as 'attention seeking behaviour'. Self-harming can mean that the person is suffering from intense emotional distress or trying to cope with difficult experiences. 

If someone is self-harming, it doesn’t always mean they feel suicidal, although it is a risk factor for suicide. Be careful not to say anything that may make the person feel ashamed about their self-harming. 

Potential signs of self-harm  

  • Cuts, bruises, burns, or loss of hair or eyelashes that can’t be explained when asked. 
  • Wearing long or baggy clothes to cover arms and legs when it doesn’t match the weather. 
  • Signs of overall poor mental health such depression or high levels of anxiety. 
  • Changes to behaviour like becoming withdrawn, not wanting to speak to others, secrecy or disappearing at times of high emotion. 
  • Increasing isolation or unwillingness to engage. 
  • Avoiding changing clothes or undressing in front of others. 
  • Signs of low self-esteem, for example, speaking about not being good enough or worthless, or self-blaming. 
  • Expressing self-loathing or wanting to punish themselves. 
  • Expressing suicidal thoughts or saying they don’t want to live anymore. 

These signs don’t always mean that someone is self-harming. Self-harm doesn’t always involve visible wounds and some people might not show any of the signs on this list. But do look out for behaviour changes and other indications that might be cause for concern. 

Types of self-harm 

Acts of self-harm could include: 

  • Cutting, scratching, biting, picking, or burning skin 
  • Punching or hitting themselves 
  • Excessive hair pulling or plucking 
  • Poisoning, for example with tablets or liquids 
  • Over-eating or under-eating 
  • Overdosing on tablets or medication 
  • Exercising too much 
  • Inserting objects into their body 
  • Deliberately getting into fights or dangerous situations to get hurt. 

These are examples of possible harms, but it does not include every possible form of self-harm, there might be other ways that people choose to hurt themselves. 

What to do if you’re worried someone is self-harming 

How you approach the situation, and what you say to them, will depend on their age. 

The safeguarding team are here to support you throughout this process, the first step is to have a conversation with the young person. After talking to the young member contact the safeguarding team by emailing [email protected] who will decide the next steps with you. You can also call 02078 346242 ext. 3037 from Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm. Or from 5pm to 10pm from Monday to Friday, and from 9am to 10pm on a Saturday and Sunday, call the out of hours emergency phone on 07508 032997. 

You can also contact the safeguarding team before you talk the young person if you need extra support before having the conversation. 

In a situation where a young person tells you that they are self-harming, or you feel very certain that they are, in most cases you should talk to their parent or carer. But if you have any concerns about this or think it might put the child at more risk, talk to the safeguarding team before taking any action. 

If you’re aware that someone self-harms, then it's possible that they’re under the care of a mental health team. If this is the case, you could ask if they have a safety plan that they could share with you that you can adapt for Girlguiding activities. 

If you notice signs of past self-harm and you, or another volunteer with you, know the young member well, have a conversation with the young member. If following this you are still concerned about the young member, talk to the safeguarding team. You can talk to a safeguarding practitioner and together plan the next appropriate steps and if further support is needed.  

If they don’t have, or want to share, a safety plan with you, you can use the Girlguiding wellbeing action plan with them to discuss how you can support them.   

Talking to someone about self-harm 


Asking directly, but casually, about anything that worries you can help you get more information. For example, during an activity, discreetly saying, 'That’s a lovely picture you’ve drawn, you’re doing really well with this! I’ve noticed those scratches on your arm, they look sore, what happened?' 

Their response will help you judge if this is something to be concerned about. 

It’s then best to take any concerns straight to their parent or carer. They might already be aware of these signs or behaviour and have done something themselves, like making a referral to a mental health team. Once you have spoken to them, contact the safeguarding team who can share local and national resources that can help support you and the family. If you are concerned about the way that family have reacted or have handled the situation, then share this with the safeguarding team at HQ.  

Brownies and Guides 

For this age group, you should use what you know about the child and your relationship with them to decide who to speak to first. If you feel able, you could speak to the young person first, or you might go directly to their parents or carers. 

As with all concerns, if you are unsure, you can speak to the safeguarding team for advice. If you speak to the young member about the self-harming, you’ll need to let them know that you have a duty to inform their parent or carer of your concerns. Then they can decide if they want to join you for that conversation or choose not to be present. 

Following the conversation with the parents or carers, contact the safeguarding team who can provide support and guidance. 


If you have a good relationship with the Ranger and feel able to, have an initial conversation with the girl first. You can then find out whether her parents or carers know about the situation and, if they don’t, how it can be shared with them. It may be that the Ranger wants you to tell their parents together, or maybe they want you to speak to them alone, or they want to speak to them and then you follow up. Ultimately if the young person is at risk of continuing to harm themselves, the parents, as the main carers, need to know. 

If you are in Scotland and the Ranger is 16 or over, remember as they’re considered an adult so you’ll need permission from the girl before you can talk to her parents or carers. If you consider her to be a risk to herself, it may be that you need to tell her you are going to speak to her parents and offer to do it with them. 

If you are not sure what to do or are worried, the safeguarding team can talk it through with you. After speaking to the young member and their parents or carers, contact the safeguarding team for more support and guidance. 

Adult volunteers 

If you feel comfortable, and it’s appropriate to do so, talk to the volunteer to check in and see what support, if any, they have in place. 

You should then contact the safeguarding team who can share resources with you and help you decide on next actions. The safeguarding team will also consider if further steps need to be taken to safeguard the volunteer, for example if an adult wellbeing action plan or adjustment plan needs to be put in place. 

As with any safeguarding disclosure, don’t make unrealistic promises about confidentiality. Remember this is not an allegation, so don’t treat the conversation like an interview. Be supportive and spend more time listening than talking 

Try not to panic, overreact, be judgmental or make assumptions. You might be worried but remember that the way you react is going to affect the person 

Validate their feelings. Try to acknowledge how difficult this must be to talk about. Be careful about discouraging self-harm or telling them they need to stop. This can add to the guilt and negative feelings they might already be feeling. Don’t assume they want to stop, as the self-harm is often meeting an emotional need. 

Use open questions so you can find out more context from the person’s own words. Self-harm is often part of a bigger overall picture. It’s important not to label or dismiss self-harm as 'attention seeking'. Your conversation with them could be their first step of a journey to recovery. 

Have empathy and understanding. Let them know you’re there for them, this can help them with the anxiety about talking about their self-harm. Be supportive, but not pushy. Empower them to have control over their own decisions. 

Respond calmly and clearly identify next steps. Acknowledge how difficult this conversation must have been and follow up with your next steps promptly, including informing the safeguarding team so that relevant support and guidance can be given. 

Remember the person is more than their self-harm, so when talking don’t just focus on their self-harming behaviours. 

Advice for residentials in the UK 

If you know before you go away that a member struggles with self-harm, then you need to contact the safeguarding team. 

They can help you to risk assess the likelihood of them self-harming whilst away on the residential. Then you can work on an inclusion adjustment plan and a dynamic risk assessment plan. Agree in advance on roles and responsibilities - for example, who will look after the young member in a self-harm incident, who will look after the rest of the group, and who will contact the parents or carers? The parents or carers should be involved with these plans, as advised in the going on residentials guidance. If it’s age appropriate, the young member should contribute. 

If it’s not possible to talk to our team, then think about the person’s current mental health and wellbeing, so you can assess the risk of them self-harming on the trip. Follow the guidance for talking about self-harm and use the approaching sensitive conversations webpage if you need extra guidance. Carry out a dynamic risk assessment, then report to the safeguarding team as soon as possible. 

Here are some things to consider as you carry out a dynamic risk assessment: 

  • Consider what triggers the self-harm. If it’s appropriate, you can talk to the person and see if they can recognise their triggers. You’ll need to then consider how you can manage this. 
  • Explore their methods of self-harm. How do they do it and what do they use? Do they have access to these methods on the trip? If they do, remove any items or medication that can be used to cause self-harm. 
  • Consider how their emotional state has been on the trip. Have you noticed any differences? 
  • Talk to them about coping mechanisms. What helps them when they're feeling low? Is there someone they can talk to when she feels like self-harming? Is there something they can do which distracts her? 
  • Think about the impact on the other members, what could they be exposed to? Do they need any support? Could this be triggering for anyone else? 
  • Is the member on any medication? Have they been taking it correctly? Who has the medication? Is it being stored safely? 

It could be helpful to include parents or carers as you do this, as they may be able to identify triggers and coping mechanisms. Following this risk assessment, you could consider filling in a wellbeing action plan to record the support offered, or if you don’t feel able to manage the risk, you can consider if the young members parents need to collect them. 

If someone harms themselves on a residential then your priority is getting them medical attention or providing first aid. You’ll also need to carry out a risk assessment and contact their parents or carers to let them know what has happened. 

If at any point you feel that the person is a danger to themselves or anyone else, then immediately call the emergency services. Then, when you can, call the safeguarding team at HQ to make them aware of the situation. They can help you assess the risks and give you useful advice and signposting to support. If the parents or carers give permission, then the Safeguarding team can make referrals to relevant services. 

Advice for international residentials 

It’s important to consider the country you’re visiting and how they might approach self-harm there. This could increase or decrease the risk. For information on this, check the government advice on foreign travel for those with mental health issues. We understand that this is a big responsibility, and an adjustment plan should be put together before the trip. You will need to include this as part of your risk assessment and decide if there are reasonable adjustments that make it safe for the young member to travel. 

Most travel insurance policies don’t cover self-harm. This means they wouldn’t pay the medical bill for someone attending hospital because of a self-harm injury. It is important to check what your travel insurance says. If it's not covered, the financial impact of this needs to be taken into consideration as part of your risk assessment and provision made within your event budget. If you have any questions or concerns about this, contact the insurance team via [email protected]. 

If someone does self-harm while on an international trip, you need to provide first aid, contact emergency services if they’re needed, do a risk assessment, inform the parents or carers and then contact our safeguarding team for advice. 

You should also look at the local government’s guidance as this may influence your response. 

Self-harm support organisations 

Young Minds: Find out what self-harm means and what to do if you think you are affected by it, providing free, 24/7 crisis support across the UK as well as advice and support for parents and carers.  

Alumina: free online self-harm support for 11-19s. 

Harmless: Self-harm support providing a range of services including, information, training, and consultancy to people who self-harm. 

Mind: Explains self-harm, including possible causes and how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping yourself, and guidance for friends and family. 

Self-injury Support: UK-wide self-harm and self-injury charity offering direct support, reliable information, expert training, and specialist consultancy. 

MeeTwo app (Google Play or App Store): A free app for teenagers providing peer support and resources. Young people can share what's going on for them and send supportive messages to others. All messages are fully moderated. 

Calm Harm app: A free app to help young people manage self-harm urges through distraction techniques. 

Kooth: A free online chat and emotional well-being platform for children and young people. Accessible through mobile, tablet and desktop. 

The Mix: Articles and discussion boards on many topics that affect young people under 25. Also offers a helpline, counselling services and peer to peer support. 

HopelineUK: Advisers work with you to understand why these thoughts of suicide might be present, providing you with a safe space to talk through anything happening in your life that could be impacting on your or anyone else’s ability to stay safe. 

An eating disorder is a mental health condition.  Anyone can develop an eating disorder regardless of age, race, gender, class, weight, background or more. This means you may find yourself needing to support a girl, young woman or an adult volunteer.

Visit the Beat website to find out more about what eating disorders are and the different types of eating disorders.

Potential signs of an eating disorder

There are symptoms you may see, both leading up to diagnosis and during recovery. Some of them are unlikely to be visible during the time you spend with your unit. You may only know of a diagnosis because the girl, young woman or her parent or carer tells you about it. Symptoms may also be typical of other mental health conditions.

Visit the NHS website for a list of symptoms, including those for specific eating disorders.

Contact the safeguarding team

As part of managing concerns about a girl, young woman or adult in Girlguiding you should read our a safe space pocket guide (PDF) and follow the safeguarding procedure.

You can also contact the safeguarding team for support:

Telephone, Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm: 02078 346242 ext. 3037

Out of hours emergency phone: 07508 032997. This phone is operated from 5pm to 10pm from Monday to Friday, and from 9am to 10pm on a Saturday and Sunday. Don’t text this number as the team can’t access messages.

Email: [email protected]

How to support a girl or young woman with an eating disorder

Speak to parents or carers if you’re concerned about a change in behaviour. If appropriate, have a conversation with the parent or carer to discuss your concerns, and talk about the best way you can support the girl or young woman within guiding. You might find it useful to fill out wellbeing action plan or adjustment plan as part of this conversation.

  • Have a shared approach to food at guiding and at home. This may mean avoiding food-related activities, having a non-food-related alternative or presenting them in a different way, with the stress on participation, not eating.
  • Don’t dismiss a young person’s fears or rush to solutions. Denying how they feel, or the accuracy of their perception, won’t reassure them.
  • The best support you can give is seeing the person not the condition and giving the girl or young woman a space to explore who they are and what they like doing.
  • Although the Girlguiding programme includes healthy eating activities for all ages, The Girlguiding programme contains many food and drink related activities. You might want to discuss with someone affected by an eating disorder whether they want to take part.
  • Be careful of language, for example don’t say ‘just eat normally’. If possible, avoid discussions of weight, shape, food and diet and avoid commenting on their appearance, positive or negative.
  • Take time to discuss other things about them, beyond their illness and treatment.
  • Help them carry on with something they’ve enjoyed, separate from their eating disorder.
  • They might need time off from Girlguiding (for example, young people often come out of school for treatment). Make this possible and welcome them back when they’re ready.
  • Be cautious when discussing your own perceptions of body image.

Visit the Beat website for more tips on supporting someone with an eating disorder.

Advice for residentials

If you’re aware that a girl or young woman is suffering from an eating disorder it should still be possible for her to attend an overnight event. The most important thing to do is to:

  • Talk to the girl or young woman and her parent or carer and discuss if there are any adjustments that can be made to support her or remove any barriers to her participating.
  • Complete an adjustment plan setting out your shared approach. You may also want to get everyone attending to complete a wellbeing action plan, so the girl or young woman doesn’t feel singled out.
  • Share the menu with her and her parent or carer beforehand, agreeing your approach.
  • It’s also a good idea to share the menu with all attendees beforehand. You may then give the girl or young woman an extra opportunity to highlight any issues with the food provided and suggest alternatives.

More information and support

  • BEAT: a UK-wide eating disorder charity. As well as resources on their website they also run a free helpline offering supporting and information. This is available to those with eating disorders, their parents or carers and all others providing support.
  • Mind: Explains eating disorders, and how someone can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping yourself, and guidance for friends and family.
  • Young Minds: has a guide for young people with eating disorders.

The support and guidance included above is designed to help volunteers when supporting younger members with their mental health, but can be relevant to members of all ages. Resources like our wellbeing action plans above and adjustment plans can be used by everyone in guiding.  

Mental health support organisations for all ages 

Contact these organisations for the most up-to-date information:  

  • Adferiad (Wales) – provides help and support for people and carers in Wales affected by mental illness, addiction and other complex conditions. Go to the Adferiad website.  
  • Beat - provides support and advice to young people and adults who are affected by eating disorders. Go to the Beat website or call the Helpline on 0808 801 0677.
  • Black Minds Matter UK - this charity provides free therapy for Black people in the UK. Go to the Black Minds Matter UK website
  • Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) – leading a movement against suicide. They offer confidential, anonymous and free support, information and signposting to people anywhere in the UK through their helpline and webchat service. Go to the CALM website and use their webchat, or call 0800 58 58 58.  
  • Change Mental Health (Scotland) – charity providing advice and support services on mental health for people in Scotland. Go to the Change Mental Health website.  
  • Cruse Bereavement Care - provides care and support after the death of someone close. Go to the Cruse Bereavement Care website or call 0808 808 1677.
  • Hub of Hope -  provided by Chasing the Stigma, this online database allows you to search for mental health support services in and near your postcode. Go to the Hub of Hope website.
  • Mental Health Foundation – researching and campaigning for better ways to support good mental health in England, Scotland, Wales and across the UK. Go to the Mental Health Foundation website.  
  • Mental Health UK – offers information, advice and support programmes to support people with their mental health. Go to the Mental Health UK website
  • Mind- a charity that provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem, through campaigning, raising awareness and promoting understanding. Go to the Mind website or call the Mind Infoline on 0300 123 3393.
  • MindWise (Northern Ireland) – a charity in Northern Ireland that provides services for people of all ages who are directly affected by mental health issues. Go to the MindWise website.  
  • Rethink Mental Illness - improving the lives of people severely affected by mental illness through a network of local groups and services, expert information and campaigning.  Go to the Rethink Mental Illness website 
  • Samaritans - confidential emotional support for anyone who needs to talk, including those feeling suicidal. Go to the Samaritans website or call 116 113.
  • Shout - Shout is the UK's first and only free, confidential, 24/7 text messaging service for anyone who is struggling to cope. Go to the Shout website or text the word ‘Shout’ to 85258. 
  • The Silver Line Helpline - run by Age UK, this is a free, confidential telephone service for older people. Go to The Silver Line website or call  0800 4 70 80 90.
  • Suicide Prevention UK – a charity that helps support and signpost anyone who may be struggling with their mental health and/or thoughts of suicide.  Go to the Suicide Prevention UK website or call the helpline on 0800 689 5652.