Ask an Expert!

Mental health leaders offer answers to the questions they’re asked most frequently

Emily Peek, ncIMPACT Initiative

March 19, 2024

Carolina Across 100 and the UNC Suicide Prevention Institute recently gathered state mental health experts to offer an “Ask an Expert” sesion for Our State, Our Wellbeing teams at their second forum. Teams are comprised of local leaders working across sectors to collaborate on identifying and implementing strategies to improve mental health and prevent suicide in their North Carolina communities. The work isn’t easy. Every county is different and every team faces varied challenges and questions emerging from their community, so having direct access to experts helped position team leaders to take their next steps in this 12-month program. Following the session, we asked leaders to share answers to the top questions they’re asked most often. 

Answers to the top questions posed to our “Ask an Expert” team of NC Mental Health Professionals and Advocates:

UNC Department of Medicine / School of Psychiatry
Child and Adolescent Anxiety and Mood Disorders Program
Expertise: child and adolescent psychiatry, general psychiatry, safety planning, crisis evaluation and stabilization

Oftentimes teens (and even other adults) want to see and share the emotional burden when they are upset. Rather than going straight to thinking about how to fix the trigger for the emotion, first start by appreciating your teen for coming to you and acknowledging the emotion your teen is struggling with. Then ask what would help most right now, for them to share more about what is going on (without offering ways to fix it), a distraction you can do together, or to problem solve together (letting your teen take the lead as to ideas of how to handle the situation).

It is natural to have emotions about your teen’s distress. It is important for your teen to see that you empathize with their experience (even if they made a mistake), and that you can help them hold and process their strong emotions while holding your own emotions. Make sure you have a support system for yourself, whether that be a spouse, family member, friend, or personal therapist. is a great place to start looking for a therapist in your area that accepts your insurance if needed.

NC Suicide Prevention Coordinator
UNC Suicide Prevention Institute

There is a wealth of evidence-based gatekeeper training available, which can make it challenging to determine which is right for you. A gatekeeper is someone who has been trained to recognize warning signs for suicide risk and refer those in need to services. When selecting a gatekeeper course, you should consider your target audience. If gatekeeper training is new to you and your focus is on family, friends and co-workers, Question Persuade Refer (QPR) or LivingWorks Start are both great programs to begin with. If you’re an adult that regularly works with youth, Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) is likely the best option. If you’re a leader within a faith-based organization, LivingWorks Faith will give you the skills to incorporate theology into conversations about suicide. If you’d like support in identifying a low-cost gatekeeper training course that is right for you or your organization, please contact Hannah Harms at

Free 988 promotional materials, such as posters, magnets, and wallet cards, are available on SAMHSA’s 988 Partner Toolkit website – Free orders are limited by quantity. If you’re seeking a large allocation of 988 print materials, you can download a pdf copy of the resources and print independently.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) has a range of postvention programs, including healing conversations, support groups and Out of the Darkness Walks, that can support you and your community after a death by suicide. AFSP also has a few postvention toolkits, designed for different settings, that can guide organizations through the loss and healing process. To learn more visit –

UNC School of Medicine
Associate Professor, Clinical Psychologist, Director of the Child and Adolescent Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program (CHAAMP)
Expertise: child and adolescent psychology, brief interventions to address mood/anxiety, integrated behavioral health

Mental health issues are highly variable. Some common signs that youth are struggling include mood swings, withdrawal from friends and social activities, changes in academic outcomes, losing interest in activities they used to enjoy, difficulty eating or sleeping, excessive worry, and having thoughts of suicide. has more information about the symptoms and warning signs for child and adolescent mental health problems.

While social media can have many negative effects on youth mental health, it can also exert a positive impact. Online connections help combat isolation and loneliness, and social media campaigns can raise awareness and reduce stigma related to help-seeking. It’s important for adults to teach youth about internet safety and set boundaries. Teens and Tech Offers more information and resources about the effects of social media on adolescent development. 

Creating an open, supportive, and judgment-free environment for youth to communicate is one of the most important ways to support their mental health and well-being. Truly listen, pay attention, and take interest in the things youth are sharing, even if they are things you disagree with or don’t like. The American Academy of Pediatrics has tips on effective parent-child communication.

Board Member
AFSP North Carolina
Expertise: available mental health and suicide prevention resources and programs

AFSP has many postvention resources for people who have survived a loss to suicide. These resources can be found at We have toolkits for students, college students, parents, guardians, and the workplace. Our Healing Conversations program provides peer-to-peer support for those going through a loss. They match with an AFSP-trained volunteer who has experienced a similar loss. We also hold International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day events all over the state. The Out of the Darkness campus and community walks held across the state provide a space for community and healing for those affected by suicide. 

If you believe someone is thinking about suicide, assume you are the only one who will reach out. Have an honest conversation. If the person says they are considering suicide, take them seriously, stay with them, help them remove lethal means, call 988, and escort them to mental health services or an emergency room. More resources on prevention can be found at

L.E.T.S. Save Lives: An Introduction to Suicide Prevention for Black and African American Communities is a presentation created by and for Black people, designed to reduce cultural stigma, foster conversations about mental health, and raise awareness of suicide prevention for individuals who identify as Black or African American. The program is grounded in research and delivered by trained presenters from the Black and African American communities. Talk Saves Lives is AFSP’s standardized, 45-60 minute education program that provides participants with a clear understanding of this leading cause of death, including the most up-to-date research on suicide prevention and what they can do in their communities to save lives. We have several versions of this program that are tailored to different groups like Seniors, the LGBTQ+ community, the Latinx and Hispanic community, suicide prevention in the workplace, and corrections facilities. AFSP has a Talk Saves Lives program that covers firearms and suicide prevention as well. We also have programming for our Veterans, Medical professionals, and veterinarians.

Stay connected with they Our State, Our Wellbeing program to keep learning about this statewide collaborative work aimed at improving mental health and preventing suicide in North Carolina.

Carolina Across 100 is a five-year Carolina initiative housed at the School of Government’s ncIMPACT Initiative. This pan-University effort, guided by the Carolina Engagement Council, will form meaningful partnerships with communities in all 100 North Carolina counties to respond to challenges stemming from or exacerbated by COVID-19. “Our State, Our Work” is the first program of Carolina Across 100, connecting young adults to living wage employment opportunities. “Our State, Our Wellbeing” is the second program, focused on improving mental health and reducing suicide in North Carolina.