Advice for answering personal health questions

The format of I’m a Scientist encourages students to ask the questions that relate to them and their lives. Sometimes that means you might get questions in the ASK section like:

“My dad has cancer. will he get better?”

“I keep crying all the time, is that what depression is?”

“I am worried about…., Is it normal to….”

First off, if you have any concerns about the health of a student asking a question, contact us straight away. We see every ASK question put through the site, but as humans, we may make mistakes and miss something.

If it’s not an emergency (and if it’s been passed through to you, it’s unlikely to be), and you’d like to give the student an answer, the first question to ask yourself is:

Am I an expert on the situation the student has described?

No, I’m not: If not, it’s still fine to answer within your experience as long as you make clear you’re not an expert. A key outcome of IAS is that students get to see that scientists don’t know everything about everything and that’s okay. See below for more tips on your answer.

Yes, I am: Okay, great. Just to double check though, are you definitely qualified in the area?

Yes, definitely: Fantastic. As well as any help you’d like to give the student, here are some things to keep in mind when answering their question.

  • Take a moment to reflect – Luckily having to type an answer helps you do this
  • Validate their concerns – “Many young people worry that…, ”
  • Drop your opinions and personal judgments, values, etc – Stick to facts
  • Refer them to other resources as appropriate – ‘Speak to parents, GP, counsellor etc’
  • Check for understanding – “Does that answer your question?”

Again, if you have any concerns or further questions, feel free to contact us by email or in the staffroom. And remember, you are under no obligation to answer a student’s question, if you’re not comfortable doing so.