Recently, the 2017 Mission Australia Youth Survey was released and for the first time, mental health was identified as the top area of concern.
With one in seven 4-to-11-year-olds and one in four 16-to-24-year-olds reportedly experiencing a mental health disorder (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2007; Zubrick et al., 2016), as well as another layer of young people progressing towards such problems (Cooper & Cefai, 2013), it is not surprising that the young people who completed this survey expressed this as their biggest concern.
Given these trends, it is critical to ensure that parents and significant adults in the lives of young people have the skills to both identify and respond to mental health issues when they present. Unfortunately, only 35 percent of Australian parents report they are confident in their capacity to recognise the signs of mental health problems in their child, and a third believe that mental health problems in their children might be best left alone (The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, 2017).
Further to this, young people themselves are increasingly in the position where they need to support their friends who may be struggling with mental health issues, meaning we also need to ensure they have appropriate skills and resources.
How to talk to someone with a mental health difficulty
- Recognise: Know the signs that may indicate the presence of a mental health issue. The Child Mind Institute provides comprehensive guides to various disorders and concerns. They also provide a Symptom Checker Tool, but please remember nothing can replace being reviewed by trained health professionals.
- Compassion: Go gently when approaching conversations regarding mental health. Be non-judgmental and provide comfort and understanding.
- Stay calm: This may be the first time that the person has shared their challenges and your reaction will influence how likely they will be to talk about this again.
- Be curious: Sometimes it can be hard to articulate how you are feeling, so when speaking to someone with a mental health challenge, questions such as "How are you feeling on a scale of 1-100?" can help with this communication.
- Normalise and give hope: Reassure them that lots of people feel the way they are feeling, but that these feelings aren’t permanent and will pass.
- Ensure safety: If you think the person is not able to keep themselves safe, it is critical that you do not ignore this. Access helplines such as Lifeline or the Suicide Callback Service.
- Encourage help seeking: It is pleasing to see a much higher engagement of children and young people with professional services. Websites such as Headspace and Youth Focus offer help, as do GP’s, School Psychologists and Private Psychologists.
- Practice self-care: As they say in aeroplane safety videos, put on your own oxygen mask first, before helping others. In addition, if your child is supporting a friend struggling, it is important that they tell an adult who can help so that they are not carrying this responsibility alone.
I encourage you to view the PLC Lighthouse resources page where links to many useful websites are provided. Of particular recommendation is the Head to Health Website which provides a platform that filters the many resources available to support children and young people.
Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2007). National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results, 2007. Retrieved January 3, 2017, from http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Latestproducts/4326.0Main Features32007
Cooper, P., & Cefai, C. (2013). Evidence-based approaches to social , emotional and behavior difficulties in schools. KEDI Journal of Education Policy, 81–101.
The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne. (2017). RCH National Poll. Child Health Child Mental Health Problems: Can Parents Spot the Signs? Retrieved from https://www.rchpoll.org.au/polls/child-mental-health-problemscan-parents-spot-the-signs/
Zubrick, S. R., Hafekost, J., Johnson, S. E., Lawrence, D., Saw, S., Sawyer, M., … Buckingham, W. J. (2016). Suicidal behaviours: Prevalence estimates from the second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 50(9), 899–910. http://doi.org/10.1177/0004867415622563
About the Writer
Laura Allison (BSc, BPsych, MPsych, ProfCertEd(PosEd) is a Registered Psychologist currently employed as the Director of Wellbeing at PLC Perth. Laura has worked across the Government, Catholic and Independent sectors and is highly recognised for her expertise in the field of mental health in education most recently being the recipient of the 2015 WA School Psychologist of the Year Award. She is currently completing a PhD exploring the relationship between teacher practice and student wellbeing.