International Youth Day - August 15, 2018

International Youth Day (IYD) is an opportunity to recognise the important contributions of young people, and to explore the challenges they face in navigating the world.

In honour of IYD 2018, we reflect upon the mental health issues typically faced by Australian youth, and where they can turn for help.

 

What is the current state of youth mental health in Australia?

In 2017, the Black Dog Institute and Mission Australia released the findings of a five-year research project into youth mental health. The report shows that mental health difficulties are increasing in Australian youth. Key findings include:

o   1 in 4 young Australians show signs of a probable serious mental illness (PSMI)

o   The incidence of PSMI is higher in Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander youth. More than a third of ATSI young people meet the criteria for PSMI.

o   Young women are twice as likely than young men to experience PSMI.

o   Stress, school, and depression were the most common mental health issues for young people with a probable serious mental illness.

 

How can young people manage stress, school, and depression?

o   Talk to someone. A good first step can be telling a friend how you feel. Friends are a great support, but it is also important to speak with a trusted adult or healthcare professional, who can know more about the best ways to help you.

o   Establish good sleeping habits. Resist taking your phone to bed, and try to have some device-free downtime before you sleep.

o   Get regular exercise. Although it can sometimes be hard to find the motivation, physical activity can help to clear your head. Exercising during the day can also help you to sleep better at night.

o   Look into local classes for yoga or try meditation. Many people find yoga and meditation can help to reduce stress.

o   Set aside time for things you enjoy. Sometimes it helps to take a few minutes to sit with the family pet, read a book, or listen to music.

o   Remember that your grades do not define you. Your health and wellbeing comes before academic success.

o   Make an appointment with a GP. They can talk you through what you are experiencing and guide you toward support.

 

Creating safe spaces: How can I help my friend?

Young people often turn to their friends for support. It is difficult to know how to help a friend who is struggling, but some of the supportive steps you can take are:

o   Be there to listen. You are not expected to know what to do. Having mental health issues can be very lonely, and it’s important to help your friends feel that they are not alone.

o   Encourage your friend to talk to a parent, teacher or mental health professional. This can be a tricky step to take, and your friend might need a bit of support in reaching out.

o   Give your friend time. Some people are reluctant to seek help. Try not to pressure them to get help, but seek immediate assistance if you think your friend is at risk of harming themselves.

o   Make sure are supported too. You do not have to be on your own. It is okay to talk things over with someone you trust.

 

What can parents do?

The research also found that young people turn to their parents for support. It can be often be difficult for parents to differentiate “normal” adolescent behavior from signs of mental illness. Parents might also feel unsure how to effectively communicate with young people. Some ways parents can establish a “safe space” include:

o   Listen without judgment. Be careful not to dismiss the concerns of the young person. You don’t have to know all the answers, sometimes the most important thing is ensuring your child feels heard.

o   Look out for signs that your child is not coping. This might include chronic tiredness and/or trouble with sleeping, irritability or ongoing sadness, not enjoying things they normally like doing, not wanting to take part in their usual activities, and have difficulty listening and concentrating on tasks.

o   Consider making a GP appointment for your child if these issues are present more often than not, or if they seem to be getting worse.

o   Know that while adolescence is a period when mental disorders often emerge, it is also a good time for intervention. Seeking help early can help to reduce the immediate and ongoing impact of these issues.

o   Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can to help your teen navigate adolescence. Make sure you have your own support and take time out to look after yourself.

 

Resources

Finally, the research found that young people with a PSMI are likely to use the Internet for support. We have put together a small list of online resources young people might find useful:

o   Headspace has lots of information for young people, their friends and parents, including how and where to seek help, how to start conversations about mental health, and mental health factsheets. You can access these tools here: https://headspace.org.au/young-people/

o   The Smiling Mind is an Australian not-for-profit that teaches mindfulness. Mindfulness helps us with where we place our attention, which can help with stress and managing emotions. You can download a free app that includes mindfulness programs for young people. The link to the app: https://www.smilingmind.com.au/smiling-mind-app

o   Reach Out has tipsheets for young people on topics including stress, confidence, school, and loneliness. Reach Out also has “Next Step”, an interactive questionnaire which helps match you with appropriate and relevant support services. You can access Reach Out here: https://au.reachout.com/, and Next Step: https://au.reachout.com/#nextstep

 

Talking to young children about climate change

With World Environment Day being celebrated this week (June 5), we thought it worthwhile to share a piece with you about talking to young children about climate change*.

 

Explaining climate change to young children

Conversations about climate change can be difficult for young minds to grasp, and difficult concepts paired with distressing content can lead a child to feel overwhelmed.  Conversations about these topics need to match the child’s intellectual understanding as well as their emotional capacity, both of which are still under development.  It is important to first attend to and reduce any distress the child is showing, before providing the facts.  The information will just get ‘lost’ if a child is upset or worried.

Try to teach kids about climate change by matching the content of answers to their age and level of understanding.  Try to speak in an honest but tempered way to ensure they are getting accurate information, while avoiding sharing unnecessary information that could leave them anxious or distressed.  Also try not to omit information, as this can lead to them filling in the blanks, and often, our minds do this by jumping to worse conclusions than reality.

 

Finding a balance

When children have learned about a natural disaster, whether or not this event is a result of climate change, it can be challenging to find the right balance between providing honest, age appropriate information, and helping them to manage their fear and anxiety.

Let your kids lead the conversation and try to think about these events from their perspective.  What might distress our adult mind, can be downright terrifying to little minds that don’t have concepts of distance or time yet.  Kids are still learning all about their emotions, let alone what to do when they feel strong emotions like fear, anger or despair.  Kids easily become confused about the facts and the extent of the threat, and their developing minds are not yet able to engage in abstract thought, so they tend to interpret things quite literally.  While the flood might be over 2,500km away, in their mind it’s about to be in their backyard and they are scared what might happen to them, to you and their home.

It can be challenging, but it can be best not to watch the news with the kids around, especially if there has been a devastating event.  When there has been a natural disaster your kids have learnt about, talk about it:

Address feelings first

Respond firstly to what you notice about how they are feeling, and say something like, “You seem pretty frightened about the bushfires.”  Acknowledge their feelings as valid and be careful not to dismiss their concerns as trivial. 

Provide safety

Reassure them of their safety.  Let them know that they, their family and their friends are not at risk from the natural disaster.

Talk about the facts

When their distress has decreased, provide them with space to talk about how they feel and answer their questions about the event in a factual way.  Let them guide the depth of the discussion, and gently and respectfully correct any misinformation or misunderstandings they might have.

 

Engaging young children to help them think about climate change

Look to help expand childrens’ understanding of things about the environment that are of interest to them.  Things like where our electricity comes from can be very interesting to an enquiring young mind and can lead to conversation about fossil fuels and renewable energy, to pointing out solar panels and helping them understand wind turbines.

Instil hope.  We need our kids to know that taking care of the environment and addressing climate change starts with all of us.  We need our kids to know that they can be active participants in making a difference to the environment and that each act, no matter how big or small, all helps to make a positive difference.

As a psychologist, I know that little people watch everything we, as parents do.  Setting a good example ourselves, sets up ‘behavioural habits’ in our kids that will serve them and our planet well.

 

Engaging kids in lifelong habits to look after the environment

Try to be conscious consumers.  Ride bikes or scoot to school whenever possible, have waste free lunches, use canvas bags when shopping, compost food scraps, recycle what and when you can. Buy food locally and with minimal packaging. Turn lights off.  Let the sun dry your clothes, not the dryer.

Talk to your kids about why it is important to be conscious consumers. These conversations don’t have to be long, but are more effective as brief comments woven into your everyday conversations.   But over time, the information your kids learn will begin to hang together and they will develop their own understanding of why it is important to look after the environment and what they can do.

- Nicole

 

*Excepts from this piece were originally written for and published in Issue 9 of Lunch Lady https://shop.hellolunchlady.com.au/collections/frontpage/products/issue-9?variant=4870168117285

 

 

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