I have heard people say to me that I have a way with the written word. Maybe I do, maybe I don’t. At the end of the day, if my written word contains a message that somehow enhances your understanding, connects with your soul, drives and compels you to play your part for our young people’s mental wellbeing, then I guess I do.
Today I hope I can communicate in such a way, you are compelled to share it; be it part of the written word, one of the photos or even just one of the enlightening statistics.
I sat around a lovely laid out table, with coffee and pastries in abundance. That’s what it takes to get people to commit to youth mental health these days… I had never heard of the Keynote speaker before (and that got me thinking on silos and how much better our youth would be if we could effectively connect the dots between these silos; each of which holds a vast amount of wealth and knowledge. Anyway, that for another post).
When Sarah Hardy began her story: I sat. I watched. I listened. By the conclusion of her presentation she had just eloquently framed exactly why I founded A PATH TO FOLLOW.
It went something like this:
Youth Mental Health
- 75% of all mental health conditions begin between the ages of 12-18
- 25% of all Australians will experience at least 1 episode of CLINICAL depression by end of adolescence.
- Mental Illness in adolescent interrupts normal development (is reversible but remember …
- 75% of adolescents don’t access professional support
- Median onset of Anxiety, Eating Disorders and Drug & alcohol problems is 15 years
- Mental Illness is the LARGEST DISEASE BURDEN for 15-25 year olds, with Anxiety the largest, followed by depression
This data which informed resulting treatments and community strategies, was published in 2007. I don’t need to tell you how much life has changed in that small time. In 2007, we were stating that 1 in 5 people will experience a mental health condition, realistically we would be looking at least 1 in 4, perhaps 1 in 3 in 2013. These very same 2007 statistics taken from the youth population (12-25) EXCLUDED the homeless, the unemployed, Indigenous and those involved with the justice system; pretty much anyone who was most vulnerable to experiencing mental illness.
Sarah Hardy didn’t assume she had the fixes, but she did have some very sensible aids that can be easily applied should the government ever choose to throw a serious and LONG TERM strategy at mental illness. I have included these below, along with some very simple strategies, we as parents, can readily apply with our children. Don’t wait for the government to give Mental Health more money, in a more sustainable fashion. Do what you can to apply prevention and early intervention strategies with your children NOW.
- Increase our children’s mental health literacy from an early Primary School Age.
TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH. Include it in your conversations, don’t give it a “we’ll talk about it later” , it will only perpetuate the idea that it is NOT ok to talk about. We can’t expect to our children to grow into adults who have good mental health literacy unless we teach it to them in childhood.
Sarah gave an example of a Primary School workshop where children were asked to describe Physical and Mental Health looked like. The children came up with many and varied POSITIVE attributes for Physical Health: fitness, good diet, sporty, strong. The list to describe mental health contained adjectives (of which there were far fewer) that were completely NEGATIVE: (sad, crying, depressed, stressed). It’s time we started resourcing our children with positive language with which to talk about mental health.
- Increase our children’s social connectedness by offering more, alcohol and drug free, activities and events.
ENGAGE YOUR CHILDREN IN THE LOCAL COMMUNITY via sport or other activities. Check out what your local councils offer for youth.
- Put our youth through Mental Health First Aid training. This idea also included the idea of training up some youth to act as the mentors for other youth.
Talk to your school/s about what they are doing in terms of mental health education. All schools have an Anaphylaxis and Asthma plan, but what about Mental Health Plans? TALK to your children about recognising the difference between normal expression of emotions and when there might be a more serious mental health problem. You could also be proactive and look up a training course for your children (See below for Mental Health First Aid options)
I will finish my (not so short) blog post by reminding you: Mental Health does not discriminate. There are pre-dispositions and factors that make people more prone to developing mental health issues and we know those inside out. What we don’t know so much about is those youth who form part of the more hidden, vulnerable cohort; those from households and families who are financially doing well and who appear well-connected and supported. An interesting article on that population via link below. Don’t make assumptions about who struggles with mental health, it might be your neighbour, your School Principal, your best friend’s husband, your plumber, solicitor or hairdresser.