Child and adolescent mental illness is it a big issue?

By October 10, 2014 March 8th, 2015 Reflections

Nearly 50% of Australians will experience a mental disorder during their lifetime, with young people (18-24yrs) being the most at risk age group with up to approximately 25% of this population experiencing mental illness every year. What is even more concerning – is that the leading cause of death for young people in this country, aged 15-24 years old, is suicide (please see the links at the bottom of our website for more information or immediate assistance). Research also tells us that the majority of affected young people don’t receive mental health support when it’s needed.

Why is this happening?

Many reasons have been cited including: rapid social changes, globalisation, social isolation, unemployment, peer pressure, bullying, educational stresses, family and individual crises, a break down in traditional values leading to conflict between family members etc. It would seem the pressures mounting on our kids and youth are growing at a rate that many of them find difficult, and unfortunately at times impossible to cope with.

What can we do?

Get in touch with a health professional! This could be your local GP – who can develop a Mental Health Treatment Plan that allows for a child, young person or their significant others to engage in counselling with financial assistance through Medicare. Call your local psychologist or mental health professional. You don’t need a referral to see a psychologist for example, although a referral from a GP can assist with costs. Contact your local Child & Adolescent Mental Health Team. If you’re not sure what to do – talk to someone,  and there are some fantastic community based resources there to help you (click on our links below for more information).

Many young Australians don’t know what it is that is happening to them when their mental health starts to suffer. Sometimes it’s changes in behaviour that others notice, or it could be a decline in academic performance, disengagement from previously enjoyable pursuits, use of alcohol or other substances, outbursts of anger, prolonged sadness, isolation from peers and family members – the list goes on. Sound like any ‘normal’ teenager? It’s more likely that social pressures and expectations have become such that we’ve learnt to normalise concerning child and adolescent behaviour to such an extent we overlook underlying social and psychological factors.

I’ve worked with many young children, adolescents and families over the years, and what is often presented during psychological assessment and counselling is less the ‘problematic kid’ – and more often the psychologically troubled child or young person. Mental health information following assessment, sometimes called psychoeducation, is often an integral initial step in providing a struggling young person and their family members with a way to understand and therefore support a way forward, for all involved. Individual counselling can be incredibly effective – as can be adopting where appropriate family therapy, as this approach proves to be a powerful way to work with a child or young person as the the entire family system is hopefully engaged in working towards a better future.

Working in child and adolescent psychology is a challenging, complex and incredibly rewarding job – and having worked in educational psychology and mental health for several years I know first hand the multitude of challenges that young people and their families are facing nowadays. Fortunately, child and adolescent mental health is on the social radar – yet more needs to be done to support young people, as these most concerning of statistics clearly inform us.

On a different note from all of us at the PCG – we wish each and every one of you a happy and hope filled World Mental Health Day!

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