Nearly 1 in 4 Australian teenagers meet the criteria for having a “probable serious mental illness”, a joint report from Mission Australia and the Black Dog Institute has found. via ABC.
Read that again. Let it sink in for a moment.
1 in 4 Aussie teens is likely to have a serious mental illness.
This is appalling, especially for a country like Australia. We blow wind up our own a** about being the most amazing place in the world to live yada yada yada, and yet, one in every four high school students are walking around with an enormous black cloud hanging over their head.
Some other quotes from the article:
“Their (teenagers) main concerns are coping with stress, school and study problems, coping with depression and anxiety, and body image.”
“I don’t really know what it’s like now to live without depression and anxiety,” Miss Vandersluis (mental health survivor) told ABC News. “To the world you look like you’re OK, you have a face full of make-up and a smile on your face, you don’t look like you’re sad, but inside you feel a bit dead.”
This is precisely the problem with mental illness: you can’t readily see it. But deep down, just below the surface, our young people are in a world of pain. They are carrying burdens that are not meant for them. They are living a life that is a daily hell. And nobody stops to help. To listen. To understand. To care.
The article continues.
The report revealed that teenagers were increasingly turning to the internet to help them deal with their troubles.
“This might signal that we have a way to go to reduce the stigma of mental health issues, [because] young people are not prepared to admit they have a problem, so they’re looking for the anonymity of researching on the internet to try and seek help,”
We all know the increased anxiety that occurs when we do the old ‘google doctor search’. It really doesn’t help, especially for complex issues like mental illness. Well, the internet is where teenagers are going for advice and support. But really, it’s a loud cry for help.
Does google lead them to the right place? To the right areas of help? I doubt it. They may be able to ring any number of the support services available, but even those are drowning because of the enormity of the need.
Mission Australia and the Black Dog Institute are calling for specifically funded, mental health programs in all Australian high schools.
Miss Vandersluis agreed that schools “need more awareness of what mental illness looks like and how to help”.
“If people know how to recognise it and what to do in those situations we can stop the old way of keeping mental health behind closed doors, like we should be ashamed to feel bad. We shouldn’t.”
Yet again, a major society crisis is being dumped on the schools. In some ways it makes sense, that’s where the young people gather, but we need a radically different approach to how this is dealt with.
Programs are good, but they only go so far.
The blow-in blow-out type of ‘awareness’ education is a band-aid solution.
The one to two part-time counsellors a school may have on staff are doing their best.
Awareness, programs and professional counsellors are great, but in a moment of despair and desperation, young people need to be equipped. They need to have a friend they can rely on. They must have an adult they can call at a moment’s notice. They must know what to do when life begins to unravel.
They must have relationships that are impartial, helpful and understanding.
Teenagers simply must be given the environment where vulnerability is OK, acceptance is a given, their identity and worth is secure, and the future is looked forward to.
Sadly, I don’t think it’s that important for most people. Most adults are going about their busy and hectic lives hoping that their tax dollars will fix this problem.
Many people are too worried about paying for their massive house and three cars in a leafy lined street to even contemplate getting to know a young person who may be going through a tough time.
Moreover, most adults don’t even know how life-changing their role can actually be!
We need something different, and as Youth Mental Health First Aid accredited trainer I want to help wherever I can. Every school in Australia can attest to the fact we need more resources. We need to give young people the freedom, space and time to openly discuss with each other what they are going through – without the judgements they are used to receiving from their parents, teachers, peers and culture.
My gut sense is, this worrying trend can be corrected sooner rather than later – if we’re prepared to make some personal sacrifices. That we can turn the tide on these alarming rates, simply by showing up to young people, offering them an ear to listen, a shoulder to lean on, a heart to empathise with and a finger to point them the right way.
If we can do that, we can begin to release our future to the world changers who need our help.
Are you coming along for the ride? We need you.
Parents, teachers, educators: just fill out the contact form if you want to learn more about my work please get in touch.