There is something about our kids.
They are increasingly anxious and depressed, and they are suffering from mental health conditions at a younger and younger age.
Given the increasing pressures on them, from the 24-hour news cycle, terrorism, global poverty, an impending climate crisis, and higher than ever educational expectations, perhaps this is not surprising. Growing up in the social media age doesn’t help either.
The awkwardness of teenage years, the general social taboo of mental illness, and the ignorance of mental health issues in young people create a dangerous combination.
“One in four kids say they worry about the future all the time.”
On Monday night, the ABC’s Four Corners spoke to a number of teenagers to explore the issues they are facing, and the emotions they are experiencing.
‘Our Kids – Why are they so stressed?‘ was a brilliant 45 minutes of quality current affairs television, revealing a troubling mosaic of broken homes, bullying, body image issues, eating disorders, self-harm, and concern about the future.
“One in three 11-17 year-olds were bullied in the past 12 months.”
One young man, Tarquin, revealed traumatising family conflict, which made him think about running away from home: “… I should just leave and, like, not come back, you know.”
He doesn’t get the support he needs from his parents – he gets it from his young girlfriend: “… she’d just make me think that I actually deserve to live here and… yeah.”
That’s a lot of pressure on a teenage girl, dealing with issues of her own.
“Nearly one in five 16-17 year-old girls are suffering from depression.”
It was also revealed teens are under incredible pressure to have the latest, fashionable items, from clothing to technology: “There’s the pressure to have the newest trends and be trendy and look, you know, just look ‘Tumblr-ey’, which is: like, that’s everyone’s sort of aim in our generation.”
“Kids from sole-parent, low-income families are more likely to be anxious.”
Self-harm is also a serious concern, with an increasing number of young people engaging in self-harm: “It was… it was really crazy, ’cause, like, I’d do it at night and it was just like I was completely: it was all I wanted to do. And I’d wake up the next morning and, like, look at myself and there’d be, you know, like, blood on my pyjamas and blood on my sheets.”
“Around 135,000 young Australians deliberately harmed themselves in the past year.”
Beyond Blue, Australia’s leading mental health organisation, recognises young people deal with new, increasing pressures and youth mental health had become a serious issue that can no longer be ignored.
It is clear young people need support to manage the demands and pressures placed upon them by an increasingly complex, modern society. Our kids are entitled to expect that this matter will receive urgent attention – it’s a social responsibility and a matter of public health.
The primary responsibility falls on parents and schools to understand the signs and symptoms of mental health issues in children and teenagers, and to equip themselves to provide the required support.
And that is why, especially in such budget conscious times, money should be spent on professional counsellors trained in dealing with mental health issues, including self-harm and suicide prevention, rather than the National School Chaplaincy Programme.