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News Opinion/Commentary Uncategorized

Australian children face a mental health crisis

Mental health image of brain
Image: iStock

According to Natasha Bita in the Herald Sun, Australian children and teenagers are facing a mental health crisis. (Mental Health 360: Shocking rise in Aussie teens being medicated, 2 December 2020).

1 in 13 teens are taking antidepressants and/or other psychiatric drugs.

Health and youth experts claim COVID-19 is a factor to this worrying trend. 87,781 primary school – aged children and 134,439 teenagers were prescribed medications for various mental disorders over 2018/2019.

What diagnoses children are receiving?

Not surprisingly, anxiety and depression are major issues facing a number of children. What’s worrying is that primary school and preschool – aged children are also being diagnosed.

Yourtown chief executive, Tracey Adams told Herald Sun that domestic violence is exacerbating these rates.

Children are also being diagnosed with other conditions, including ADD/ ADHD, psychosis and conduct disorder.

The increase in conduct disorder diagnoses has surprised and alarmed me. How can more children be diagnosed? Is it over diagnosis; an accusation commonly aimed at ADD/ADHD?

Or is it something else? As I wrote before, alarms surrounding domestic violence have been raised. According to Better Health Channel, parental aggression (particularly from the father) and domestic violence are risk factors that can trigger the disorder.

Government response

To be honest, I think that the Federal and State governments have failed in this area. It’s too little, too late.

Only now has the Government offered Kids Helpline extra funding for fifty more counsellors. Why wasn’t enough support put in before the pandemic hit?

I think this exposes the great flaws in the Australian mental health system as a whole. There isn’t enough support for those who need it, but haven’t reached breaking point.

Parents play vital role

Psychologist and founder of Parentshop, Michael Hawton told Herald Sun that most anxiety in children is “learned”.

If kids are surrounded by parents who are highly rushed and speaking and behaving anxiously, it’s hard for them to not pick up on that.

He also suggested that parents teach children about facing problems head on rather than avoiding them. Emotional reactivity should also be minimised.

Blaming social media and anxious parents doesn’t solve the problem

Many commenters on the Herald Sun article have blamed social media (surprised?). But to me, the issue is much bigger.

There are obviously children and teenagers that need ongoing help. Some may need different therapies, like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). There may be children that need to be removed from violent or abusive homes. Victims of bullies need support to have their self – esteem built back up.

Psychologists and/ or Masters qualified Social Workers need to be employed in all schools.

Also, I really do think the Australian mental health system needs an overhaul. Medicare is grossly inadequate in funding mental health.

The Australian mental health system seems to help two types of people: those who don’t need ongoing professional help. Or, the other extreme: those who are at high risk of harm or suicide.

Both State and Federal Governments have failed in dealing with psychological costs of lockdown and COVID-19. Counselling services should have been properly funded in the first place. It isn’t good enough.

Lastly, all mental health costs should be covered by the Government. If not through Medicare, through other means.

 

What are you thoughts? How can people with mental or behavioural conditions be helped?

 

 

 

Categories
Media Opinion/Commentary

We need to talk about men and mental health

Sad man sitting on beach
Image: iStock

Content warning: depression and suicide(brief mention)

Mental health is a topic that has hit the spotlight again. This year started with a tragic death of Akubra child model Amy ‘Dolly’ Everett, who took her own life after relentless cyber – bullying.

I firmly believe that bullying is something that needs to be taken more seriously, but that discussion isn’t for this post. I want to talk about mental health and men.

 

News came out late last month that Australian tennis player, Bernard Tomic, left the jungle in I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here after less than forty – eight hours. He admitted that he was depressed.

The reactions, to be frank, have been quite appalling. People both within and outside the media has attacked Tomic’s sudden departure. At least one has backed off.

Good on Fordham for having the humility to retract his statement. Yet, I’m saddened that this has turned into a debate.

So, he’s made arrogant comments about ‘counting’ his ‘millions’. According to Jessie Stephens from Mamamia, suggested that Tomic had shown symptoms long before the I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here.

Tomic was condemned last year for expressing his desire to want to quit tennis. Loss of interest in once – enjoyed activities is one common sign of depression.

Now, of course, Tomic needs to be diagnosed by a professional, not the general public or journalists. But what has annoyed me is the dismissive attitude people have had. Why has it sparked so much scrutiny? Have we gone backwards in our attitudes toward mental health, especially in men? I really hope not, considering that men are more than twice as likely to die by suicide than women, according to Mindframe, who used Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data in from 1989 to 2016. Over – representation of men in suicide statistics is consistent across all States and Territories and Aboriginal and non – Aboriginal people alike.

 

Anyone suffering mental health issues, including anxiety and depression should have access to necessary treatment without shame. On a similar note, I want to talk about another criticism that Tomic has copped about ‘self – diagnosis’. Most people know in their heart when something isn’t right. Many symptoms of depression can be picked up by the sufferer or their families. There are online questionnaires you can take that may help give an indication of whether you maybe showing depressive symptoms or not. Of course, these tests can not take the place of a professional diagnosis, but it may spur someone to seek out an official diagnosis and treatment.

So, can we please give Bernard Tomic and anyone else who is (or potentially is) suffering a mental illness a break? Can we offer them a bit of compassion, regardless of who they are? The stigma needs to stop. Period.

If you or anyone else is suffering mental illness or is struggling or concerned, you can contact Lifeline: 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636 or www.beyondblue.org.au if you prefer a webchat. For emergencies call 000 or seek medical help immediately. 

If your from another country, please feel free to put contact details of any national mental health or suicide prevention hotlines in your country. 

Categories
Opinion/Commentary

Yes, words do matter

image
Emotional pain is just as real as physical pain. Emotional/ verbal/ cyber abuse is just as devastating as physical abuse

Content warning: bullying, mentions Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me”.

Hands up anyone who has heard that. I’m sure we all have, both as children and adults. Words are often described as “just words”. Nothing. Just water off a duck’s back.

But words do matter (I’ll get to an actual scientific explanation in a second). Victims of emotional abuse, either by peers, by a partner or family member knows this all too well. You feel vulnerable. The more it goes on, the more your self – esteem gets eroded. In the end, you end up believing the lies.

An area that people are starting to grapple with is online abuse, particularly on social media.While there are a number of laws in Australia that make things like stalking, harassment and defamation online an offence, in 2014, anti – bullying campaigners said that police were not trained enough to deal with these cases. Too many complaints were being dismissed.

According to Daily Mail Australia, Adelaide woman, Maxine Pratt, 31, has to face court after she abuse Adelaide Crow’s player Eddie Betts on Facebook. She could possibly be charged with using a carry service to menace, harass and offend. She has since denied that she was being racist and, as a part – Aboriginal (her words), she didn’t find ape references offensive.

Effects of emotional and cyber abuse

A few days ago, I watched a mini – series on Iview, “Cyberhate”, by former model, Tara Moss. On one of the episodes, she went to see a brain specialist to ask about the impact on the brain when being exposed to abuse online. The findings were shocking. Abusive messages affected a similar region of the brain that causes physical pain.  (If you are in Australia, I’d encourage you to look at the series through IView. It’s very informative, but also confronting. Be careful if you have any underlying issues or are triggered by discussions – and quite graphic and brutal incidence of verbal, cyber and homophobic abuse. The Orlando shooting last year is also referenced).

BrainFacts.org confirms that bullying can have a major impact on brain development in childhood, even going as far as saying it has the same effects as child abuse. The short – term and long – term effects of bullying are well – known: depression, anxiety, drug and drug and alcohol abuse in adulthood. It also causes stress, which, if bad enough, can leave the immune system compromised. Bullying victims can also become perpetrators themselves, creating a cycle of victims and perpetrators.

So what is the solution?

From what I watched from Cyberhate, just being stricter on cyber – bullying legally may be easier said than done. What makes it complicated is that, according to the series, a number of self – confessed “trolls” often (not always) show signs of an anti – social personality  disorder, including psychopathy. They may exhibit Machiavellianism; one of the so – called “Dark Triad” along with psychopathy and narcissism.

 I think the law plays a part, but so does psychiatric therapies to help treat those suffering from anti – social personality traits. However, the Harley Therapy Counselling Blog does warn that those who have Machiavellianism are unlikely to go and get treatment on their own accord, so, the only solution I can think of is court appointment when an offence, including cyber offences occur. For offenders who do not suffer any form of psychiatric or personality disorder, there does need to be consequences, including, I believe legal repercussions. Fortunately, young people are more aware of cyber bullying now and its repercussions on both the perpetrators and the victims, since they are talking about it more in high schools. Are the warnings strong enough? I’m not sure.

I think the place we can start is get rid of the “sticks and stones” myth. Words do matter. Words do have an impact. Bullying of any sort should be condemned and treated seriously.

What do you think can or should be done to combat cyber – bullying? 

(For Australians): If this post has brought up any issues for you, contact Lifeline: 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636. For people of other countries, feel free to put any numbers of mental health services in your country, please comment below.