Between the pressure of school, fitting in with peers and extracurricular activities, there are several challenges that children and youth are currently facing – including mental health problems.
Each year there are many studies conducted to determine the number of children suffering from mental illnesses, what these illnesses are and how many children and teens are seeking help.
Despite many countries delivering different statistics, there are similarities in the mental health of young people across the globe. Many studies, including a survey by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, discovered children and youth between the ages of 3 and 17 had one or more of the below mental health problems:
- Behavioural problems
- Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Whilst adolescents were also shown to have:
- Alcohol use disorder
- Cigarette dependence
- Illicit drug use disorder
Further studies conducted in the United States in recent years have shown 11 per cent of youth reported suffering at least one major depressive episode, while 7.4 per cent of youth reported having experienced severe depression.
So, how do we approach children and adolescents when it comes to discussing mental health? Dr Ryan Harvey from Australian home doctor service, House Call Doctor, discusses the signs to look for and how to get the correct help.
While it may seem obvious to look for any ‘irregular behavior’, it’s important to specifically look for any of the below signs:
- Your child is regularly anxious or distressed
- Your child is regularly upset and refusing comfort (or having problems that are worsening)
- Your child experiences a sudden change in their behavior lasting longer than two weeks
- Your child engages in behavior that is hurting themselves or others
- Your child is experiencing problems which are interfering with their usual daily tasks (i.e. school work), eating, sleeping and/or concentrating.
What to Do
If you’re worried about the well being of a young person, the first step is to consult with a doctor.
Hopefully, your child will understand that seeing a doctor will be helpful and a GP isn’t there to judge. If your child isn’t willing to cooperate, you can look at discussing their situation without them and putting together a plan with your doctor on how to handle their behavior (it’s also helpful to write down specific situations where you have noticed a change in their behavior).
Your doctor may suggest organizing extra support at school, access to information about mental health or support for challenging behavior.
How to Talk About Mental Health
Talking about mental health can be difficult. It may be easier to approach the situation by following this step by step guide.
Step 1: Say something. According to beyondblue (an Australian non-profit organisation), it’s important to voice your concern and show your willingness to support your child. This may open a door for them to seek help.
Step 2: Listen. It can be difficult for children and youth to open up about how they’re feeling, so it’s important you’re prepared.
A few pieces of advice from beyondblue include:
- Be an attentive listener.
- Acknowledge your child’s feelings – don’t down play what they’re telling you.
- Ask open-ended questions – this will provide an opportunity for your child to keep talking rather than giving short or one-word answers.
- Remind your child they’re not alone – this can allow you to offer your support along with suggesting the option of seeking professional help.
- Regularly check in with emails, text messages etc. to ask your child how they’re feeling – they may want to tell you what is happening in their lives without talking face to face.
- Do some research – before initiating the conversation, read up on their symptoms and potential mental health problems they may be experiencing so you have a level of understanding.
Step 3: Provide reassurance. Whether it be encouraging your child to explore different options at school or to seek professional support, a simple display of reassurance and support could be the turning point for your child.
If you’re worried about the well being of a young person, please contact a doctor for further information.
Dr Ryan Harvey is the Assistant Medical Director at House Call Doctor. Dr Harvey is highly experienced in paediatrics and has administered medical care to children living in remote overseas communities. He now works with many families, administering acute care when unexpected medical situations arise overnight.