It’s time to speak up: Canberra’s youth need to prioritise mental health awareness
It’s taken some time, but slowly, mental health is becoming increasingly easier to talk about within Australia’s youth population.
With the internet providing new avenues to find and accept help, young Australians are finding it easier to talk about their problems than ever before. However, suicide numbers continue to grow at an alarming rate, with data acquired in 2015 showing that suicide rates are at an all time high.
Suicide is the number one cause of death for young Australians, taking more lives per year, than car accidents.
These facts provide a concerning insight into the wellbeing of our youth. Perhaps more frightening, is how close to home these facts hit.
A 2014 report by then Acting Chief Health Officer Andrew Pengilley found that Canberra had the highest number of mental health and behavioural problems in Australia. It’s clear that mental health is topic that deserves our fullest attention here at home.
Organisations like Headspace, are committed to helping Canberra’s adolescents speak up about their mental health, and take it seriously.
Tracy Boomer is a Headspace youth counsellor who has been working as a counsellor/case worker with young people for the last 27 years. As part of the Headspace program, Tracy runs counselling sessions and reaches out to the wider Canberra community.
Throughout her time as a Headspace youth counsellor, Tracy has encountered a multitude of young people with various mental illnesses and behavioural issues. With a post graduate diploma in counselling, she is an expert when it comes to the plights that surround young people.
I sat down with Tracy to speak about youth mental health in Canberra, the role of friends and family in alleviating mental illness, and the roles and responsibilities of society in removing the stigma from mental health.
Q: In most recently available data acquired in 2013-2014, beyond blue says that an estimated 560,000 Australian’s between the ages of 4-17 experienced a mental disorder. Do you think that schooling and university is a main contributor to these numbers?
A: In headspace Canberra’s experience, we see a number of young people who experience mental health difficulties due to school and university which includes a lot of anxiety around assessments, exams and assignments. Other factors that come into play with schooling is bullying and social isolation. However, social media, family issues, previous trauma, interpersonal relationship issues can also contribute to young people experiencing mental health issues.
Q: Millennial’s are often cited as weak, with the term ‘snowflake’ being used to describe this generation. Do you think that the use of this term discourages young people from seeking help for mental illnesses?
A: I actually have not heard the term snowflake! And none of the young people I have worked with have bought this up. But I have googled it! I actually believe that young people in this generation are far more comfortable in seeking health as there are more opportunities for open conversations regarding mental health and, there’s a huge amount of encouragement to seek help. The stigma is constantly being reduced.
Q: Images on Instagram and Snapchat can damage the self-esteem of young people, forcing them into competition between them and their friends to live ‘cooler’ lives. Does social media have a positive or negative effect on the mental health of young people?
A: I really think that social media can play a negative role with interpersonal relationship issues, bullying, and the mindset of trying to, “keep up with the Kardashian’s”. But I do think that due to the social media platform many of us have available, we are able to spread positive mental health messages and keep young people informed of up coming workshops that can assist with their mental health.
Q: What are some common issues that you see in the young people you help? Do they represent larger societal issues?
A: Common issues that I see include anxiety, depression, interpersonal relationship issues, school related issues, family difficulties, drug and alcohol abuse and self harm. These are definitely representative of larger societal issues, however it’s great to see the Government recognising these issues and supporting mental health services.
Q: What can you do if you believe that a friend or family member may be experiencing anxiety or depression?
A: Most importantly, listen to them. Don’t underplay what they are going through. Open communication, being non judgemental, providing space when they need, encouraging them to talk to someone supportive, encouraging self care activities are just some of the things that friends and family can do to assist someone experiencing anxiety or depression. Lastly, if you’re really concerned, support them to seek assistance from a professional. It can save a life.
Q: University students juggle work, uni and social lives and often don’t take the time for self-care. How can university students improve their mental health?
A: I would advise students to stay connected with friends and family, be mindful of substance use, get good sleep, set realistic goals, play, encourage physical activities and don’t feel guilty for taking some time out of your studies. If we had a straight forward answer to this question I think we’d all be millionaires!
If you or anyone you know needs support, please contact:
Lifeline – 13 11 14
Headspace – (02) 5109 9700
Beyond Blue – (02) 6287 8066
Menslink – (02) 6287 2226