InformationThis general information is provided as a guide for young people, parents and caregivers, service professsionals and schools. If you find incorrect information please contact us to have the relevant page updated.
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Depression & Anxiety
One in five Australians will experience a mental illness.
"Mental Illness" is a term that makes reference to a number or group of illnesses. Episodes of mental illness come and go throughout people’s lives and most can be effectively treated.
Young people suffering from mental health issues can find attending school, social functions, sporting functions etc very difficult and may become more isolated as a result of feeling "different" to other young people.
Individual feelings of shame, embarrassment, combined with reluctance from the community to accept people with mental health issues may interfere with a young person’s ability to access appropriate help when they need it.
Two common mental health issues are depression and anxiety. Psychosis is a serious but low prevalence mental health disorder.
For more information contact a local mental health service or GP.
Statistically, 24% of adolescents will have experienced clinical depression by the age of 18 years. Symptoms of depression may include:
- Feelings of sadness over an extended period.
- Withdrawal from peers.
- Increased irritability or anger.
- Change in academic performance.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Changes to sleeping and eating patterns.
- Loss of enjoyment from social activities or previous interests.
- Marked changes in energy levels, or increased agitation.
- Poor self-esteem.
- Preoccupation with death or suicide.
These symptoms could indicate depression if they have a profound impact on the young persons ability to manage daily life. Depression can be caused by stressful life events such as death of a close friend or relative, failing an exam and so on, or it may have no identifiable trigger.
Anxiety is a normal part of life. This is usually a temporary response to mild stress. When anxiety persists for a long period of time it may be necessary to obtain further assistance as it can lead to difficulties participating in normal daily activities.
Children or adolescents who are anxious may exhibit the following symptoms:
- Unrealistic and excessive worry
- Continuous need for reassurance
- Marked self-consciousness
- Complaints with no physical cause
- Difficulty concentrating
- Restlessness or agitation
- Distress on separation from parents
- Refusing to attend school
- Panic attacks
- Avoidance of certain situations
- Obsessions or compulsions
There are many types of anxiety disorders including separation anxiety, phobias, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress, generalised anxiety disorder.
- Approach the young person and identify your concerns about their changes in mood or behaviour.
- Acknowledge the feelings of the young person.
- Allow them time and space to talk.
- Encourage them to talk to their family about how they are feeling.
- Provide information on where to access professional help.
- If the young person does not wish to engage in this process, discuss your concerns with a clinician. This is known as secondary consultation and the young person’s name is not required.
- If you have any reason to believe that the person is at imminent risk of harm to themselves or others contact your local mental health service immediately.
- Talk to someone you can trust.
- Be open and honest about how you are feeling.
- Be aware that you are not alone.
- Know that there is help available and ask a trusted adult for information and resources.
- Access information about your feelings.
- Consider talking to a professional.
- Be available to your child.
- Be open to hearing about how they are feeling and don’t minimise their feelings.
- Allow your child time to open up about how they are feeling – don’t push too hard.
- Try to find out if there has been a trigger, how long have they been feeling like this, has anything helped or changed?
- Contact professionals (family doctor, community health centres, youth counsellors, school welfare officers, websites, etc) to obtain further information and support.
Young People as Carers
Young people who are living with a parent with a mental illness may at times become the carer of their parent and/or siblings. Worries about their parent’s mental illness may place significant strains on the young person’s school and social activities. Being responsible for the caring role can often lead to high levels of stress. A mental health prevalence study of young people rated the emotional burden of worrying about their parent to be of higher concern than more tangible aspects of caring such as paying bills and housework.
- Many children who have a parent with a mental illness usually find it difficult to talk abut what is going on at home as they may not understand it themselves. Be open and willing to listen to their story. Acknowledge and normalise the young person’s feelings.
- Try to answer the young person’s questions as openly as possible.
- Establish a support network, within and outside the family
- Try and find out some more about the illness, it’ll help you understand what’s going on.
- Don’t be afraid to open up to a friend, relative or someone you trust. Talking about it can help take a load off.
- You may want to talk to your school about your situation so they can support you if times get tough.
- Find an outlet for yourself, like a sport or learning to play an instrument.
- Don’t forget. Sometimes talking to your parent will clear up any confusion you might have about what’s going on.
- It is important to remember that children are quite susceptible to what is going on around them. Young people usually know when something isn’t right and more often than not blame themselves for the situation.
- Talk to the young person and explain what is going on, this will help clear up any confusion they may have.
- Let them know it is not their fault or anything they have done and that mental illness is just like any other physical illness.
- Consider peer support groups for your child. These groups are extremely important in letting your child know that they are not alone, and there are any others in the same situation.
- Establish supports for the family to help when times get tough, for example help in the home and/or counselling.
- It may be beneficial to discuss your situation with your child’s school to enable relevant supports are in place when needed.
- www.copmi.net.au (Children of Parents with a Mental Illness (COPMI)