The importance of de-stigmatising mental illness in the midst of a health crisis


Image from: TeacherBoard


According to data from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), emergency health departments in Australia are witnessing an alarming rate of first-time presentations of self-harm as a result of the pandemic.


It’s no secret that the uncertainty of the pandemic is causing stress and anxiety amongst Australians – but it may be youth who are taking it the hardest. According to the Black Dog Institute, job loss, reduction in work hours and isolation from loved ones have been cited as the main causes for this high surge in mental illness and self-harm.


It is of high importance during this time to de-stigmatise mental illness and the act of reaching out, to encourage youth to reach out to the support services created for them. The negative stigma that surrounds mental illness often causes people to feel ashamed of their symptoms and prevents them from getting treatment.


Madison Parrot, a social worker currently working for Wesley Mission. Ms Parrot has been working with youth in NSW for over ten years, says 2020 has been the most difficult year for her clients.


“We have already seen a significant rise in suicide, domestic violence, job loss and all of these impact the larger social and local communities,” she says.


“Many of my client’s mental health has declined due to the large shift in the ability to see each other face to face. I have attended more paediatrician appointments in the last 3 months than I have in the last 2 years due to significant behaviour changes.”


Teachers, parents and carers are especially worried about senior students in Year 11 and Year 12, who are facing some of the most important school years with increasing restrictions. The uncertainty of their future is beginning to cause more stress and anxiety than it regularly would.


Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time high school students have been recognised as those at risk. Black Dog Institute has previously reported that 40 per cent of Year 12 students experience depression and anxiety symptoms higher than the normal range for their age group. The Black Dog Institute has also named suicide as the leading cause of death for Aussie youth aged 5-17 years old.


More recent data from DHHS has shown that specifically in Victoria, the state with the most cases of coronavirus, there has been a 33 per cent increase in children and young people admitted to hospital for self-harm injuries over the last six weeks.


These alarming statistics have brought youth mental health to the forefront, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison announcing in August an additional $12 million in funding for mental health organisations.


“Mental health and suicide prevention are one of my government’s highest priorities,” Morrison said in a press conference. “More needs to be done and more will be done. It’s important that we play our role to support each other.”


While this injection into the mental health sector will be beneficial for organisations, Ms Parrot warns of the long-lasting effects the pandemic could have on Aussie youth.


“The impact lockdown and COVID-19 will have on the younger generation is yet to be determined, but it is possible we will see many young children grow up with PTSD type symptoms due to the world’s current climate,” she says.


It’s possible that students’ level of motivation for school and other extra-curricular activities could decrease as an after effect of the pandemic, meaning that now is an incredibly important time for parents and guardians to check in with their children.


It is also important for Aussie youth to also be aware of the services offered to them. Organisations like Reach Out, Headspace and Kids Helpline have specifically designed websites and dedicated phone lines that provide ongoing support.


If you or anyone are struggling during this time, please seek out the following services: Lifeline Australia | 13 11 14 Lifeline Australia | 0800 543 354 Kids Helpline | 1800 55 1800 MensLine Australia | 1300 78 99 78 Suicide Call Back Service | 1300 659 467 Beyond Blue | 1300 22 4636 Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling | 1800 011 046 You are not alone, and there is always someone who can help.


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