According to the Australian Government’s 2015 Mental Health of Children and Adolescents Report, almost three percent of Australian children aged four to 17 met diagnostic criteria for a major depressive order, with adolescents aged 12 to 17 at greatest risk. The report also found that approximately seven percent of young people aged four to 17 had an anxiety disorder.
The report states: “Mental disorders impact on young people in a number of ways across different aspects of their lives.”
“The key feature of a major depressive disorder is the presence of either ongoing depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure, or being grouchy, irritable and in a bad mood.”
According to beyondblue the symptoms of depression can range from relatively minor (but still disabling) through to very severe.
beyondblue lists five main types of depression outlined briefly below:
Major depression – symptoms are experienced most days and last for at least two weeks. Types of major depression include melancholia and psychotic depression among others.
Bipolar disorder – marked by periods of depression and periods of mania (which can include feeling great, having lots of energy, lack of focus, racing thoughts), with periods of normal mood in between.
Cyclothymic disorder - often described as a milder form of bipolar disorder because the duration of the symptoms is shorter, less severe and not as regular as with bipolar disorder.
Dysthymia disorder - while this has similar symptoms to major depression, they are less severe, but last longer.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) - mood disorder that has a seasonal pattern thought to be related to the variation in light exposure in different seasons.
Distinguishing between anxiety and anxiousness is more challenging. It is common for children to be anxious, however, when worries or fears are excessive, persistent and interfere with everyday life and a child’s ability to carry out daily routines, they can become a cause for concern.
Common anxiety disorders in children include:
Social phobia – marked and persistent fear or avoidance of social or performance situations which may cause embarrassment.
Separation anxiety disorder – excessive anxiety concerning separation from the home or from those to whom the child is attached. Read our guide on to how to deal with separation anxiety.
Generalised anxiety disorder – excessive anxiety, worry or apprehension about a number of different events and activities, occurring frequently for a period of at least six months
Obsessive-compulsive disorder – recurrent obsessions and/or compulsions that are severe enough to be time consuming and cause marked distress or significant impairment. Among children aged four to 11, this form of anxiety is more prevalent among males.
As the primary care-givers, parents and guardians are often in the best position to recognise signs of depression or anxiety. If your child is displaying several of these signs and these feelings persist, it is advisable to seek professional advice. It is important to understand that depression and anxiety disorders can only be diagnosed by health professionals and are more complex than feelings of sadness and anxiousness.
How to support your child through anxiety and depression
The importance of family support is key when helping young people through mental health disorders, children need to know that they are loved and supported. Here are five tips for helping your child with anxiety and depression:
- Seek professional support and treatment
Health professionals can offer a range of treatment options for young people, including cognitive behaviour therapy; behaviour therapy; interpersonal therapy; mindfulness-based cognitive therapy; and family therapy. Primarily, they can help children to work through their thoughts and feelings and offer ideas and an alternative perspective to approach problems and issues. Medical treatment can also prevent anxiety and depression from returning.
It can take time for children to develop a rapport with health professionals, so it might take several sessions before your child feels comfortable opening up. Your GP can recommend suitable health professionals and arrange a Mental Health Treatment Plan that entitles you to either partial or full Medicare fee coverage.
Talk with your child about things that interest them and what is happening in their life. Use open questions to encourage more detailed discussion. Communication is key to building strong relationships and ensuring that your child feels supported. This will help your child to confide in you when something is troubling him or her. Talking openly about mental health is also critical to understanding what mental health is, how to maintain it and what to do if it is in jeopardy.
- Build and encourage supportive relationships
It is important to spend quality time with your child to demonstrate that they are loved and cared for. Quality time also promotes bonding moments that will strengthen your relationship and encourage your child to open up to you. It is also recommended that you support your child to establish relationships with other adults too. This will enhance their support network as well as help your child to develop the social skills needed to develop friendships with peers.
- Promote opportunities for personal challenge
Striking a balance between nurture and challenge is key when dealing with emotional and social wellbeing. Children need to learn to tackle personal challenges to build their confidence and learn how to deal with obstacles, success and failure. Support your child to try new things and encourage independence and healthy risk-taking. Read our tips to encourage boys to embrace challenge.
- Get outdoors and get moving
The mental health benefits of physical activity are well known. Movement helps boys to process their feelings in a healthy manner. Regular exercise is also one of the most effective ways to improve and maintain mental health. It acts as a stress release and can help children to sleep better and improve their mood. Spending time in the outdoors is also beneficial. The outdoors can enhance wellbeing by releasing endorphins that reduce stress and lift spirits. Activity in the outdoors also stimulates the senses and focuses the mind.
If you have concerns about your child’s mental wellbeing, consult a teacher, school counsellor or your family doctor.
For over a hundred years Trinity Grammar School has educated boys in mind, body and spirit. Our mission is to provide a thoroughly Christian education for boys from Pre-Kindergarten to Year 12, imparting knowledge and understanding of the world we live in, and recognising the importance of spiritual qualities in every sphere of learning.
Trinity’s Pastoral Care guidelines focus on the fundamentals of good parenting — providing both care and discipline — enabling boys to grow into self-confident, trustworthy and resilient young men. Combined with an ongoing partnership between the School and home, your son will thrive in a consistent, caring and nurturing environment.
The Trinity Education Support Services (TESS) department offers a wide range of support for boys, including those who need social and emotional support. The TESS Counselling department comprises of psychologists who offer individual counselling and assessment for learning and mental health needs, small group-based programmes, parent information sessions, and assistance with life skills programming and year group presentations.
Our Life Skills Programme is part of a whole of School approach to health and wellbeing that enhances our boys’ capacity to be emotionally resilient and socially competent. Discover more by downloading our Year 8 Life Skills guide.