Events such as R U OK? Day, remind us to be aware of each other’s mental health and wellbeing. While experiencing social and emotional difficulties is a natural part of growing up for children, sometimes symptoms display for an extended period of time or begin to interfere with everyday life, indicating more serious mental health concerns.
According to the Australian Government’s 2015 Mental Health of Children and Adolescents Report, one in seven children aged four to 17 experienced a mental disorder in the 12 months prior to the survey. This is equivalent to an estimated 560,000 Australian children and adolescents. Of these, 60 percent were male.
The same report also found that approximately 11 percent of adolescents aged between 12 and 17 reported having self-harmed at one point in their life.
As the primary care-givers, parents and guardians are often in the best position to monitor changes in behaviour and detect emotional and/or behavioural issues. If a problem seems to remain an issue for several weeks or begins to interfere with daily life, it is recommended that you seek professional advice.
Adolescents can experience a variety of mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, low self-esteem or they can become overly concerned with their body image (both girls and boys). As children progress through school, they may feel increasing levels of pressure and responsibility and may have trouble managing the stress associated with this.
According to beyondblue, there are number of signs to look out for that could indicate mental health concerns:
- Frequent, unexplained temper tantrums
- Unusual fears
- Difficulty sleeping – getting to sleep, staying asleep, waking early or sleeping a lot
- Sadness and persistent feelings of hopelessness
- Avoiding friends or family and seeking isolation
- Frequent reluctance to attend school
- Social troubles with other children
- Hyperactive behaviour
- Decline in school performance
- Difficulties with concentration, attention and organisation
- Mood swings and aggression.
Other symptoms can include:
- Depressed or irritable mood
- Sadness and crying
- Withdrawal from normal activity and friendships
- Loss of energy
- Changes in eating habits – no interest in food or overeating
- Getting in trouble at school
- Being difficult to please.
This list should be used as a guide only. Any of these signs can be considered normal childhood behaviour and, in isolation, are not necessarily a cause for concern. However, if your child is displaying several signs and these feelings persist, it is important to seek professional advice.
What can you do to help?
The best protection for your child is to ensure that he or she is loved and cared for – the importance of family support should not be underestimated. Here are some practical tips for helping your son to stay happy and healthy:
1. Talk about it
If your child doesn’t want to open up, you can suggest some feeling words to demonstrate that you understand, and to spark a discussion. Talking openly is an opportunity to correct misconceptions and decrease the anxiety that comes with uncertainty. See our tips to talk openly to children about mental health.
2. Listen without judgement
It is important that children feel heard and that their feelings are recognised and understood. The key to listening without judgement is to empathise. This invites more confidence and better communication. Keep your mind focused on what your child is saying and reserve any comments or advice until they’ve completely opened up.
3. Help problem-solve
Guide children to see a problem from all angles. The situation might not be as severe as they think. You can help your child to resolve a problem by asking prompting questions that encourage them to think through decisions and solutions.
4. Maintain routines
Don’t allow a child to withdraw from normal activities. This will only exacerbate the problem as they’ll have more time to dwell on issues.
5. Encourage friendships and social activity
Friends are a great distraction and can help improve self-esteem and happiness. If your child is avoiding social activity, suggest short activities where the focus won’t be on talking, such as sports, gaming or watching a movie.
6. Physical activity
The mental health benefits of physical activity are well known. Movement and physical activity is especially critical for boys to allow them to process their feelings in a healthy manner.
beyondblue has several resources to help families monitor and manage mental health conditions. Among these is a Child Mental Health Checklist that aims to measure social, emotional or behavioural difficulties.
If you feel that something is not quite right with your child, trust your instincts. Enlist the help of an outsider such as a trusted teacher, school counsellor or family doctor. If however, any of the above signs are significant in terms of their intensity, persistence, and impact on your child’s functioning, or they represent a significant change for your child, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional.
Our mission at Trinity Grammar School 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, guided by Christian principles. Hear from our Head Master Tim Bowden as he addresses the students of Trinity.
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 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. Download our Year 10 Life Skills guide to discover more.