Mental health issues among young people are becoming all too commonplace, with the number of children and teenagers affected increasing at an alarming rate. A series of evidence-based seminars by Generation Next aim to highlight this issue and equip educators with the tools and knowledge to support students when they need it.
High profile experts will take to the stage to discuss hot topics including anxiety, pornography, gaming and the influence of green space on the developing brain. These issues and many others will be tackled in a national seminar series by Generation Next, a non-profit organisation providing education and information about preventing and managing mental illness in young people and the wider community.
It was founded by current CEO Dr Ramesh Manocha, who is also a GP, educator and mental health expert, with the aim of boosting the mental health of children and teenagers by increasing mental health literacy and reducing associated stigma.
Generation Next runs the Mental Health and Wellbeing of Young People Seminars across Australia each year, with experts in youth mental health presenting on a range of topics. Among these is Chairperson of Generation Next, and child and adolescent clinical psychologist Andrew Fuller.
As a clinical psychologist, Mr Fuller works with numerous schools and communities across Australia and internationally, specialising in the wellbeing of young people and their families. He is a Fellow of the Department of Psychiatry and the Department of Learning and Educational Development at the University of Melbourne; and is also an Ambassador for Mind Matters and a member of the National Coalition Against Bullying.
According to Mr Fuller, rising levels of youth anxiety and feelings of worthlessness are worrying. Recent research into youth mental health that involved 193,000 young people, found that 59 per cent of Year 11 and 12 females and 46 per cent of Year 11 and 12 males experience clinical levels of anxiety. The results also found that around one in three young women and one in four young men believe they are worthless.
“Fundamentally, there is something going wrong in the coping mechanisms of young people. Partly, it’s because we live in a world of envy – and social media highlights that. Feeling envious has narrowed the ways people feel they can be successful, so consequently, we have a whole heap of people who think they are worthless,” he explains.
“What young people need to realise is that social media lies to people all the time. It provides an echo chamber, where it looks like everyone is having a better time than you are, even when they are not. There are a number of ways we can help young people feel better. Firstly, we can help them understand how to be smart. Secondly, we can create an understanding of emotions. It’s about building communities where people respect and protect each other. All of the research on resilience can be boiled down to the fact that when we connect, protect and respect each other we thrive.”
During the Mental Health and Wellbeing of Young People Seminars, the topic of Mr Fuller’s 2020 talk is ‘Anxiety and Tricky Kids’. “Tricky kids are those kids who are strong-willed, determined characters that are sometimes difficult for adults to deal with. While they can be quite spirited and successful kids, they can drive adults mad. The point of parenting and raising them is not to take out what makes them tricky but to broaden out their repertoire. There are good aspects to trickiness as well as tough ones,” he says.
“The different types of tricky kids are the manipulators, the negotiators, the debaters who always want to have the last word, those with ‘Winston Churchill syndrome’ who will fight you anywhere and to whom consequences mean nothing, the adrenaline junkies who take lots of risks, and lastly the passive resistors who are vague and disorganised. But the more we can see beyond the behaviours to the gems within, the more we can see these kids for who they are. These are kids who, under tricky situations, will act in tricky ways. That requires us to be understanding and allow ourselves to diversify. It also requires us to be calm. They really aren’t naughty kids, these are just behaviours that can be difficult at times.”
Mr Fuller highlights that not every adult needs to be an expert in mental health but every adult can be kind and caring. “Even for children who’ve had really tough times such as those who have been traumatised by bushfires and drought, what really helps them recover is being in the presence of an adult who is able to see the good and the potential in them, and act kindly. When adults can do that, they are the natural healers of children. We can all be providers of mental health by providing mental health in ourselves.”
Also taking to the Generation Next stage in 2020 is Jordan Foster. A clinical psychologist, and CEO and founder of ySafe, she will speak about ‘The Current State of Play – Gaming and Young People’. ySafe is a cyber safety education provider that offers online safety workshops, Digital Citizenship education programs, positive behaviour focussed resources and free school self-assessment tools.
Ms Foster has extensive expertise in working with children and adolescents to manage problematic technology use, including cyberbullying, image-based abuse and Internet Gaming Addiction.
“Even though gaming addiction and excessive screen time is something that’s occurring at home, schools are seeing the aftermath of it, with students arriving to school tired and in some cases showing lower attendance rates because of their gaming habits,” says Ms Foster.
“The precise number of young people affected is really hard to measure because when it comes to technology, it’s evolving quicker than we can do the research. Figures indicate that between 0.2 to 5 per cent of people are displaying excessive gaming behaviours. Numbers are growing rapidly, so it’s quite significant. Of major concern is that we are seeing increases in the number of primary students having excessive game and screen time – and it’s impacting so many parts of children’s lives.”
She highlights that the way modern games are designed and a lack of supervision are key factors exacerbating the issue. “One thing we need to take into account is that game developers are intentionally designing games to maintain player engagement, so they build functions into games to encourage users to keep playing. If you think back to 20 years ago, with games like Crash Bandicoot and Solitaire, you got to the end of a level which made it easier to make a decision as to whether or not you wanted to stop the game. With games like Fortnite, you get to the end of a level and to maintain attention you may be asked to open a box or use a new skin,” explains Ms Foster.
“Then there are home factors. Economical situations are meaning many parents are having to work full time, so kids have more unsupervised time for game play. Many internet games are also now free and many parents don’t necessarily understand the issues around excessive use.”
With screens and gaming so readily accessible, many children are playing by the age of seven, with excessive use typically starting by age 10. “What starts as fun, innocuous and fine can turn into a big issue really quickly,” Ms Foster adds. “Lots of kids now have video games in their bedroom, which is another issue, as kids lack the cognitive ability to regulate their decisions, so we have kids who are up all night and then come to school tired.”
According to Ms Foster, due to the low levels of awareness around gaming addiction, schools play a pivotal role in highlighting to parents when something is wrong. “Gaming addiction is such a beast that it requires a community approach in order to address it,” she says.
Increased aggression as a result of over-stimulation, an increased desire to keep playing video games, signs of sleep deprivation, disengaging in other activities they once enjoyed and social isolation are among the warning signs to look out for. Gaming addiction can also lead to other mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
Generation Next’s 2020 Mental Health and Wellbeing of Young People Seminars will also feature the following talks:
Teaching Values of Being Human – An Education of the Mind and the Heart (parent coach, author, counsellor and educator Mark Le Messurier)
Pornography – What’s the Science? (parenting expert Dr Justin Coulson)
Green Space and the Power of Nature Play for Shaping the Developing Brain (Senior lecturer in Psychology, University of the Sunshine Coast, Dr Rachael Sharman)
‘Nanging’, ‘Jungle Juice’ and ‘Rexing’: Trends in Inhalant Use Amongst Young People (Educator at DARTA, Paul Dillon)
For tickets and more information about the 2020 Mental Health and Wellbeing of Young People Seminars, please visit the Generation Next website.