Society often romanticizes childhood as a vague, far-away time full of only joy; even as a parent, the many years that may have passed since your own childhood will hopefully make the happy memories shine much brighter than the sad ones. We may not think that our children could be experiencing mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression, and also may not have considered the social stigma that surrounds talking about it.
Anxiety and depression levels in teenagers have spiralled upwards, and are much higher than reported rates in previous decades. At the same time, mental illness itself is treated as a taboo subject, via attitudes such as "they're wrong in the head" or "we don't talk about problems". Many people who experience mental health problems are reluctant to talk about them for fear of being judged negatively by their peers. But seeking help for these conditions can change lives.
We should encourage our children to feel comfortable talking about their problems to their parents, teachers, and their trusted circle of friends. We should remind them that it is not a sign of weakness, and we should be ready to lend an ear and be there for them. We no doubt have plenty of advice for them on how to handle their problems, but we should also balance that out: sometimes, our children may just need us to listen and console them.
If things don't seem to be getting better, there are many social services available for children experiencing anxiety or depression. Organizations such as Kids Helpline offer free phone/online counselling for ages 5-25, and you can contact your child's school to organize counselling services where required.
Raising children who feel comfortable talking about mental health with their friends, families and teachers, and who are able to provide emotional support to their own friends and families in turn, will make a big difference towards reducing the social stigma attached with mental health. This is great for your kids, but also your kids' friends, and one day your kids' kids too.
Constable Care’s website provides resources about bullying, protective behaviours and many other issues that face children. We also offer a Theatrical Response Group play targeted at Years 7 to 12, that focuses on bullying and cyberbullying. Bullying is a major issue affecting the mental health of teenagers, and this play helps to teach resilience, ethical behaviour, self-acceptance and respect for others. Schools can book this performance by contacting our Arts & Education Coordinator at 9272 0007, or send us an e-mail.
Article written by Lara Silbert for CCCSF.