Dr Sloane Madden (adolescent psychiatrist): If a parent is worried about their child, particularly their child’s mental health, I guess there’s a number of things that they can do. The first thing is they really should try and talk to their child and let them know that they’re worried or why they’re worried, and sometimes there’s a really clear explanation of that. Or the young person actually may be quite relieved that their parents picked it up and be able to tell them what’s going on.
Clinical Professor David Bennett (adolescent physician): One of the more difficult things to tell, sometimes, is whether young people are just having a sort of a set of the blues or the blah’s - they’re just feeling generally off-colour and off in general - or if something more serious is going on, which could be that they’re experiencing anxiety or they’re becoming quite depressed, which is very different to just being a little bit sad.
Dr Sloane Madden: To understand the different between normal teen moodiness and when it’s more serious can be difficult. I think the critical things that we look at are really has the young person stopped doing the things that they like to do? So are they not seeing their friends? Are they becoming more socially isolated? Really spending all the time by themselves. One of the last things that young people stop doing is seeing their friends, so when they do that, that’s a really clear indication that things are a little bit more than just normal sadness or worry.
Clinical Professor David Bennett: They may be sleeping more, or not sleeping, they may be eating too much or not enough. They’re tending not to enjoy things they previously enjoyed. They may seem sad or they may seem hyperactive and they may be acting out in terms of taking more risks than they previously were. They may not be doing as well in school. And all these things really require parents to be asking “how are you travelling? I’m concerned with what’s going on”, and if something doesn’t feel right the chances are it isn’t.
Dr Sloane Madden: So generally normal teenage worrying, moodiness and irritability and arguing tends to come and go pretty quickly, but it’s when things persist or when young people stop doing the things that they really like to do is when you should worry more.
Popi Zappia and Alex Rushworth (adolescent psychologists): It’s okay to ask for help. No problem is too small, and it’s really good to kind of build up a good support network around yourself and your family, and there are services – lots of services – out there that are available to do that.
Dr Sloane Madden: If they’re concerned that they do need help there are a number of ways to do that. They can speak often to the school or the school counsellor, they can involve their local family doctor, or they can actually ring through to one of their local child and adolescent community mental health services. More recently around Australia there’s been a series of services under the name of Head Space which have opened, and they’re really designed for adolescents and young adults to go and sort of address those mental health problems for a start.
Clinical Professor David Bennett: Where specialised adolescent health services exist, they’re almost always team-based, and mental health professionals are often working in that sort of environment, and young people can be referred to those centres. They exist all over Australia as child and adolescent mental health teams, or Head Space centres.
Dr Sloane Madden: Most of the mental health services are what we call multidisciplinary, so they have people from a large number of clinical backgrounds. So you’ll have nursing staff, you’ll have psychologists and social workers and counsellors who do a lot of the talking work, and then you’ll have psychiatrists who sort of go between the talking work and the medical aspects of illness. Most young people will also have their family doctor involved, because you need to make sure that people are not only—When looking after their mental health, but also their physical health.
Dr Carol Kefford (general practitioner): Every young person is entitled to a confidential consultation, and by this I mean one in which they can talk to me about anything at all that concerns them, and then I don’t have to tell that information to anybody else, including parents, teachers, etc. Parents are often very concerned about this, but there are safe guards here, there are exceptions to this confidentiality rule, and these exceptions are for certain legal reasons we cannot keep information to ourselves, certainly in any case of abuse – we don’t keep that information to ourselves – any situation where the young person’s life is in danger or they are in any situation where they are going to come to harm. And, of course, if they were intending to harm somebody else.