We all want our children to feel happy, confident and connected.

But statistics tell us that while the majority of school students feel this way, a sizeable group of young Australians do not.

According to a major national survey of the mental health of young people, 1 in 7 children aged 4-17 years experienced a mental disorder (such as a major depressive, anxiety or behaviour disorder) in the previous 12 months.

Concerningly, the Young Minds Matter survey also revealed that more adolescents self-identified as having a major depressive order, than on the information provided by their parents.

The survey also found families of about 20 percent of children who met the diagnostic criteria for a mental disorder, and who reported that their child was adversely impacted by the symptoms of mental disorder, “felt that their child did not need formal help”.

Sometimes it’s hard to recognise the early warning signs in young people, particularly when life is busy.

A 2018 RCH National Child Health Poll found only 35 percent of Australian parents are confident they could recognise the signs of a mental health problem in their child.

Young people can also be reluctant or embarrassed to share how they’re really feeling.

According to the Young Minds Matter survey findings, the majority of young people experiencing depression admitted their parents or carers knew little, or next to nothing, about what they were going through.

Professor Donna Cross, who heads Health Promotion and Education Research at the Telethon Kids Institute in Western Australia, recently addressed leaders and teachers from more than 30 Queensland independent schools about student wellbeing.

Professor Cross told the forum that even when children and young people confide in an adult, the majority report that their situation doesn’t improve and for some it gets worse. This was particularly true for boys.

These findings deeply troubled the internationally respected expert in child mental health and wellbeing.

So she asked young people why. Professor Cross says four key reasons emerged:

1 | As adults we interrupt and don’t listen well enough.

LISTEN: We need to listen; to show interest; to take their concerns seriously; and to set the scene to support them to solve the problem. Parents need to stand shoulder to shoulder with their children, or go for a walk with them and ask open-ended questions such as:

  • “Tell me more about that.”
  • “Who else was there?”
  • “What did you do?”
  • “What happened next?”
2 | We dismiss or treat lightly how much hurt is involved.

ACKNOWLEDGE: We need to acknowledge how much it hurts and show empathy and understanding for them in that situation. Make statements such as:

  • “That sounds pretty tough.”
  • “That must have hurt your feelings.”
3 | We often take over and dictate how to “fix” the situation.

TALK: At this stage young people want someone to help them think about and think through how to respond to the problem or issue. Ask their permission before you offer advice:

  • “Would you like me to tell you about things I’ve heard others try in this situation?” Then discuss them one at a time.
  • “What do you think about that option?”
  • “Do you think it would work well in your situation?”
  • “Would you like me to share with you some other ideas I’ve read or seen others try?”
4 | We shut the door after talking and don’t invite our children to check back in with us.

ENCOURAGE: End conversations with encouragement so they feel like they can come back and seek help again.

  • “I really care about how you are feeling. Let’s catch up next week so you can let me know how things are going.”

Professor Cross says research has shown the health benefits of loving, good quality relationships are similar to “not smoking and more powerful than exercising regularly”.

She says parents and schools have a role to play in both fostering these personally with children and in facilitating these between children and their friends.

Professor Cross hosted a webinar for parents on student relationships and bullying in 2018. Parents can access the webinar recording HERE.

There’s a wealth of evidence-based advice, strategies and programs parents can access across every stage of their child’s development to support their positive health and wellbeing.

Wellbeing resources and expertise

QIS Parents Network Webinar Series | Access evidence-based, expert advice from leading health and wellbeing experts on topics such as body image, resilience, childhood anxiety, adolescent, sleep and wellbeing, online safety and bullying.

Be You | A new website that details a national school-based approach to supporting children’s and young people’s mental health in early learning services and schools, from early years to 18. It includes modules, fact sheets and support for educators that parents will also find helpful.

Student Wellbeing Hub | A central point where parents can access advice about important topics and resources to help make their child’s school experience a positive one.

Headspace | A national mental health foundation that provides support for young people and families to work through life’s challenges.

Qld Family & Child Commission | a government agency that promotes the safety, wellbeing and best interests of children and young people; promotes and advocates the responsibility of families and communities to protect and care for children and young people; and improves the child protection system.

Raising Children Network | an Australian Government-supported parenting website that provides families with tips and advice on every possible parenting issue, or childhood health, education or wellbeing concern.

Parentline | a confidential and free telephone counselling support service for Queensland parents.

Kids Helpline | a free, private and confidential 24/7 phone and online counselling service for young people aged 5 to 25.

Lifeline | a 24/7 crisis support and suicide prevention service provider.

Beyond Blue | a national organisation the provides information about, and support for, depression, anxiety and suicide prevention.

ReachOut | a national online mental health organisation for young people and their parents that provides practical support, tools and tips to help young people respond to life’s challenges and provides parents with knowledge and strategies to support their children.

Triple P (Positive Parenting Programs) | Queensland parents can access free parenting seminars and online courses to help them navigate and respond to every day and more complex family issues and child behaviours.

Smiling Mind | a not-for-profit organisation that works to make mindfulness accessible to all Australians via a free app, face-to-face workshops and resources that can be used by both teachers and employers.

Cool Kids and Chilled Out Online parenting courses | Evidence-based skills-based online program for parents of young children and teens that equips them with strategies and skills to help children manage anxiety.

Office of the eSafety Commissioner | a national organisation that works to make all Australians have safe, positive experiences online. It is also responsible for providing: a complaints service for young Australians who experience serious cyberbullying; identifying and removing illegal online content; and tackling image-based abuse.

Think You Know | a  national program led by the Australian Federal Police to educate children and young people about issues such as sexting, cyber bullying, online child exploitation, online privacy, and what to do when something goes wrong. Presentations are aimed at parents, carers and teachers and young people from Kindergarten to Grade 12.

Bullying No Way | A national day of action where school communities stand up against all forms of bullying and violence. The website contains a range of supporting information and advice for students and families.

Healthdirect | a government-funded service that provides quality, approved health information and advice.