We are hearing a lot about mental health and young people at the moment in the media and online. Over recent decades we have increasingly been more open to thinking about mental health and children and young people, particularly when they are experiencing difficulties. We have also begun to make the links between mental health and our roles as parents and other adults, such as teachers, in the lives of children and young people.Perhaps of most importance, we are starting to explore the best ways we can support young people to enhance their mental health as well as be there with effective ways to help them when difficulties emerge.
A recent study conducted in New South Wales by the NSW Commission for Children and Young People in partnership with the Mental Health Commission of NSW has provided us with even more useful information that can help us understand this better. Their research used two online surveys which were completed by just over 3,200 students in Years 9 and 10 from 121 schools across the state in late 2013. A survey for school principals was also completed by 89 principals. In addition to the surveys, interviews and focus groups with students were undertaken in 11 schools to gain further insight to the findings of the surveys.
A number of significant findings were revealed, including:
. Mental health problems are common. Approximately 2/3 (64%) of the students in the study reporting knowing another young person who had experienced mental health problems.
. Young people are providing support to their friends. The participants reported that they would support a friend with a mental health problem in a range of ways that would be helpful, including listening to their friend in an understanding way (74%), suggesting the friend talk to an adult (48%) and suggesting the friend seek professional help (37%). In fact among students who had known another young person with a mental health problem, 94% had performed at least one helpful act to support them and 86% had performed three or more helpful acts.
. Young people have an awareness of mental health problems. Most young people (87%) correctly identified that a young person was experiencing a serious mental health problem from a hypothetical scenario.
. Many young people expressed feeling uncertain about their ability to help other young people with a mental health problem. One quarter of young people indicated that they were very confident that they could help the young person in the scenario, 59% said they were slightly confident and 16% said they were not confident at all.
. There were some mixed reactions to accessing help from adults for young people with a mental health problem. Almost one third (29%) of young people said that they did not know a suitable adult to get help from for a friend experiencing a mental health problem. Just over half of all students said they would seek help from an adult for a friend with a serious mental health problem (52%). A small number (4%) of young people said they definitely would not seek adult help for a friend.
Young people reported a range of barriers to seeking adult help on behalf of a friend, including:
. Worrying that their friend would be embarrassed and not want an adult to know (72%)
. Feeling unsure about the best thing to do (51%),
. Thinking that involving an adult would make things worse (44%)
. Thinking that going to an adult would break their friend's trust (40%) and
. Thinking that they would not seek adult help if their friend said they did not want any help (40%).
The study therefore provides us with a whole range of information that we can use, as adults in a range of roles, to support young people. We can use this information to reflect on the conversations we have with young people, the ways we talk about mental health problems, trust and confidentiality and the ways we make ourselves available to young people.
The research is available on the Commissioner's website here.
Further information about ways of supporting young people is available on the Reach Out website