A national program launches to support children and young people dealing with mental health challenges during the pandemic
Starting a conversation about mental health challenges with someone you care about can sometimes feel challenging. That’s why a partnership between the National Mental Health Commission and Australia’s national mental health organisations who specialise in supporting children, young people and parents – batyr, Beyond Blue, Butterfly Foundation, headspace, Kids Helpline, Orygen, and ReachOut – have today launched #ChatStarter.
This first-of-its-kind campaign will harness the power of social media to engage parents and young people alike, with Facebook Australia providing significant support as a major partner to reach millions of Australians across the country using Facebook and Instagram. The campaign will also be promoted on TikTok to extend awareness of the importance of #ChatStarter conversations.
#ChatStarter connects, engages, and promotes the benefits of supportive conversations with young people and children who are going through a difficult time right now. Developed in response to the challenge of pandemic restrictions and the increasing impacts these are having on the mental health of children and young people, #ChatStarter intentionally encourages people to use the tips and resources freely available on the Department of Health’s Head to Health website to help them have supportive conversations, and to share and promote the benefits with their communities online. #ChatStarter also encourages young Australians and parents to create their own content on social media with instructions on how they start chats safely with others.
National Mental Health Commission CEO, Ms Christine Morgan, said that once again, the nation was being challenged by COVID-19 and for many, the new restrictions feel harder than the previous ones, and are having a cumulative impact on children, young people, and their parents.
“We are understandably fatigued after more than 18 months of COVID-19. Many people, some for the first time in their lives, are dealing with mental health challenges. This is particularly true for young people, who we know are experiencing heightened levels of distress and mental health challenges,” Ms Morgan said. “We are spending more time at home than we usually would and engaging online more often – placing both parents and young people in a unique position to recognise and support someone they care about when they are struggling.”
Recent research indicates children (5-11 years), young people (12-15 & 16-25 years), and their parents and carers are experiencing increased levels of distress and adverse mental health impacts. The research shows heightened levels of self-harm and suicide ideation, resulting in increased presentations to emergency departments. Almost one in three (30%) younger Australians (aged 18 to 34 years) reported experiencing high or very high levels of psychological distress in June 2021, compared with 18% of people aged 35 to 64 years and 10% of people aged 65 years and over during that same period.
This is an ongoing concern, particularly for this year’s final year exam cohort who are now in their second year of lockdown. With 75% of young people reporting a negative impact on their mental health, two in three young people (62.6%) are feeling the pandemic has affected their learning. In addition, GPs are experiencing a surge in families seeking guidance for parenting in relation to mental health concerns in the context of COVID-19.
#ChatStarter was designed with the support of parents and young parents. The program highlights just how critical conversations can be in helping identify when someone is going through a difficult time. They can open opportunities to reach people before they reach crisis point and help them access the right type of care. However, talking may not necessarily be the best way to ‘start a conversation’. Sometimes engaging in fun, creative, and productive activities together can transcend barriers to conversation, build trust and help create safe spaces for people to talk about how they’re feeling, and the kind of support they need.
15-year-old Crystal Coulits from Sydney says her whole life has moved online, now that she is home-schooling because of the lockdown. Although Crystal and her mum Stella are not big walkers, she’s found that walking and talking has become a great way for her to step outside and get some fresh air whilst connecting with her mum. “For us, walking and talking is a good #ChatStarter, we motivate each other, and I really like that our conversations are more natural like we’re talking as friends. We can have a good laugh and step away from the stresses in our lives.”
Anthony Maiolo (22 years-old), who is currently in Sydney’s lockdown, believes #ChatStarter will empower young people to have important conversations. “For over 10 years I have been managing depression and anxiety, and the uncertainty of COVID has definitely placed additional pressures on my established routines. The hardest thing about lockdown has been losing face to face connection with my friends and feeling alone in my thoughts. After scrolling through thousands of reels, I found other people my age were going through the same as me and could perfectly capture how I was feeling. I now share the reels I relate to with my friends as a #ChatStarter, and it gets all of us talking and supporting one another.”
#ChatStarter is about arming people with the tools and skills they need to support those around them and intervene early. To feel more confident in starting a conversation and continuing it, visit www.headtohealth.gov.au.