The most common mental health concerns experienced by students at Girraween High School are anxiety, stress and depression. The following information addresses these areas of concern.
It is important to recognise that anytime that you possess a belief that a child or young person is experiencing a mental health concern that causes them to be at risk of significant harm, it is imperative to contact a professional and/or the school in order to devise and implement a specific support plan.
In day-to-day talking with friends or family, we tend to speak of depression, stress and anxiety as if they are interchangeable or describing the same thing. This is not the case. Part of the reason for speaking with a professional is to sort out whether any of these descriptions fit your child's experience. It is also important to remember that many people have elements of depression and anxiety and may not have 'clinical diagnosis' and may not require medication.
- Depression refers to an experience where you feel down most of the time, sometimes called 'low mood'. It is typified by lost interest in things that the young person usually enjoys. A person experiencing this condition may also have changes in their sleep patterns, appetite, feel constant experiences of guilt, be 'demotivated' and generally withdraw from others.
- Stress is usually characterized by a sense of feeling overwhelmed. This feeling may be due to the individual's coping capacity being over-stretched or having been under pressure for too long. Some stress can help us to perform our day to day functions, too much stress leaves us 'distressed' and often exhausted.
- Anxiety is a sense of fear or dread that something terrible is going to happen. Anxiety can be general or specific to a place, social situation or thing (phobia).
Using the school setting as a hypothetical example:
- Depression is a cause for serious concern. It can be seen in young people that have lost any interest or motivation in their studies, especially when this was previously a significant area of interest for the young person. Nonetheless, a diminished interest in studies is not sufficient cause to suspect depression in a young person. Depression is usually marked by an accumulation of factors. It would also include the young person being disinterested in their hobbies and ‘feeling low' most of the time. The school is here to support a young person experiencing these challenges. Inevitably, a support plan for a young person will also include a psychologist and/or psychiatrist.
- Stress is an experience typical to Girraween students. Stress manifests in both positive and negative forms. This example focuses on the negative forms. In the build to an examination, avoidance behaviours may be used by the young person to psychologically remove themselves from the upcoming situation. Inevitably, this leads to more stress. A balanced lifestyle and open discussions about perspective, as well as a generally and genuinely caring environment with a non-judgmental support network can help minimise the impact of stress.
- Anxiety is the product of ongoing unresolved experiences of stress. For example, an incapacity to talk about exam stress can lead to a general phobia of examinations. This can lead to experiences of fear and dread relating to the whole assessment process.
Mental health resources
This Way Up is an initiative of the University of New South Wales and St. Vincent's Hospital. Their website provides numerous diagnostic tools and workshops that may help young people and families dealing with stress and anxiety.
The Black Dog Institute has developed online courses for young people and their parents. These courses focus on developing resilience and dealing with depression.
Schools A to Z have created two practical articles for parents about managing depression in children and managing exam stress.