With anxiety disorders on the rise, affecting children at younger ages than ever before, new programs are aiming to educate and support those in need.
Small Steps is a free seminar offered to parents and teachers of primary school children. Funded by the Mental Health Commission of NSW and the NSW Department of Health, and facilitated by WayAhead Mental Health Association NSW, the program's aim is to raise awareness of how anxiety affects children.
Julie Leitch, an anxiety educator with Small Steps, says anxiety is the major mental health problem experienced by children. Signs and symptoms to look out for, as well as advice on where to get help, are discussed in the program that reaches an average of 2500 people in NSW each year.
"Like all mental health issues, the causes are complex and are usually a combination of the child's temperament, genetics, parenting and going through challenging or stressful life experiences," Leitch says. "Telling children to stop being silly when the fears seem unlikely or trivial can be unhelpful."
Leitch says early identification of mental health issues will help the child and their family to learn skills to manage anxiety and worry, and help the child reach their full potential.
"It's important that parents listen and acknowledge what the child has said, without dismissing their worries or concerns," she says. "Increasing understanding about anxiety disorders helps parents and teachers recognise when fears and worry are persisting or seriously interfering in the child's everyday life, as well as when further assistance is needed, which could be through a school counsellor or GP for referral to a psychologist."
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt recently announced a funding boost of $100 million towards youth mental health initiatives. New early intervention Headspace centres are to be opened.
An integrated school-based Mental Health in Education program is to be launched along with other supports which will help communities enhance the wellbeing and mental health of Australian kids.
WayAhead chief executive Elizabeth Priestley says school programs aimed at addressing mental health issues are the key to early intervention and effective treatment.
"We know that many mental health problems can be avoided, or have the negative impacts reduced, if young people are encouraged and supported to get help in the early stages," she says.