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Mental health  News

Children carry weight of the world on their shoulders

3 minutes read • 23 April 2024
Mental health  News

Tuesday 23 April is World Infant, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Day (WICAMHD). Dr Chelsea Hyde discusses the pressures that children and young people face today.

On WICAMHD it seems fit to ask the question, what is the current state of child and adolescent mental health?

We know that mental health problems in children and young people were on the rise even before the pandemic.

Anxiety continues to be a prevailing concern for children and young people and most children referred for psychological support are referred for anxiety-related concerns. But what are they anxious about?

Children are increasingly worried about the environment, world events and natural disasters.

Climate anxiety is becoming more common among young people as they worry about their future and the state of the world. In a culture that is dominated by device use, our young people are always connected and constantly bombarded by information.

We’re seeing an unprecedented increase in young people with disordered eating worldwide. Recent research estimates up to 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys are experiencing disordered eating.

The pandemic is considered to have contributed significantly to this rise but body image concerns are being exacerbated by media trends such as influencer culture and diet fads targeted at youth.

Many young people seek social validation and approval through social media, however, the illusion of perfection inherent in these platforms can negatively impact self-image during these formative years.  

Children and young people are struggling to go to school. School avoidance and problems associated with attendance has increased significantly, so much so, there has been a senate inquiry into the issue with a view to providing a national response.

School refusal acutely increased during the pandemic with the destabilising effects of repeated lockdowns having considerable impact. In a post-pandemic world, we are continuing to see social anxiety, peer issues, disability and trauma create barriers that mean attending school is just too hard for many. 

Adverse childhood events put children and young people at significant risk for adult mental health problems, but we know childhood also presents the greatest opportunity for intervention.

Encouragingly, we’re seeing a growing focus on child and adolescent mental health, with wellbeing education integrated in schools nationally and government recognition of the need for a national strategy for child mental health.

A focus on child and adolescent mental health has never been more important. Intervening early is key. Prevention is always better than cure.

Dr Chelsea Hyde is a Senior Lecturer in Educational Psychology at the University of Melbourne. She is an APAC Assessor.

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