Lithgow Mercury

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WATCH FOR SIGNS: Good mental health is key to the healthy development of children, so it's important to lookout for signs they may be struggling, especially when it comes to social media. Photo: Shutterstock

The issue of mental health has certainly been in the headlines for the last two years. Due to COVID lockdowns and enforced isolations, instances of mental heath issues have continued to soar with experts concerned about long term effects. While social media has allowed some to stay connected through these times, social media itself continues to lead to a variety of mental health and bullying issues with an increasing amount of people, especially teenagers.

A report from Kids Helpline found that suicide was the leading cause of death among young people aged 12 to 25. In 2019 alone, 153 young people in Australia aged between 5 and 19 died by suicide, and many more thought about or attempted suicide.

While there is always professional assistance available for youth struggling with mental health illness, issues can often go unnoticed, so it is vital that parents and other family members keep a look out for signs that someone could be struggling. These could include:

  • Constantly checking social media or their phone but not discussing content
  • Hiding their phone or screen when others are around
  • A sudden shift in personality or demeanour
  • Withdrawing or isolating
  • Increased emotionality
  • References to suicide or not wanting to live
  • An emergence of dysfunctional coping behaviours such as substance use or self-harm

It's important to be able talk to children about both social media and mental health, and there are a few ways you can approach the subject.

  • Make it part of the normal conversation. Weave talk about mental health into conversations over dinner or while walking the dog. Talk about their feelings and make sure you listen to their answers
  • Take it seriously. Ensure you don't downplay their feelings as silly. Even if you can see an obvious answer to their problem, they may not be able to and are likely to shut down if you ridicule them.
  • Start open ended conversations. Some ways to start a conversation about feelings might be: "How are you feeling at the moment?" "You don't seem your usual self. Do you want to talk about it?" "I'm happy to listen if you need a chat."
  • Set limits on social media use and screen time, especially for younger children and early teens
  • Ensure that you are friends with your children on social media, allowing you to monitor friends lists, posts and tags, and pages followed,

If your children appear to be struggling, the best option is talk to them and seek professional advice from your doctor or groups such as Kids Helpline or Reach Out Parents.