Today is R U OK day in Australia. An initiative designed to encourage people to ask if another person is ok and to stop them potentially struggling from a mental illness. It is also designed to remove the taboo of mental illness which still exists in our society to a massive degree. In a way this day makes me slightly mad, in the sense that if this day is needed it shows we are not doing enough as a community and individuals if we cannot recognize someone needs help and need to be reminded to think of our fellow man. However, it is great that the campaign has gained so much publicity and I have seen a lot of posts on social media asking the question and it has clearly made a lot of people think. I just hope it has a longer term effect than just one day.
It is quite clear that this day is geared towards adults. As statistics have suggested one quarter of the adult population will at any time suffer from a mental illness. I suspect the true rates are much higher. I know in my own life I have had so many significant people struggle with many different issues. People get very good at hiding it, others don't even recognize there is a problem and this brings statistics down. Obviously adults require a lot of support with mental illness and I know this is often not forthcoming in the way it should be and it is very upsetting.
However, the mental health of children is equally important and I feel receives even less attention. The children of today are living a very different life to the one many of us did and there is increasing pressure from everywhere. They have to look and act a certain way, be technologically savvy, are exposed to things much younger and have increasing pressure regarding exams and jobs. This has a massive impact on their self esteem and starts at an early age. If a parent or someone very close to the child has a mental illness themselves it can often impact on the child and can manifest itself in a number of ways. Self esteem suffers and anxiety rises and it can all create a negative spiral as the child ages unless they get some sort of assistance.
In the second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing the results were worrying. One in seven children under the age of 18 were said to have a mental illness of some kind. One in ten had engaged in self-harming behavior. These statistics may seem shocking but I don't believe they are surprising.
The pressure to be 'normal' is so great for children that they likely feel they have to downplay how they feel to their peers and pretend they are ok. I know many that have done this in the past. They may not want their parents to worry so might not tell them the truth about needing help. Parents may not pick up on the subtle signs and will not realise anything is wrong. This can lead to very tragic events, which are often reported in the media and are heartbreaking.
Children reported themselves to be depressed 3% more than their parents did. This indicates that parents are unaware of the struggles going on under their own roof and as a parent it is very scary to think you could be missing something so important. Sadly, we know children (particularly as they become older) are more reluctant to confide in a parent and we may need to approach the subject a number of times before the child feels comfortable enough to admit all is not well. We need to keep having these conversations. If you suspect anything like this is happening for your child and they are very reluctant to talk to you, encourage them to talk to a doctor, counsellor, trusted friend or family member etc. Children often feel like they have to protect their parents and don't want to worry them but may feel better opening up to someone else. This is fine as long as in the end they get some kind of help.
I would encourage you to watch for any changes in your child's behavior and mood and if you have any concerns, ask them if they are ok. You may need to ask a hundred times but if they admit there is a problem you will be glad you kept on asking. We all need help sometimes but children often don't know how to ask, if we ask them at least they know where to start.