Hospital reports rise in youth mental illness as state continues to endure tough lockdown restrictions
Victoria’s Royal Children’s Hospital has reported a spike in children and young people presenting with severe mental health difficulties as the state battles what’s been labelled a “shadow pandemic” during its sixth lockdown in 18 months.
As the state spent another day in lockdown on Thursday, the hospital’s director of mental health Ric Haslam said there had been a rise in presentations for anxiety, depression, self-harm, suicidal behaviours and eating disorders.
“There is a really notable rise in anxiety and depression, taking its way through children and adolescents,” Dr Haslam said.
“This has been the experience of my colleagues across regional Victoria, across other jurisdictions in Australia and in fact internationally.”
Of the youth presentations to the hospital, staff have seen an increase in young people presenting with aggression, both verbal and physical, particularly linked to children with developmental difficulties such as autism.
“What parents really need to know is how to support their children through this time and also how to recognise that their child or adolescent may be struggling,” Dr Haslam said.
“I recognise that there will be a degree of demotivation with regards to things like schoolwork.
“It is really important for parents to educate themselves on how they are coping, how they are managing. Parents should reassure their children that their family’s a top priority.”
Melburnians are set to be locked down until the end of October, and residents are predicted to break a dire world record for the number of days spent under harsh stay-at-home laws.
The city will spend its 235th day in lockdown by September 23 when it’s expected 70 per cent of Victorians will be vaccinated with at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine.
It comes as the state’s chief psychiatrist Neil Coventry urged parents to have frank conversations with their children about anxiety and stress during lockdown.
Dr Coventry addressed rising concern over the impact of the state’s extended lockdowns on child mental health.
He said parents could help their children by doing simple things such as maintaining normal routines during lockdown.
“That’s particularly important when we’ve got the situation of homeschooling at the moment to get that balance between study, relaxing downtimes … certainly exercise and meal plans but also more importantly around sleep patterns, particularly for our vulnerable teenagers,” Dr Coverty said.
“It’s really important to acknowledge kids’ feelings, to recognise and help them to understand how they can manage these stressors that they’re experiencing.”
Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.
Sign up for our emails