STUDENTS battling mental illness need more in-school support to ward off potential for self-harm and suicide, experts say.
The Australian Psychological Society is calling for schools to employ one psychologist to every 500 students to treat mental illness in young people as soon as it starts.
Society principal adviser David Stokes said if children received proper treatment when they first experienced mental illness, their issues could be resolved before they escalated.
Mr Stokes said they wanted to avoid “the worst extremes” in the 14 to 20 per cent of youngsters aged four to 17 with mental health issues.
According to the society, about 50 per cent of lifelong mental-health problems start before the age of 14 and Mr Stokes said that was most commonly anxiety, followed by depression and some adjustment disorders.
The latest report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows was the leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds in 2012.
Mr Stokes said scientific evidence showed school was the right place to address emerging mental-health problems.
“However, we don’t have enough school funding for proven programs,” Mr Stokes said.
“Money that is directed towards programs, such as the National School Chaplaincy Program, could be more effectively spent on funding more psychologists in schools.
“They can turn their lives around, it doesn’t have to be disastrous.”
State Education Minister Martin Dixon said schools had access to psychologists, speech pathologists and social workers through the $65 million Student Support Services Officers program.
Mr Dixon said the state had also partnered with headspace to develop SAFEMinds for school staff and parents.
“It’s about educating and empowering the whole school community — parents, teachers and school leaders — enabling them to recognise the signs that a young person is dealing with mental health issues, and to know when and where to refer them for professional support,” Mr Dixon said.
A GLENROY teen who took her own life did not understand she had a mental illness that could be managed, her stricken mum says.
Dianne Slater’s daughter, Connal Hayes, was 17 when she died in September 2012.
Ms Slater said Connal, who had been in year 12, suffered severe depression for more than a year before she killed herself.
“She blamed herself, she couldn’t see it was an illness,” Ms Slater said.
“You don’t know what to do and you don’t know where to go for help.
“When you live with someone who is seriously depressed it’s the fear that you live with everyday, that you’re going to lose that person.”
Connal had been in hospital several times, but Ms Slater said she needed a different type of support.
“She said: I just want to talk to someone, going back to hospital is not the answer.”
The teenager had performed well at school and cared about the community, but ultimately succumbed to her severe depression.
“There’s a part of me that feels guilty, you feel like a bad parent because you couldn’t stop it,” Ms Slater said. “Your self-esteem is shattered. Then you have to function back in society.
“You end up putting on a mask just to get through.”
Taking part in the Support After Suicide program was helpful, enabling Ms Slater to talk to others bereaved by suicide.
But she believed more needed to be done to support young people with mental illness.
“I would like to think that the stigma could be reduced and the conversation increased about how we get the number of lives lost to suicide decreased,” she said.
“It’s about education, it’s about getting that information out into the community so we are aware of those things, not something that’s hidden away.”
Support After Suicide manager Louise Flynn said most people who contemplated suicide were suffering a mental illness.
“I think the state that someone gets into is to feel disconnected and hopeless,” Ms Flynn said.
“But just because you feel hopeless doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless. For more people, their period of mental illness will be short-term. It’s most often treatable through medication or a counsellor.
“It’s possible to recover and feel restored again and return to life.”
Ms Slater said she told people worried about family members to just listen to them.
“Open up the discussion and listen to what they are saying,” she said.
“Don’t tell them how to live their lives. I really just needed to sit and listen to her.”
This article first appeared on ‘Moreland Leader’ on 27 October 2014.