Monthly Archives: April 2017

Youth need voice on own mental health: study

Young people’s voices should be heard in the development of mental health initiatives aimed at teens in Australia, say leading experts in the research of teen mental health.

The Five Year Youth Mental Health report, a joint initiative by Mission Australia and the Black Dog Institute, was released recently. One of the recommendations of the report was that young people should be engaged in the development of youth-friendly mental health services and be advocates on mental health issues.

The report found the key group teens turned to for help with mental illness first was friends, followed by parents, the internet and other relatives.

Hence, equipping family and friends with ways to effectively provide support to teens in need was also among the recommendations.

Mission Australia’s chief executive Catherine Yeomans said the project, which gained an insight into teen mental health, was important to the work of Mission Australia – an organisation which advocated on behalf of teens for support services.

“The [report] shows some alarming results with almost one in four young people meeting the criteria for a probable serious mental illness… These results make it clear that mental illness is one of the most pressing issues in our communities, especially for young people, and one that has to be tackled by governments, health services, schools and families,” Ms Yeomans said.

Black Dog Institute director Professor Helen Christensen said the report found the biggest problems which concerned Australia’s youth today were depression, coping with stress, body image and school or study problems.

“Reluctant to seek help, those with higher levels of risk of mental health problems tend to seek help from the internet – suggesting the stigma and fear of being judged continue to inhibit help seeking,” Prof. Christensen said.

Many young people involved in the survey supported web-based initiatives to help teens’ access information and support services that deal with mental illness.

The report’s recommendations also saw technology as a key tool in the support of young people with mental health issues, an important alternative to traditional face-to-face discussions.

Ms Yeomans said a tailored approach to mental health services was needed for Australia’s youth which offered a range of service options to meet their diverse needs.

“It’s critical that responses to support a young person’s mental health be culturally and gender sensitive…we need to ensure that all young people, whether they live in urban or regional areas, have the resources they need to manage mental health difficulties, whether it is for themselves or for their peers. Parents, schools and community all play a vital role and we must fully equip them with the knowledge and skills to provide effective support to young people.”


Most teens happy with life: new research says

A snapshot of 15 year olds’ happiness levels across the globe has found Aussie teens are generally pretty satisfied with their lives.

The Students’ Wellbeing: PISA 2015 results were released this week and have revealed Australian teenagers are as happy as most teens in the 72 countries which participated in the inaugural survey linked to the OECD’s PISA academic studies. The average life satisfaction score tallied across the countries was 7.3 out of 10. The survey examined students’ wellbeing in four areas of life, including; school performance, relationships with peers and teachers, home life and recreational activities.

Key findings of the survey included;

  • Schools are more than places to gain academic skills. Schools which nurtured students holistically, building social and emotional competencies – leading to resilience and a stronger sense of connectedness – enabled students to feel they had a better sense of control and satisfaction in their lives.
  • Certain parental activities positively impacted on students’ performances and life satisfaction. Students whose parents reported “spending time just talking to my child”, “eating the main meal with my child around a table” or “discussing how well my child is doing at school” every week were between 22 per cent and 39 per cent more likely to report high levels of life satisfaction than students whose parents reported engaging in these activities less frequently.
  • Students who took part in moderate to vigorous physical activity were less likely to report feeling anxious about school work or disconnected from school.
  • Bullying was seen as a major issue for teens, with on average one student per class reporting being a victim of physical bullying once per month across OECD countries.
  • Nearly 40 per cent of boys reported being satisfied with their lives compared to 29 per cent of girls.
  • Girls were more likely than boys to aim for top grades at school and wanted the ability to select among the best opportunities post-graduation. However, boys were more likely to describe themselves as ambitious and aspire to be the best in any activity.
  • On average, students spent more than two hours online after school and more than three hours on a typical weekend day. From 2012 to 2015, the amount of time teens spent online outside of school hours increased by about 40 minutes – for both weekday and weekend usage.






Boys’ perception: finding a healthy body image

Promoting a positive sense of self and body image to adolescent boys in a world that sends so many messages about the “perfect body” can be a difficult task.

The way a boy perceives he looks influences his day-to-day life, from his levels of self-confidence to his self-esteem and self-respect.

Many boys do not have any problems facing the mirror and being happy with the image staring back at them, understanding their body is their own and accepting any perceived imperfections – looking to their strengths rather than weaknesses.

However, some boys grapple with the image in the mirror, struggling to find positives in the reflection they are faced with.

There has been a rise in the levels of reported eating disorders among adolescent boys in WA in the past decade.

A 2015 study by the Princess Margaret Hospital Eating Disorders Clinic warned findings revealed boys tended to develop eating disorders at an earlier age compared to girls, with the average 13.5 years whereas girls were developing disorders by about age 15.

Researchers said it was more difficult to spot eating disorders among boys as they were less likely to vomit to control their weight and were just as likely to want to gain weight as to lose it depending on their disorder.

With the stereotypical notion of being strong and muscular fueling a lot of the negative perceptions of their bodies, adolescent boys can face a struggle to find a balance and positive view of what is real and seemingly normal when it comes to body shape and image.

The onset of puberty also sparks emotional and physical changes in boys and this can be a time when they begin to question if their body looks right in their eyes and those of others.

Kids Helpline offers teens advice about dealing with negative body image views;

  • Learn about advertising and the media, how images are produced and their purpose
  • Understand you are much more than how you look, so pay attention to other things in your life
  • Appreciate qualities other than appearance in yourself and others
  • Avoid ‘appearance conversations’ and judging people on how they look
  • Inform yourself about health, nutrition and lifestyle
  • Spend time with others who are positive and help you feel good
  • Spend time doing activities and interests that make you feel good
  • Learn to appreciate and respect your body and what it can do
  • Practice positive self-talk
  • Write down things you like about your body
  • Ask close family or friends to tell you what they like about you


Act tough: research reveals pressure on young men

A rigid construct of how “real” men are supposed to behave leaves many feeling trapped, new research carried out suggests.

While most support gender equality, the young men in the UK, US and Mexico reported feeling pushed to live in the “man box”. They feel pressure to act tough, hide weakness and “look good”. This can have damaging effects on their health and wellbeing, as well as their relationships with each other, and with women and children.

Alongside online surveys conducted for this international study, we convened focus groups with men between the ages of 18 and 30 in London and the north of England, representing diverse backgrounds in terms of ethnicity, religion and class.

The men we spoke to were keenly aware of influences – from family, peers, teachers, media – encouraging them to conform to certain models of masculinity. One said: “There is pressure everywhere to tell you what man you should be.” Another added: “You have to be a young man who’s got a nice house, who’s got a nice car, who’s got a family with kids, who’s got a good job.” At the same time, many felt that these images were difficult to live up to and remote from their experience.

The young men in our groups supported gender equality in theory. But many held on to traditional ideas about gender roles. They saw men as “breadwinners” or “protectors” and women as “carers” and felt that societal attitudes hadn’t changed dramatically.

“The jobs that society has a higher regard for … fall to men,” one said. Nevertheless, a small number expressed resentment at what they regarded as the more favourable treatment of young women – including young mothers, when it came to custody issues or domestic disputes. “In the eyes of social media, social services and the law, the girl’s always right when it comes to the child,” said another.

Most of the young men in our focus groups claimed to be tolerant towards homosexuality – “you wouldn’t discriminate against a gay person” – while recognising that prejudice still exists in wider society. However, sexuality was clearly a topic that some found difficult to talk about in a group setting.

Under pressure

The young men we spoke with were aware of pressure to “look good”. Many had gone through a phase of working out but most had concluded that it was unhealthy and unfulfilling. That said, they thought the pressures on young women to conform to a particular body image were more intense than for young men.

Violence is still a feature of many young men’s lives, with some regarding it as a way of maintaining status and an inevitable part of becoming a man. “It shapes young boys into men,” said one. But some resented being seen as a threat and felt targeted by the police when out in public simply because they were young and male.

Some saw admitting to emotional problems as a sign of weakness. One spoke of dealing with mental health issues by “disconnecting myself a lot from other people, because I thought that was the manly thing to do”. Others admitted that they found it difficult to express their feelings and were reluctant to seek help when distressed. One said: “Men, we just deal with it differently … we’ve got other channels of expressing our feelings.” Others admitted that if they were having problems they would just “bottle it up and get on with it” or even “turn it into a bit of a joke”.

Personal relationships were important for these young men. Many spoke warmly about the support they had from their families. As one put it: “They always had my back.” A number had grown up without a father, but many had positive relationships with their mothers and other female relatives.

Friendships were important too, with one young man saying that with friends “you don’t feel like you have to put up a front”. But others expressed regret at the prospect of losing close male friendships as they grew older, highlighting the risks of isolation and loneliness.

These focus groups have been part of a wider international study, which argues that breaking free from the “man box” is not something young men can do on their own. It concludes that parents, educators, the media, teachers, girlfriends, boyfriends, and others need to be part of the process of reinforcing positive, equitable, unrestrictive ideas of manhood.

Our discussions present a similarly complex picture. They confirm the importance of listening to young men’s own perspectives on their lives and demonstrate that they need support in resisting pressures to conform to the expectations and in realising their full potential.

Original article published by the Conversation UK.

By The Open University UK Senior Lecturer Martin Robb and University of Liverpool Law School European Children’s Rights Unit Honorary Research Fellow Sandy Ruxton