The boys need us: technology & the mental health & wellbeing of young men

Associate Professor Jane Burns

 

Technology can provide young people with the support they need outside of business hours.

 

After Baroness Susan Greenfield discussed some of the issues with social media, CEO of Young & Well Cooperative Research Centre (YAWCRC) Associate Professor Jane Burns, led an interesting workshop on the impact technology has on the mental health and wellbeing of young men in Australia.

Speaking from a personal perspective, Jane’s own 7-year-old son Angus, lives with autism and down syndrome, and relies on an iPad in order to communicate on a day-to-day basis.

A champion for the digital movement, Jane believes that Australia should utilise the technologies available to us today in order to provide youth with more accessible, online mental health services.

She contends that while Australia is one of the leading nations in service provision, we are living in an opportune time to decrease the still apparent disparity in health care in rural societies through mental health professional providing services online, building connections with and between young people.

Jane Burns, CEO of Young & Well Cooperative Research Centre
Jane Burns, CEO of Young & Well Cooperative Research Centre

Working with Movember, Beyond Blue, University of Sydney, and The Black Dog Institute, the YAWCRC conducted a national survey in 2012 to produce a research report on the impact of technologies on young men’s mental health and wellbeing.

Implementing the gold standard of survey-taking, they interviewed 1,400 young men aged 16-25 from all states and territories around Australia, of which 30% were from regional, rural or remote areas, and 2% identified as Indigenous.

Interesting stats from the research:

  • 99% of Australians aged 16-25 y.o. use the internet,
  • 95% of Australians aged 16-25 y.o. use it everyday or almost everyday.
  • Most are online for 2-4 hours a day,
  • 20% are online for 5+ hours a day.

The top three ways young people use the Internet:

  • 94% email in 2012 (up from 13% in 2008),
  • 93% facebook in 2012 (up from 32% in 2008),
  • 86% YouTube in 2012 (up from 7% in 2008).

How young people use the Internet:

  • 74.8% access the Internet by phone,
  • 69.9% access the Internet by laptop,
  • 34.3% access the Internet by tablet,
  • 30.8% access the Internet by desktop computer.

Where young people use the Internet:

  • 75.9% access it in their bedroom,
  • 56.2% access it in a social setting.

The main issues that concern young men aged 16-25:

  • 47.6% said coping with stress,
  • 26.6% said depression,
  • 26.3% said body image issues,
  • 19.3% said bullying or emotional abuse.

Finally, 42% of young men experience ‘moderate’ to ‘very high’ levels of psychological distress. Young men aged 22 to 25 years consistently reported higher rates of suicidal thoughts.

Associate Professor Jane Burns

Almost 1 million young men are experiencing moderate to very high levels of psychological distress. Regardless of psychological distress, use of the internet is almost universal (98%) and in similar frequency. Even with advances in mental health services, young men do not seek help and many young men are not using services until they reach crisis point.

It appears that many men who are experiencing psychological distress tend to go online and use digital tools to express, share, distribute, and discuss their issues with others in a private, confidential setting. This acts as a cathartic tool and mental wellbeing exercise that can translate into their everyday lives.

Jane concluded the workshop by stating that further research needs to be conducted, and more data needs to be collected in order to understand the effects of technology on mental health and wellbeing. She is interested in knowing how we can tap into and use gaming and social media to use and create content for mental health services. 

Post written by a youth blogger from SYN Media.

Young people transitioning from out of home care in VIC

Associate Professor Philip Mendes
Associate Professor Philip Mendes

“Young people with disabilities are facing huge challenges when leaving Out of Home Care.”

On Friday, the second day of the conference, Associate Professor Philip Mendes from Monash University presented the findings of a study into this transitional period.

Philip said his study confirmed that young people leaving care are more vulnerable to poorer outcomes. He drew comparisons with the wider community, highlighting many young people don’t leave the homes of their parents until they are aged 25 and of those who do leave home by 18, a large portion continue to receive some sort of support from their family.

This is in stark contrast to young people with disabilities who are leaving Out of Home Care at age 18 and are often not ready to be fully independent for a variety of reasons.

There is minimal research about how many young people are in care, or what types of disabilities they live with, but it appears there is an over representation of children with a disability.

The findings of the study concluded:

  • Young people with disabilities are not experiencing planned transitions from care and are not receiving the care they need.
  • Young people are sometimes transitioned into aged care facilities.
  • The system is crisis driven.
  • Inadequate funding results in a lack of accommodation options and support services for young people with disabilities.
  • Young people’s participation in their leaving care plan is hampered by the lack of resources and services.
  • The sudden transition from statutory children’s services to voluntary adult disability services is problematic for some young people.

“After transitioning from care, young people with disabilities should have ongoing monitoring and support”

Associate Professor Philip Mendes

Philip continued to explain the situation for young people with undiagnosed disabilities, borderline disabilities and mental illness was also dire. They ‘fall through the net’ and are often left worse off than those with significant diagnosed disability.

“The most common type of disability is mental illness and yet young people with mental illness are not eligible for disability services,” he said.

Philip’s presentation highlighted how a sector that is underfunded is not providing the level of care and support a vulnerable group of people need. The process of leaving out-of-home care is fraught with difficulties, as one can imagine.

Perhaps the most important finding from Philip’s study:

“After transitioning from care, young people with disabilities should have ongoing monitoring and support”

For more information on how young people are affected, read this great article from The Age on Chantelle’s story of leaving care with a mental illness.

Post written by a youth blogger from SYN Media.

Homelessness- ‘Through the eyes of a Child’

Michelle Clayton
Michelle Clayton, Children’s Resource program coordinator, Southern Region

Presenters Michelle Clayton and Susie Richards, both Children’s Resource Program Coordinators, from the Southern and Eastern Regions respectively looked at issues of homelessness and family violence through the eyes of the children involved.

The key is that, children’s experiences of homelessness are very different to those of adults.

The important moments in this journey might be leaving a pet behind or losing a teddy bear, these are things that need to be understood by the social workers who take on these cases.

But the question is do you have the resources to make a space nurturing for a child and to make your service suitable for a child?

There are plenty of barriers in working with children facing homelessness:

Susie Richards
Susie Richards, Children’s Resource program coordinator, Eastern Region
  • Who is the client? Is it the child, his/her family or parents?,
  • Children aren’t often funded as clients,
  • Children can be somewhat invisible to the worker (as they’re often as school and cannot often be accessed on week days),
  • There is a belief that children are resilient,
  • There is also a belief that fixing the homelessness problem will fix the child (even though the trauma of such an event will impact onto the child’s life for a long period),
  • Parents are protective of children and generally have reasonable parenting abilities,
  • Children’s issues not addressed because of the hierarchy of needs within the family.

The role of the Statewide Children’s Resource Program is to try and overcome these barriers through training, much of which is offered free to agencies, and resource distribution to aid workers who are trying to engage with children facing homelessness.

The program aims to raise awareness among workers about the impacts on health, mental health, education and emotional stability that homelessness can have on a child and some of the simple things that can be done to aid kids through this time, such as having toys for kids to play with in the office.

Toys for children to play with

Workers in this area need to assess their current ideas of children’s rights and their usual methods of dealing with family homelessness.

The Statewide Children’s Resource Program seeks to inspire this assessment and teach workers to improve their practice and support children who face homelessness.

For more information on the type of resources developed visit http://www.homelesskidscount.org/

Post written by youth bloggers from SYN Media.

Children’s voices & the power of an image: exploring ways in which children let us know of difficult life experiences

Children's Voices and the Power of an ImageTwo staff from the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne’s Gatehouse Centre For The Assessment & Treatment Of Child Abuse and Trauma, Mary Raftopolos (Psychologist) and Olivia Dwyer (Art Therapist & Child Psychotherapist)  focused on how children communicate their inner-world through art therapy.

Art therapy is generally divided into two concepts:

  • art as therapy, as a cathartic process ( for the purification and/or purging of emotions); and,
  • art in therapy, as art made in the context of psychotherapy.

Regardless, emphasis is placed on the process, not so much the final product.

Images and artwork produced by children who have suffered family abuse and breakdown were displayed to the audience, and we were challenged to consider how we experience and interpret these images.

These images included paintings, drawings and Sandplay Therapy that children, who typically are unable to verbally express, use to convey their inner world.

Sandplay Therapy involves the child making a picture in a tray of sand, and without any further direction, allowing the therapist to observe the process in which the child forms the art piece. Miniatures are chosen as they create an image/world in the sand.

Many of the themes conveyed in the featured pieces of art included:

  • Self regulation (fences, police, natural boundaries),
  • Poor relationships,
  • Fear,
  • Chaos,
  • Growth,
  • Containment,
  • Journey,
  • New beginnings,
  • Hiding treasure/finding treasure,
  • Gathering of energy,
  • Or, celebrations/rituals.

Mary and Olivia concluded the workshop with some of the positive results from art therapy over time, including the process being used as a tool of catharsis, in addition to allowing children to convey thoughts and feelings they would otherwise not be able to verbally.

Art Therapy & Sandplay have indeed proved wonderful, non-intrusive ways of working with children who have experienced trauma and/or neglect.

Blog by: SYN Media blogger

The Conference is done: what now?

Packed Celebrity Room at the Conference
Participants packed into the Celebrity Room at the Conference to hear from keynote speakers

We were thrilled with the success of our inaugural The Good Childhood Conference. I know you can’t judge success by numbers but here are a few statistics:

  • Over the 3 days of the conference (starting with the pre-conference workshops) we had 1000 people in attendance;
  • During the two day conference there were 64 presentations & activities, including: 8 keynote addresses, 10 keynote presentations, 40 concurrent sessions, 2 performances, 1 youth panel, 1 youth led workshop, 1 football skills drill, and 1 book launch;
  • 63 young people and 25 foster carers attended the conference on scholarships;
  • There were 18 displays and exhibitors, as well as a street artist creating a work in front of our eyes;
  • We were supported by 7 sponsors, 22 supporting partners and many friends of the conference who provided scholarships for young people and carers.

Presenters and delegates alike have been very positive in their feedback and we thank you for your encouragement.

In holding the conference we were seeking to explore what sustains a good childhood and how we can best support those who have not experienced a good childhood and we are keen to understand whether we met this aim.

We are currently analysing delegates’ evaluation forms and will be sending out a survey to those who attended to obtain further information to assist us with future planning. Watch this blog to find out about some of the themes from this feedback.

What happens now?
One of the unique features of The Good Childhood conference was the presence of young people from SYN Media who attended all of the keynote and a range of other sessions, commenting on conference themes on twitter and drafting blog posts which we will share over the coming weeks.

This blog is going to become a permanent fixture for the Berry Street Childhood Institute as we encourage you all to engage in this conversation about what we want for children in Australia in the 21st century.

Why don’t you enter this conversation right now by commenting here? Otherwise get involved on Twitter at @ChildhoodInst.

Thanks to all of you who participated in any way at our conference!

Welcome to The Good Childhood Conference blog!

CEO, Berry Street
Sandie de Wolf AM – CEO, Berry Street

This is a first for me as I join the blogging community!

At Berry Street, we believe that all children should have a good childhood, growing up feeling safe, nurtured and with hope for the future.  Sadly, evidence and our experience over 136 years tells us that this is not a reality for far too many children.

I think there is a lot for us to learn and share about what sustains a good childhood and how we best support those who have not had this experience. One of the key ways forward is bringing together parents’ experience, the knowledge of practitioners and different disciplines.

There are a wide range of terrific speakers lined up for our inaugural The Good Childhood Conference, designed to appeal to different audiences.  Some will be controversial. That’s part of the intention, because we really want to start a broad conversation about childhood.

We hope to have a large contingent of young people at the Conference – as both presenters and participants.

Like the work of Berry Street, our Conference will appeal to people from many different disciplines.  50 workshops will cover areas such as child protection, education, early years, wellbeing, place-based initiatives, family violence, the impact of technology and Out of Home Care.

We couldn’t be doing this without our Sponsors and Supporting Partners. We are especially grateful to the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, who describe their role as helping to build a strong and fair society for all Australians and developing social policies to:

  • Increase opportunities for all Australians to participate in our society and work
  • Promote cohesive and connected society
  • Support basic living standards
  • Support individuals, families and communities to build their capacity

So, please spread the word and I look forward to meeting you at the conference.

Sandie de Wolf, CEO, Berry Street