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Connect, connect, connect… health experts agree it is a foundation for positive mental health

Date

7 January 2022

Published by

Penrhos College

Category

School Announcements

Australia is in the midst of a mental health crisis, when it comes to our children and young people – girls, in particular, are suffering. The reasons for this are complex and multi-faceted, so I was keen to hear the key messages that three Western Australian experts would bring to a recent Mental Health Week breakfast presentation and discussion.

Attendees were looking for answers to big questions – all between 7am and 9am! They were not disappointed – when time is of the essence, sometimes those nuggets appear.

WA Australian of the Year, Psychiatrist Helen Milroy, presented the problems – as might be expected, she outlined the distressing numbers and emphasized the need for early intervention in mental health. But what was particularly noticeable was that the first line in her presentation was about prevention and connection. She summed it up quite simply in the words: “Life is relationships

Dr Milroy elaborated: You can’t emphasise strong, nurturing relationships enough.I think she said it twice – to emphasise the emphasis.

As might have been expected, we heard about a mental health system that is short on hospital beds and long on waiting lists. But when WA Chief Psychiatrist Nathan Gibson came to the stand, he chose to spend his five minutes on the microphone highlighting the need to provide support for parents: to move away from a culture where children are seen not heard; to help parents strike a healthy balance between being the parent and giving young people agency; to support parents in better connecting when the world of technology promotes disconnect; to support parents whose teens report online activity is a significant cause of their anxiety.

There were significant nods to the ‘science of attachment’, caregiver relationships and connection to others – at home, at school and within communities.

Both psychiatrists called for a complete revamp and a flipping of Western Australian mental health services, Dr Milroy asking “why do you have to be the sickest to get to see the most qualified professional at the end of the dark corridor?”  Their collective call was for health professionals to inform early intervention – for structuring clinical services away from individuals and towards supporting families and community.

Connect, connect, connect…

The Western Australian Commissioner for Children and Young People, Colin Pettit, was the third expert who joined the discussion. As a result of the 2019 Speaking Out Survey, where young females consistently rated their wellbeing below that of their peers, the Commissioner’s office has been ‘exploring the decline in wellbeing for Australian girls’ (August 2021). At the end of the 170-page report, Colin Pettit recommends protective and preventative factors. In summary and in order, these are as follows:

  1. Supportive family relationships, including open and honest communication with parents and other adults
  2. Positive and supportive friendships
  3. Parents regularly engaging in open and honest discussions regarding social media and online interactions so girls have the confidence to discuss any concerns or worries they may have
  4. A school environment that supports school belonging and connectedness, with teachers and staff who are caring and relationships-based
  5. Feeling safe and being safe in neighbourhoods and communities
  6. Engaging in regular moderate physical exercise
  7. High quality, non-stigmatising education about puberty and menstruation
  8. Encouraging girls to be self-compassionate – with a recognition that this comes from adults displaying more kindness and less judgement
  9. A more equitable society where gender stereotypes are a thing of the past

When the Commissioner took to the stage, his response reflected point one (above) and he continued to echo a focus on the relationships between young people and the adults in their lives. He reflected that what teens want from adults is to be communicated with.

For me, it was affirming to have the key foundations of connection, relationships and family support emphasised by all three of the mental health experts in the room for the Mental Health Week breakfast presentation.

What does this mean for wellbeing at Penrhos?

Our Pre-K to Year 12 Penrhos Connect Wellbeing Framework, by name and nature, has connection at its heart – to self and family, to school and community, to the world around us and to what brings our lives meaning. We build on this foundation by teaching skills and strategies, directly and through experiences, to lead a healthy life – in body, mind and spirit. Our dedicated, additional Full Circle psychologist works to support our caregivers and to provide opportunities to connect families to each other and to the Penrhos community. Our students have embraced the themes of Love Grows Here in Junior School and Together We Grow in Secondary School. Our parents have embraced the opportunities to Tune in to Kids and Tune in to Teens.

Connect.

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Tuning in to Kids and Tuning in to Teens are attachment informed, connection-driven, small group workshop series for parents and caregivers facilitated by Penrhos Full Circle psychologists.

Please contact Full Circle psychologist Tracy Hart via hartt@penrhos.wa.edu.au if you are interested in joining a group in 2022.

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References

Author’s notes from Inspiring Australians Mental Health Week Breakfast. October 12, 2021

Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2021, Exploring the decline in wellbeing for Australian girls. Commissioner for Children and Young People WA.