HUNTER doctors say they are seeing more young people with serious mental health issues and kids who are hurting themselves, and they are starting younger.
The head of the Hunter New England Child and Adult Mental Health Service, Dr Choong-Siew Yong, said there was a ‘‘real increase’’ but the extent of it was unclear.
‘‘It is a challenge,’’ he said.
‘‘I am seeing kids with conditions that I used to only see adult patients coming in with, and coming in younger and younger, and that’s the issue.
‘‘We are using more medication in young people as well because we are seeing more severe conditions more often.
‘‘We used to see less of it. We saw more anxious kids, now we are seeing kids present with more profound depression which doesn’t improve even when the circumstances improve in their life – and this is more what we would expect to see in adults.’’
Dr Yong said there was ‘‘ongoing research’’ into why, looking at environmental factors including diet, and people having children later in life.
‘‘All of these issues are ones that are being actively researched, because we can’t fully explain it.
‘‘In the self-harming group, the sort of people I used to see years and years ago came in in their early 20s, and it had started in their late teens, but now we are seeing kids come in at 14 and 15, in mid-high school.
‘‘It is still relatively uncommon to see them younger than that but they do come in too, we see that extreme end.’’
General practitioner Catherine Riedel has also noticed increasing numbers of young people self-harming, and ‘‘definitely in that age group’’ of 13- to 14-year-olds.
‘‘We do see it a lot,’’ she said.
‘‘Everyone blames the cyber stuff and I think that probably is a big part of it. There is ... a lot of non-constructive material out there and negativity, and it’s a really fast-paced life for many kids now and comparing of themselves to others and feeling inadequate, often a lot of smart kids, putting a lot of pressure on themselves or ... not feeling like they fit in.
‘‘There’s a large proportion of kids who don’t feel that they have someone to talk to.
‘‘The lucky ones have parents who bring them in, and that’s what I tell them, that this is probably their lowest point, that about one in five people during their lifetime needs some kind of help and that a lot of really functional people get help for mood disorders, anxiety and depression, a lot of successful people.
‘‘It’s a fine balance to have enough anxiety to keep going and ... and too much that they can’t function.’’
By ASHLEIGH GLEESON
TAMZY Withington was 13 when she started self-harming.
She says it was a reaction to bullying in high school. It became a weekly act and she became so good at hiding it, her family didn’t know she was doing it.
Until the day she had to be hospitalised.
‘‘When I ended up in hospital it woke me up,’’ said Ms Withington, who then stopped for five years before a bad break-up triggered a relapse.
Talking to a counsellor helped her to stop again, and now in her mid-20s and taking medication for depression, she is about to finish studying at TAFE NSW Hunter Institute in Newcastle to become a library technician.
‘‘My family didn’t really know about what I was doing, I did it probably once every week,’’ she said.
‘‘I got so good at hiding it.
‘‘For me it was bullying; I was bullied by some people in high school.’’
Ms Withington said she thought there was a lot more pressure on young people these days due to things like social media.
‘‘I think it’s much worse for young people now, it makes me sad they feel like they need to do it,’’ she said.
‘‘I want to speak about this to raise awareness. People think we do it for attention, but we don’t.
Ms Withington’s advice to others was: ‘‘Don’t keep it to yourself – confide in a friend or school counsellor, it doesn’t have to be a family member.’’