The kids aren’t alright
THE kids are in trouble - big trouble.
Their minds are sick and when they spiral into the danger zone, our country's future adults struggle to get the help they need.
The annual Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report on the nation's health last month revealed that in Australia, anxiety disorders are the leading cause of ill health and death in females aged five to 44.
To be clear, no single other thing causes more death or trauma in those age brackets.
In males aged 15 to 44, self-inflicted injuries and suicide are the leading death and disease burden.
In April, a study published in the Medical Journal of Australia revealed that in less than 10 years, mental health presentations of those aged between 10 and 19 had tripled.
Another analysis of presentations at Victorian emergency departments found that cases of young people self-harming had risen by half in eight years and accounted for a quarter of mental health presentations.
It is a huge worry, but worry in itself never changed a single thing.
What we need is action - with less fire and more aim.
It is not as if mental health has been neglected, not on paper anyway.
In January, the Federal Government announced an extra $110 million in child and youth mental health funding, with almost half going to a school-based education program and a $30 million boost to Headspace, the national youth mental health program that was started 12 years ago.
The government has thrown truckloads of money at the problem, with Medicare-funded mental health plans being brought in, more antidepressant prescriptions being written for adolescents, services and schools and in the community being better funded.
But still there are few alternatives to emergency departments for young people in crisis, and often they are turned away because they are not deemed to be wrecked enough.
There are simply not enough beds or resources to care for them all.
A parent of a teenager with severe anxiety recently told me recently that immediate help would only be available if her daughter committed a crime or attempted suicide.
No parent should have to face that level of desperation.
For those with private health insurance, at least a bed in a facility can be more accessible, but even those can be hard to find.
This week, the father of a West Australian teenager accused of murdering his mother and two of his siblings revealed his son had a long history of mental illness.
Teancum Vernon Peterson-Croft had been in and out of mental health facilities since he was 14, and the WA police commissioner confirmed his mother had resorted to regularly calling the police.
She was left with no other choice.
Ill-health should never be allowed to get to the point of death.
The problem is chronic and parents are failing to recognise early signs of trouble.
When we have parents bringing their little children to hospital with panic attacks, thinking their hearts are dodgy, or with anxious tummies, thinking they have digestive issues, we are in serious trouble.
When it can take up to a year to see a paediatrician or a child psychiatrist in the public system, we have allowed a world of pain.
Sick kids are perhaps the expected end product of our mentally ill society.
Australia is the second-highest consumer of antidepressants of 27 nations in the OECD.
An analysis of four nations including Australia that had substantially increased their mental health spending last year in leading mental health journal World Psychiatry found that making more treatment available had not reduced the prevalence of mood or anxiety disorders.
The study found that the lack of improvement was because much of the treatment did not meet the minimum standards of clinical practice guidelines and was not targeted at those in greatest need.
A lack of focus on prevention was also found to be a factor.
Some experts put the burden of anxiety disorders on the nation at $10.8 billion a year.
Still, fear and stigma linger, with even those who advocate for better mental health approaches indicating their caution.
On Wednesday, a collective warned that the much-discussed My Health Record increases inequalities and the risk of discrimination against those with mental health issues, especially for children and those affected by family violence.
They advised that the mentally ill should opt out.
We have far to go on mental health, but the state of our crisis care for young people is in crisis itself.
Until we can get a handle on the problem, we must urgently increase the size of the fleet of ambulances parked at the bottom of the cliff, waiting to care for our young.
Dr Jane Fynes-Clinton is a journalist and lecturer at the University of the Sunshine Coast.