5 May 2016

Anxiety in young people

Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia. Anxiety is more than just feeling stressed or worried. While stress and anxious feelings are a common response to a situation when a person is under pressure, they usually go away once the stressful situation has passed, or ‘stressor’ is removed.

One in six young Australians currently has anxiety. This equates to 440,000 young people, aged 12-17, who have experienced anxiety in the past 12 months.

Young people with anxiety might feel anxious, on edge or worried most of the time. Feeling overwhelmed or frightened is also common. They may experience a range of physical symptoms as well, such as a racing heart, butterflies in the stomach, muscle tension, shaky hands or perhaps feel nauseous.

Despite the prevalence of anxiety, there are strong indications that stigma still exists amongst young people. A beyondblue survey of 600 young people across Australia revealed the strongest barrier to seeking help remains other people’s judgment; four in five Australian teenagers may not seek support when they are experiencing depression or anxiety because they are worried what other people will think.

Encouragingly, young people in Australia have a good level of knowledge and understanding of anxiety and depression. However, there remains a strong need for support and information. Twenty-eight per cent of students in the beyondblue study agreed they would trust teachers to give them information on anxiety and depression. The survey also revealed that school is the most popular channel of communication for receiving information about anxiety or depression.

Recognising and responding to students who may be experiencing difficulties is explored in Component 4 of MindMatters, which discusses:

  • how schools help students
  • youth mental health difficulties
  • when should staff be concerned
  • helping individual students
  • students supporting their peers. 

School staff members are well-placed to notice changes and behaviours associated with mental health difficulties. Due to ongoing contact with students, school staff may support young people who are struggling to get the help they need and remain engaged in their schooling.

The main role of school staff is to observe and support young people. General school staff do not need to be mental health experts or counsellors. When a general staff member becomes concerned about a student, a more experienced or specialist staff member should be consulted. The trained specialist staff can then work with the student and family to clarify areas of concern and make decisions about possible referral options.

While a successful whole-school mental health strategy relies on the actions of individuals throughout the school, impact is maximised when that action is coordinated through a clear, simple and usable set of policies and procedures.

The youthbeyondblue website includes information for young people on depression and anxiety, including details of symptoms and treatments.

For more information on how your school can support students experiencing mental health difficulties, start working through the modules in MindMatters Component 4: Recognising and responding to students experiencing difficulties.

MediaCom Melbourne: youthbeyondblue Anxiety and Depression Ad Tracking Survey Post Campaign Research, December 2015.

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