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#doitfordolly is the social media hashtag that emerged following the death of 14 year old Amy ‘Dolly’ Everett, who ended her own life after experiencing cyber-bullying. The outpouring of grief for this young girl once again brought the awful consequences of bullying to the public’s attention.

But do you remember, just over a year earlier, we were having a similar discussion following the death of 13 year old Aboriginal boy Tyrone Unsworth?

Beyond the hashtags and sporadic public discussion, bullying continues to impact on the lives of children and their families. What can we be doing to support these young people when the issue falls from the headlines?

Samaritans is the contracted lead agency for headspace Maitland, and Felicity Scott is the Clinical and Service Integration Manager. I asked Felicity for her advice on this important issue.

With the recent widespread media exposure of suicide, it’s important to recognise that this may raise distress, particularly for young people.  It’s crucial that young people are supported with strategies and resources to not only assist them through this time but to also equip them with lasting healthy habits to improve their mental wellbeing.

It’s important to understand that suicide is a complex issue, often stemming from a combination of biological, psychological and environmental factors.  But there are ways we can help young people to minimise the risk of feelings of hopelessness.

The CEO of headspace, Jason Trethowan wrote about the complexities of suicide in an opinion piece following Dolly’s death.

He said, “With many young people heading back to school in the coming weeks, this message is particularly timely. There will be many changes ahead for some, particularly those commencing high school, university or TAFE, or young people starting at a new school and leaving good friends behind. For some, this may be a daunting and challenging time that can impact their mental health.”

You can read more from Jason here.

Below are some tips to help young people to look after their mental wellbeing.  The best way to encourage this is leading by example as adult role models to practice healthy habits.

  1. Sleep

Maintaining good sleep patterns helps young people to improve their mood, energy levels, concentration and study. For young people aged 14-17 the recommended hours of sleep is 8-10 or 7-9 hours for people aged 18-25.

The importance of sleep is often underestimated. Poor sleeping patterns are linked to symptoms of depression. For every hour of sleep a young person misses at night there is an increased chance of feeling sad and hopeless, or experiencing suicidal behaviour.  Click here for some tips to encourage a good sleeping routine.

  1. Healthy eating

Healthy eating habits can improve a young person’s energy levels, mood and general health. Encourage a diet high in veggies, fruit and whole grains, and drinking lots of water promotes physical and mental development.   You can help set young people up with healthy eating habits for life by educating them on the nutritional value of foods.  Cooking together is a great way to practice!

  1. Support goals and hobbies

Learning new things, identifying hobbies and setting goals are important for a young person’s mental health.  It’s important to listen to their interests and encourage them to partake in their hobbies such as helping them to sign up for a sports team or take music lessons.  Part of this includes assisting them to create realistic goals and helping them to manage disappointment by listening to their challenges.

  1. Stay active

Staying active is an important factor to improve a young person’s sleep, ability to cope and general wellbeing, which can lower stress, depression and anxiety levels.  It is recommended that young people aged 13-17 should accumulate at least 60 minutes of exercise every day.  Ways you can help a young person to achieve this include:

  • Encouraging them to walk to school or to the bus stop where possible.
  • Limit the use of TV, computer games etc. to not more than two hours a day.
  • Accompany them on a walk – this is a great opportunity to talk as well.
  • Support them to find a sport they are passionate about – this could even be surfing, Tai Chi or golf! Think outside the box if school sports don’t appeal to them.
  1. Connection

Forming connections is essential for all people.  Young people benefit greatly from spending time with friends, family and people in the community (pets included!).  Finding an activity that you both enjoy and can do together is a great way to connect with your young person – this might be watching your favourite TV show, going for a walk or cooking together.

It’s also important to encourage young people to develop healthy and meaningful friendships.  Not all friends need to come from school, you can encourage friendships in the community, such as through a sporting team or neighbours in your street. Listen to concerns they have about friendships or relationships, without judgement, so that they feel comfortable sharing information with you.

  1. What should you do if you suspect a young person is experiencing bullying?

We know that early intervention is vital for young people experiencing any type of bullying, including cyber bullying.  75% of serious mental health issues emerge before the age of 25.  Without support in the early stages of bullying, the consequences can extend well into their future and impact multiple areas of the person’s life. If you suspect a young person is experiencing bullying, immediate access to support and counselling as soon as the bullying occurs is needed.  Support options include:

  • headspace offers free mental health support to young people aged 12-25, with 100 centres spread across Australia.
  • eheadspace offers an option for online and telephone support.
  • School counsellor
  • GP
  • Kids Help Line 1800 55 18 00
  • Lifeline 13 11 14

If this article has raised any issues for you, Lifeline Australia offers a 24/7 support service, please call 13 11 14.  Alternatively, you can visit www.eheadsapce.org.au if you are a young person needing to talk to someone, or if you are concerned about a young person. If you are in immediate danger, please call 000.