TALKING to children and teenagers about their mental health starts with giving them a supportive ear, a Wimmera mental health expert says.
Wimmera Primary Care Partnership mental health first aid training project co-ordinator Lissy Johns said the most important thing adults could do was let young people talk about their concerns.
"The main thing is giving them permission to speak and understand. Parents are role models for children and they learn how to grieve from the adults around them," she said.
"Adults need to make sure that they show the children around them that it's okay to grieve and that grieving takes as long as it takes. They need to have someone they can open up to, and feel safe and comfortable to talk with."
Ms Johns encouraged parents to not always raise alarm bells when children and teenagers acted out of character.
"The main message I'd like to get across to families and children is that just because you have a bout of depression or anxiety, it doesn't mean you have a diagnosis of a mental health condition," she said.
"It's important to recognise that when a child or teenager's behaviour changes - they might not want to talk to anyone at all for instance - but that can just be a common thing for their age.
"As parents we've got to take into consideration a number of things; we know our children best. By talking to them and continuing to offer them opportunities to express their feelings, that's the best way to support them."
Adults need to make sure that they show the children around them that it's okay to grieve and that grieving takes as long as it takes.- Lissy Johns
Headspace Horsham offers mental health support to young people aged between 12 and 25, however Ms Johns said there was a gap in the region with mental health support for children under 12.
"There are very limited services available for under 12s specifically and a lot of services have eligibility criteria which is determined by age. That often also affects older people aged over 65," she said.
"Children under 12 do have access to local psychologists, but there is always be a waitlist.
"The Rural Outreach Program also doesn't have an age limit, but they're not clinicians. They are best for early intervention phases.
"A lot of times children just won't listen to their own parents, so it's good for them to have someone else to talk to. If advice comes form someone else they respect then it can be a bit more powerful."
A group of Horsham Youth Council councillors completed the Wimmera PCP's Teen Mental Health First Aid Training with Ms Johns last week.
Ms Johns has also taught mental health first aid training to students at schools across the region.
"We have covered the whole Hindmarsh shire, including Nhill, Rainbow and Dimboola. We've also done them at Kaniva, Warracknabeal, Goroke and Hopetoun," she said.
"I've been really pleasantly surprised at how interested students have been with the training. I've seen a real closing of the loop because we're giving the kids the same tools as adults so they can have the confidence to have those conversations with each other.
"We're arming them with information about how their brain works and letting them know that they're not alone. No matter what age they are, it's important to acknowledge those negative thoughts and find ways to stop them.
"I would encourage schools to get in touch with me if they want the course run with their students.
"I know the Department of Education has psychologists who can go out to schools if there has been a suicide, but there aren't many programs that will do outreach work with schools.
"Alistair Baker from the Rural Outreach Program visits one of the Wimmera colleges every week to check in with students."
The next Wimmera PCP mental health first aid training course is on February 18 at Harrow-Balmoral.
Other upcoming sessions are youth mental health first aid training in Horsham on February 24 and in Nhill on April 21, and standard mental health first aid training in Horsham on March 17 and 24.
Ms Johns said people could contact her on 5362 3446 to register for upcoming sessions.
Headspace Horsham is located at 77 Hamilton Street, Horsham and can be contacted on 5381 1543. The Rural Outreach Program can be contacted on 1300 688 732.
HORSHAM College has a Wellbeing Team which consists of student wellbeing officers and chaplains.
The team works with staff, parents and the students to "holistically support students towards feeling healthy, safe and happy and ultimately reach their full potential".
Services provided include one on one consultations, peer mediation and parent meetings.
St Brigid's College, Horsham
Student wellbeing sessions are also run that cover topics including cyber safety, respecting yourself, respecting others and developing resilience.
Holy Trinity Lutheran College, Horsham
HOLY Trinity Lutheran College has a school counsellor as part of its Pastoral Care team. The counsellor meets regularly with the head of senior school and the principal to discuss concerns regarding students and monitor their health and wellbeing.
The counsellor can offer support in: consulting with parents and staff with regard to providing support for a student's social and emotional needs; working with staff to complement existing programs and integrate new programs to address student wellbeing needs; and providing direct counselling to students on an as-needed basis.
STAWELL Secondary College and Ararat's Marian College have school counsellors on staff.
Ararat Secondary College has a student welfare officer. It also has a school counsellor who can support students on a range of issues including risk of disengagement from school; disadvantage or vulnerability; mental health disorders including anxiety and depression; relationship problems, eating disorders and learning problems; substance abuse; parenting issues and managing chronic illness.
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