Addressing the Mental Health of our youth in our COVID world

In our editorial this week, Tim Allchin, our RTO Manager from Ranges TEC talks about the increasing mental health needs of our young people and promotes the Mental First Aid courses we provide through Ranges TEC. I hope you find his article interesting, and if you, or an organisation or church that you are part of, could benefit from this training, please don’t hesitate to contact Tim at Ranges TEC. We also commend to you the work of our wellbeing team here at MECS, who are always available to support and start a conversation if needed.

Let’s continue to be in prayer for the needs of our young people in this area as they navigate the challenges of life. May they know the peace, strength and comfort that comes from knowing that their identity comes from being a loved child of God, made in His image!

Addressing the Mental Health of our youth in our COVID world

Surprise! Our COVID world is very significantly different than it was prior to the advent of COVID. Surprise again! Our mental health has been significantly affected by enforced removal of face to face contact, huge numbers of deaths around the world and the increasing community divide between ‘COVID matters to my way of life’ and ‘it doesn't really matter that much’. Researchers from Australian National University found an increase of 8-11% of people reporting a serious mental illness between February 2018 and April 2020. Further to this, young people aged between 18-24 years experiencing high levels of psychological distress increased from 14% in 2017 to 22% in 2022 (Biddle N, Edwards B, Gray M and Sollis K (2020) Initial impacts of COVID-19 on mental health in Australia, ANU Centre of Social Research and Methods, Canberra.)

There is, however, a really interesting difference in the way that people react to the mental ill health of others compared to their reaction to those who are physically unwell. Testament to this is the distinct difference in people's perception of providing physical first aid and mental health first aid. The concept behind both of them is the same - keep the person safe and secure until professional help arrives. The broader concept is also the same - all are worthy of God's love and ours and should be helped though it may well cost us. The execution, however, is vastly different for many people. There is an inertia borne of fear, stigma and uncertainty that pervades responses to mental ill health and that occurs far more frequently than for physical first aid responses.

Another of the pressing issues arises for those who do seek to assist. The likelihood is that the person affected will be someone that we know quite well because these are the people with whom we spend most of our time. This connection immediately increases the emotional involvement we have in a given situation which increases our likelihood of trauma arising from the situation. If we feel unable to assist adequately or feel helpless in the situation, this increases our level of trauma further. A feeling of helplessness is a well known multiplying factor in the level of severity of any trauma experienced.

So how do we get past these issues to provide a clear and helpful understanding of mental health problems and illness and our response to them, particularly in relation to the increasing numbers of young people journeying through these spaces? How can we help them to set themselves up well, not develop maladaptive coping strategies that will reap the proverbial whirlwind as they move through life?

Clearly any solution needs to be inclusive of a God who cares and never abandons as we seek to mirror this in our circles of influence. But, in addition to this, there needs to be good, solid, peer reviewed, relatable information about mental health problems and illness that situates these with real people in real lives. There should be robust, solid training that engages with our real world, not seeking to hide it in theory, but dealing with the uncertainty, difficulty and greyness in the same way that God loves to deal with our fractured lives.

Mental Health First Aid training provides the second of these parts of the equation (good, solid information), but not necessarily the first and it is my contention that our faith is what provides the depth and impetus for this process in the first place. There should be access to Christian providers of this information available to all, but at the moment there are few options in this arena as far as I am aware. Ranges TEC is one, but we need to develop more across the country and across the world. Not a bad prayer point, I would venture to suggest!

Ranges TEC is a Christian Trade Training Centre in Lilydale in the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne. We are in our 11th year of operation, providing hands-on learning in 6 trades for Years 10-12 students. A proportion of our cohort have some mental health issues arising from a variety of different sources. Our teachers/chaplain have high literacy in this space and the facilitation of Youth Mental Health First Aid is a logical flow on from our experience over this time in journeying with students and parents.

Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) deals with broad areas such as anxiety, depression, psychosis as well as more predominantly youth areas such as non-suicidal self injury, eating disorders and substance abuse. It has a variety of lived experience video clips and practice conversations which seek to place these concepts in our lives. It is a full 2 day course and needs a minimum of 8 people to run. There are a variety of possible timing options to make this work in your space and with your community.

Ranges TEC runs public YMHFA courses 3 times a year at its Lilydale facility. A course can be run at your church, school, sporting club or other organisation (or combination of these). Contact Tim Allchin at Ranges TEC on (03)9738 7100 or tallchin@rangestec.vic.edu.au to explore possibilities.

More information

Mental Health First Aid on the Mental Health First Aid Australia (MHFA Australia) at www.mhfa.com.au

Ranges TEC at www.rangestec.vic.edu.au - also physical first aid, Auslan, food safety and other training options