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School bullies have driven a 50% surge in the number of desperate young people seeking help from a specialist mental health unit in the past year.
The Emotional Health Unit based at Mater’s South Brisbane campus is now seeing 20 patients a month seeking help to deal with serious anxiety and depression linked to bullying.
The centre treats adolescents and young adults aged 16 to 25 is calling on parents to look out for the signs of bullying during Queensland Mental Health Week (7-15 October).
Natalie (surname withheld), an experienced educator based in Brisbane, said her family was in “crisis” when the Emotional Health Unit helped her 16-year-old son Parker.
She said her son, who is transgender, had been cruelly bullied at two schools.
Natalie only realised the extent of Parker’s problems when the Queensland Police Service arrested her then 14-year-old and issued him with a caution for drug possession.
She said that bullying, as well as the breakdown of her marriage with Parker’s father, had led to his drug abuse.
“I moved Parker to two private schools due to bullying,” she said.
“He was ‘outed’ because of his gender and just didn’t find his ‘place’.
“At school he experienced name calling, rumour mongering and people befriending him under false pretenses.
“One of his so-called ‘friends’ put a list of all the things that were wrong with Parker on social media – they even filmed reading it out to a group of friends.”
Natalie said it was “heartbreaking” to find out what her son had been through and is encouraging other parents to take the time to talk to their children and ask more questions.
“If we don’t get on top of this bullying epidemic, more lives will be lost,” she said.
“I feel so stupid because Parker was still going to school and getting high grades. I had no idea he was a victim of bullying.
“I thought to myself, if I, a middle class educated woman with four university degrees couldn’t see what was going on, this could happen to other parents.”
Parker was on waitlists to see psychiatrists for 18 months until Natalie, who said she was at “breaking point”, came across Mater’s Emotional Health Unit online and referred her son as a private patient.
“The Emotional Health Unit at Mater saved my son,” Natalie said. “The support Parker received has truly saved our lives.”
Emotional Health Unit nurse practitioner Chris Leary said bullying can impact a child’s development, self-confidence, self-worth and self-esteem which often leads to anxiety and depression – problems which frequently continue into young adulthood and beyond.
Mr Leary said both young adults and their parents can self-refer to the Emotional Health Unit as public and private patients.
“Bullying can lead to restrictive disorders such as eating disorders, even episodes of harm, suicidal thoughts and planning,” Mr Leary said.
He encouraged parents to look out for changes in their child’s eating and sleeping habits, as well as how much time they spent using phones and other electronic devices.
“Signs of irritability, mood swings and no longer engaging in family activities are tell-tale signs a young person could be struggling with their mental health,” he said.
“We see the tip of the iceberg – when things start to deteriorate. It’s important for parents to know the signs and spot them as early as possible.”
Director of Mater Young Adult Health Centre Brisbane Professor Simon Denny said young adults have unique developmental, health and psychosocial needs.
“Understanding these complex needs and being equipped to manage them, along with the range of issues that can add to a young person’s level of mental health risk, requires ongoing education and training,” Prof Denny said.
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