When we think of mental health issues related to the pandemic, it’s easy to conjure images of financial stress and concerns about keeping elderly and immune-suppressed family members safe. However, educators will be acutely aware that kids are some of the most affected, a sentiment that has been shown in new research published in the Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry.
Unfortunately, the research also shows that adequate care for children experiencing mental health issues is being delayed due to the severity and complexity of reported conditions, extended wait times and high out-of-pocket costs for families. Additionally, due to a shortage of psychiatrists and psychologists, current long waiting lists have led to “clinician burnout” that is set to create further impacts, particularly in regional areas.
As most educators are aware, mental health conditions can have long term, direct and indirect effects on a child’s development including impacts on social skills, the ability to absorb information and their enthusiasm for learning. This makes it vitally important that parents know all of their options for assistance.
Many education organisations have facilities in place to help address childhood mental health, or pathways for referral for pupils/students. These will be well known to employees and help facilitate referral of students requiring support. However, these systems are not set up to support teachers whose own children may experience mental health concerns unless the child attends the parents’ school.
So, what help is there for teachers who are experiencing childhood mental health issues in the home and what can they do? Most organisations will have an Employee Assistance programme in place and teachers can confidentially access this support for themselves and family members. Talking to your Principal, head of faculty or HR department may also be the key to immediate assistance through workplace Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). Provided free of charge to employees, these services offer expert counselling to employee parents and guidance on the best course of action for their children, including advice on referral options for under 10’s and short-term counselling for adolescents. These services can act as a vital initial support system while they wait for specialist psychiatrist or psychologist appointments.
Educators will have a good understanding on approaches to childhood mental health and can gain more skills in this area through Government programs such as Be You. This school-based initiative provides teachers with general advice and resources to help support kids facing mental health issues.
EAPs, like AccessEAP, can also provide awareness programmes for teachers and how they can support young people and their own children. The counsellors at the EAP can take this understanding one step further by providing counselling support for parents for their family’s specific needs. This creates a 360 approach and gives parents the confidence that they are doing the right thing, which in turn can help alleviate their own stress and feelings of helplessness. The service also provides support for parents to help not only care for their children, but themselves. In doing so, EAPs can help parents remain mentally fit to support their children and continue their duties at work.
This early professional intervention has become more essential than ever due to COVID-19, with current government figures showing that an estimated 560,000 children and adolescents in Australia have a mental illness and one in four1 Australians aged 16 to 24 experiences mental illness in any given year. What’s more, almost 100,0001 parents are affected by perinatal depression and anxiety annually, nationwide.
Teacher-parents that are looking for support should either check their organisation’s intranet for details of an EAP, or speak to their business to enquire whether they offer an EAP service and how to contact them. It’s up to the individual whether they want to disclose their situation to their business and all calls, meetings and other support are completely confidential. However, I always recommend explaining what’s happening for you and starting an open conversation that will allow your company to support you through other means such as flexible work hours, reducing or changing workloads and periodic check ins.
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