What is a mental health problem?

Just as we all have physical health, we have mental health too. An individual may have a mental health problem if the difficult feelings that they are experiencing are affecting their everyday life, and continue for a long period (a few weeks or more).

There are different types of mental health problems with a wide range of symptoms. These include depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), phobias, eating problems, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and personality disorders.

Many people will suffer from mental health problems at some point in their life. Like physical illness, mental illness can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or any other characteristics. The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimate that four (4) young people; boys and girls; in every school, college or university have a mental health problem. So it’s likely that at some stage, a young person in your section will be affected.

How will I recognise a young person is experiencing a mental health problem?

Your role in Scouting gives you a unique opportunity to see a young person over a longer period of time (for example, during a camp). But it’s not always easy to tell if a person is having a ‘bad’ day or if they’re experiencing a mental health problem.

Below we look at some of the signs that may indicate a young person is experiencing a mental health problem:

  • sudden changes in the young person’s behaviour, such as becoming overly withdrawn or clingy
  • appearing tired and anxious
  • appearing highly self-critical and lacking confidence
  • losing interest in doing any of the activities they used to previously enjoy
  • changes in eating habits, including rapid weight gain or loss isolating themselves from others

A conversation with the young person’s parent or carer at this stage can be helpful in establishing an overall view of the young person’s emotional health and any existing support that the young person may be receiving.
The parent or carer may be able to give advice about how you can best support their child in Scouting.

How can I support a young person with a mental health problem?

You are not expected to be an expert. Remember, just being involved in a supportive environment within Scouting and the positive relationships made there, can make a big difference.

  • Promote emotional wellbeing. Using the tips above is a good place to start.
  • If a young person lets you know that they are experiencing difficult thoughts or feelings, simply giving someone space to talk can be really helpful in itself. Just listen calmly, try not to make assumptions, let them set the pace, and reassure them that they are not alone.
  • Signpost to support organisations (see suggestions below).
  • Know your limits. Leaders or other adults in Scouting should not become the main support for a young person who has a diagnosed mental health problem. This places additional stress on the adult, which may not be recognised because the focus is on the young person.
  • The major support for a young person with a mental health problem needs to be identified outside Scouting.

What can I do if I’m worried about a young person’s mental health?

If you are worried about a young person, you should contact and seek advice from a support organisation especially if the young person isn’t currently receiving any support. The young person’s GP is also in a position to make a referral if required.

If a parent or carer is concerned about their child’s mental health, they should speak to their GP.

Further information and support organisations

  • Phone beyondblue on 1300 224 636 – beyondblue.org.au/support
  • Phone 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) for 24 hour assessment, referral, advice, and hospital and community health centre contact details
  • Contact Mindblank – mindbland.org.au/Teen
  • Kids Help line on 1800 551800 – kidshelpline.com.au

Medicare rebates are available for a range of mental health treatments, including up to 10 individual consultations and up to 10 group therapy sessions with a mental health professional. You’ll need a referral from a general practitioner, psychiatrist or pediatrician to be eligible.