Do we value our teeth more than our mind? 

In a 2013 an Oral and Dental Health Survey showed 64% of people aged 5 and over had visited a dental practitioner in the previous year and almost half of adults aged 18 and over had regular dental check-ups each year. Imagine how many cavities and gum issues were prevented or stopped in their tracks? Imagine how many root canals were avoided because of early action? Imagine if we took the same preventative approach to our mental health.  

Despite efforts of organisations like Beyond Blue, RUok, and Black Dog Institute, mental health conditions continue to rise as shown in the National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (see below). I do think our awareness and understanding has undeniably increased, however we seem a bit stuck in knowing how reduce the incidence of serious mental health conditions in our young people. I think a part of the answer lies in adopting a preventative and early intervention approach to treatment – the way we approach other areas of our health. 

The actual causes and pure reasons why some people develop mental health conditions and others don’t is still a bit murky. But we do believe it is likely a combination of factors you are born with (ie genetics) and factors you experience in your life and environment.

So what do we do?

A mindset shift to a preventative and early intervention approach may give an additional layer of protection for young people against long term difficulties such as anxiety and depression. We can’t change the genetic makeup we are born with, nor can we control all of the adverse experiences life may throw at us. But we can attempt to give our children the best possible chance of positive mental health by developing the skills to effectively  cope with stress. 

The research (as you can tell I’m big on the evidence) tells us that early intervention reduces the severity, the duration and the recurrence of mental health disorders. Early detection also improves the outcomes of other significant areas in life such as school achievement, further education, employment opportunities, stable housing, and reducing likelihood of involvement with the justice system.

Is it time for a check up?

So is it time for a “mental health check up”? Is your child showing some early signs of social and/or emotional difficulties which could use some attention? Actions now may just prevent the build up of longer term difficulties. 

Based on my experience as a Child & Adolescent Psychologist, here are the early signs I see which warrant investigation and support:

  • Changes in sleep – can’t get to sleep, can’t stay asleep, unable to sleep on their own;
  • Changes in diet – reduced appetite; 
  • Tummy aches – ongoing stomach pains or feeling sick, but with no medical reason; 
  • Increased irritability and/or tearfulness – this can occur as part of normal hormonal changes, however when the irritability effects relationships there may be reason to explore. Increased irritability in young children, which lasts more than 2 weeks, is also a concern;
  • Withdrawal – sudden and persistent isolating from family and friends; 
  • Reduced concentration or increased disruptiveness at school;
  • Constant worrying or seeking reassurance;
  • Increased clinginess;
  • School refusal;
  • Loss of interest in activities which they used to enjoy e.g. hobbies, sports, school

What next?

My recommendation for anyone with health concerns about themselves or their child is to speak with their GP. Whilst a referral isn’t necessary to see a Psychologist, a GP can rule out any “medical” reasons for the changes. They can then advise their recommendations for referral to see a specialist in either adult or child and adolescent mental health – and you are free to choose who you are referred to. 

If you have any questions about this article or would like to make an appointment, please contact us.