Navigating the tumultuous years between childhood and adulthood has never been harder than it is today, says one of the nation's highly respected adolescent psychologists.
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg continued his Riverina Roadshow this week by delivering a seminar to 650 people at The Range function centre on Tuesday evening. An event that was promoted by mental health collective, Riverina Bluebell.
He will also address a comparable-size group of high schoolers from Wagga High School on Wednesday.
Sighting the 2018 Mission Australia survey of 30,000 teenagers, Dr Carr-Gregg said that the three main problems faced by people aged between 15 and 19 are coping with stress, dealing with studies, and finding a healthy body image.
"Those were not issues for me when I was growing up, they seem to be huge issues for these young people," he said.
"Every year that they've done this survey, the proportion of young people saying that they're extremely concerned increases. So, yes. I think it's getting worse."
Dr Carr-Gregg boils the increase down to a mixture of five factors.
Genetic dispositions towards anxiety and stress increased instances of family break-ups, high school matriculation pressure, social media developments, and the prevailing attitudes towards social and economic assurances.
While genetic pre-requisites for mental health conditions cannot always be avoided, environmental pressures can be better managed to avoid more teens turning to dangerous habits.
"Things like anxiety and depression are like eye colour, they run in families," Dr Carr-Gregg said.
"I think there's a range of community issues relating to whether or not they will ever get a job, whether they'll be able to buy a house, which makes the whole journey from childhood to adolescence I think more stressful now than ever before."
In those cases, he said, management strategies have to be implemented to avoid the worst-case scenarios playing out.
But for students who do face those genetic problems, the way the school system sets out academic merit can increase the pressures unjustly.
"The whole idea that you are your ATaR, which is what many years 11 and 12s have come to believed," he said.
"I did the HSC, I couldn't have given a stuff about it.
"I swear it was just an annoying thing at the end of the year. Now it's become the centre of their world.
"Many of them are extremely concerned that if they don't get a good ATaR, they'll die destitute, poor and lonely and that's of course not true."
Dr Carr-Gregg believes the key to reversing this dangerous perspective is in valuing emotional education alongside academic pursuits.
Exams like the HSC and the NAPLAN, he said, do not address the things that are of greatest importance in the life that exists beyond the school walls.
Year 11 and 12 he described as the "Petri dish" for potentially developing ongoing life problems with depression and anxiety.
"Instead of what I normally do, which is being an expensive ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, I'm hoping that the schools and the parents and perhaps the peers themselves can build a bit of a robust fence at the top of the cliff," he said.
Building resilience to the stresses in life begins by promoting healthy habits in early adolescence.
"I talk about this concept of 'spark', something that gets them up in the morning," he said.
"I don't care if it's art, music, dance, drama or sport but while the young people of Wagga are doing one thing, they can't be doing another.
"Keeping them involved and active in something they feel really passionate about, is a very good start."
With the rate of suicide in regional and rural areas sitting three times higher than in the cities, Dr Carr-Gregg said more needs to be done to promote healthy frameworks for mental health discussion.
But Dr Carr-Gregg is also concerned with the value society places on social activities. In many cases, developing socially is not seen as ambitious as developing academically.
He says both are as important, with the former often carrying greater weight in adult life than the latter.
"One of the things we're missing out on these days is, many young people don't know conflict resolution skills, anger management, problem-solving [and] decision-making skills," he said.
"I don't think that's something measured by NAPLAN, I don't think it's something actively in the minds of the Board of Studies in NSW, but it should be.
"These are the very skills that are going to allow them to succeed in the world."
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