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Labor Matter of Public Importance - Mental Health in Schools

29 May 2019
Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I am pleased to make some comments on behalf of the Greens on this very serious matter that I am sure hangs heavily on the minds of many parents in the Tasmanian community. The issue of the state of mental health of young children, adolescents and young people up to the age of 25, when people's brains are forming and neural pathways are being thickened and changed. It is not until 25 when that process completes and you can call a person fully adult in their brain development and emotional development.

We have children at the age of 18 cast into what we have traditionally called adulthood with enormous social and personal internal expectations placed upon them about what they can achieve in their lives. The evidence before us is of incredibly high rates of anxiety, depression, stress, of suicide achieved and suicidal ideational or the thought of killing oneself. These rates are high but, even worse, they are continuing to trend upwards. For parents, for children and young people, for us as a society, this is a truly alarming situation because these are the people of our future. They are the people we are launching as caring adults into their future lives.

What are we doing to help them? I am sure every person in this House wants to do everything we can to help them. I understand that the minister for Education is very caring and has made some definite efforts in the Budget to focus on some of the issues which, it is understood, will make a difference in a child's life and to help improve them in the school environment.

The complexity of issues that bring increasing rates of anxiety and depression for an individual child and for children as a community are not fixed in the school classroom. They are a whole-of-society and a whole-of-government approach to thinking about the underlying factors driving those increasing rates of anxiety, suicide, stress and depression. These factors have been mentioned by other members before but I want to focus on the future and that is what bears so heavily on children.

Through trauma, family violence, through the bullying they experience on social media, through the isolation and loneliness they experience with the increasing internal viewing of devices at the expense of communicating with their friends and having group activities, all of these things mean that children are now in an impoverished state in coming to grapple with the truly enormous changes happening at the global climate and environmental system level.

That is what we are seeing. That is why we are seeing new words like solastalgia appearing. Solastalgia means what we are seeing is happening for many young adolescent people, and that is an understanding about the changing environment and it is causing them mental distress, it is causing them depression, and it is causing them extreme anxiety. Not only do they feel dislocated from the natural world and have personal fear for their lives, the threat of bushfires, the threat of extreme cyclones or hurricanes depending on where they live, but they have extreme concern and anxiety about the jobs of the future. Where will they come from? How will they compete with robots for jobs? How will they work in industries where, despite how Liberal governments in Australia might pretend otherwise, they can see quite clearly that these industries are disappearing. The industries of fossil fuel energy generation are going.

Young people have these devices. It does not matter what we tell them, they can look at their hand and read the information about what is happening in the world. Sometimes we know what they read is a bubble of mistruth, a bubble of fear and a bubble of bullying, and all these factors come into play on a young person's ability to cope.

The Greens understand that children need extra help which is why we have prioritised in our budget 50 extra full-time equivalent school psychologists, $7 million into social workers and an extra $1.6 million into trauma-informed schools. We have balanced this across the budget, unlike the Labor Party which has a good idea for putting mental health support staff in schools but has not told us where that money is coming from. The Greens have made a commitment to put on these extra social workers and school psychologists and an extra 90 teachers and 80 support staff into our school system to take pressure off teachers so they can give the personalised care children need so they can have the multidisciplinary connection outside the school with families at home and do what we can to improve people's mental health.