As continuing COVID-19 lockdowns increase the stress on people of all ages, Australia’s largest private healthcare provider has launched a new youth mental health service – and a message for everyone that “it’s okay to not be okay”.
Ramsay Health Care's Northside Group St Leonards Clinic now offers the first dedicated private mental health inpatient unit for school-age children in New South Wales with its Adolescent and Young Adult Service.
“I find adolescents and young people ‘get it’,” the Sydney clinic’s Unit Medical Director Dr John Kasinathan said.
“They get that mental health is the biggest issue for adolescents and young adults in Australia. Suicide remains the leading cause of death in this age group and they ‘get’ that treatment can help a lot.”
According to the state’s Mental Health Commission, one in four Australians aged between 16-24 are living with a mental disorder, and one in three experience moderate to high levels of psychological distress.
The St Leonards Clinic has 13 new private rooms for 14 to 18-year-olds, while the number of private rooms for 18 to 25-year-olds has been expanded to 19.
“We’ve tailored mental healthcare and treatment for these age groups and they really love their own new space here,” Dr Kasinathan said.
The new service will focus on general mental health, depression and anxiety disorders, self harm, school refusal, obsessive compulsive disorder, social and behavioural problems, personality disorders, and adjustment disorders.
Patients can access group psychological therapy, individual reviews with a psychiatrist, art therapy, physical and social health programs, specialised nursing care and individual treatment plans.
Anne Mortimer, Director of Ramsay Mental Health Australia, said teenagers’ demand for such services was high.
“We’re committed to reducing the burden on our young people by providing high quality and quickly-accessible services,” Ms Mortimer said.
“We have also expanded our Young Adult unit to ensure our ability to help this age group who are struggling with mental health issues, through our inpatient and day programs.”
Ramsay Mental Health has 23 facilities across the country, also including Northside Group Macarthur Clinic in Sydney’s South West – where psychiatrist Dr Mark Cross is urging Australians to seek professional help if they have been struggling during the pandemic.
“It’s okay to say we’re really missing our old lives. People are scared and on edge and facing chronic stress,” he said.
“It’s really hard to separate your own stress from the overwhelming stress of a global pandemic. I don’t want people to see admission as a failure.”
Dr Cross said an inpatient stay could be “a great circuit-breaker” for people struggling with their mental health.
“You can come into a community where you can interact, participate in a program learning skills to manage your anxiety and other mental health symptoms, which can assist you to move forward,” he said.
“You can also currently go to the gym and do yoga with a mask on, and you can connect with people getting you back into a routine.
"It’s not a holiday, but it’s an opportunity to be proactive in managing your mental health and receive support and care so your symptoms do not get worse.”
Dr Cross, who said he has suffered from anxiety since he was four years old, is also offering support online – his vodcast The Anxious Shrink, has been airing live on Facebook every Thursday at 7.30pm for the past year.
“It’s a great community resource and we talk about COVID, that’s the big thing right now,” he said.
“We talk about the struggles of lockdown or quarantine – we recently had a yoga instructor come on to help with some breathing techniques – and of course we add a little humour too.
“It’s anxiety advice that won’t make you anxious. It’s very interactive, people can post comments in there and I have a lot of my patients from Northside Macarthur and Cremorne commenting on there too. It really is a great support for anyone.”
Dr Cross also recommended phone services such as Lifeline and Beyond Blue, while SANE Australia – where he is a board member – offers moderated online forums at all hours.