Over the years I have studied and taught across certificate, diploma and degree youth work programs in Australia and one thing has become more disturbing to me than anything else. Why is there such a limited focus on mental health in youth work curriculums?
One in four young people under the age of twenty-five will have a diagnosed mental health issue. Anxiety and depression have become more prevalent in society. Video gaming addiction has become a recognised mental illness in the latest DSM5. Dual diagnosis is now a bread and butter requirement of many youth service providers. Mental health service provision for young people is startlingly low and diagnosis is at an all time high. So what are we to do?
First and foremost we need to update the youth work curriculum. If over twenty-five percent of our clientele will suffer mental health issues we should have at least a basic understanding of care. I’m not talking about a mental health first aid course… that is aimed at people who only might come across it. We definitely will. We should have a first responder mentality and curriculum when it comes to young peoples mental health.
We should have a strong understanding of the ‘diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders’. We should have a good understanding of mental health assessment tools such as the K10, Mental State Exam and suicide risk assessment. We should have a firm knowledge of mental health intervention techniques and therapies.
I am not advocating that we become psychologists or psychiatrists, but we do need to upskill. If we don’t we will only be hurting our profession and our clients as well.