Speak to your kids: Vic chief psychiatrist

·2-min read

Parents should reach out to their children who may be struggling with Victoria's sixth coronavirus lockdown, says the state's top psychiatrist.

Speaking at the state government's daily coronavirus briefing on Thursday, chief psychiatrist Neil Coventry said it was normal to feel confused and uncertain amid the pandemic.

"Fortunately, most of us will be able to cope with this challenge," he told reporters.

"However, we also need to acknowledge that some people will really struggle, particularly at the moment."

He said it was a particularly challenging period for children and teenagers, who had spent much of the past 18 months learning from home.

Dr Coventry urged parents to help their children maintain a normal routine and sleep schedule, as well as regularly speaking to them about how they are coping.

"We need to talk to our kids about how they're coping. Please, please, please, reach out to your kids," he said.

"Don't be anxious and afraid to have conversations about how your kids are coping, how are they feeling at the moment, what are their challenges and their confusions about what's going on."

Royal Children's Hospital director of mental health services, Dr Ric Haslam, said the number of children and adolescents presenting at the hospital's emergency department has increased by "between 30 and 80 per cent" this year.

He said children were presenting with anxiety, depression, self-harm, suicidal behaviours and eating disorders.

"There's sort of a tidal increase of demoralisation and anxiety, worry, irritability and frustration," he said.

"We've also seen an increase in young people presenting with aggression, both verbal and physical, and often these are children who might have developmental difficulties, such as autism spectrum disorders."

However, Dr Coventry noted there had not been an increase in suicides among young people.

Dr Coventry is not among the health experts included in making decisions on lockdowns, but said it was not his place.

"I don't get involved in making decisions about the lockdown, that's a public health decision," he said.

"The chief health officer, who has to make these difficult decisions, has a wealth of expert information to weigh up the balance of physical and emotional health.

"In terms of being the chief psychiatrist, I'm very confident the mental health aspects are given the appropriate weighting."

Dr Coventry says he is "very pleased" playgrounds will reopen from Friday, and hopes everyone will follow the rules "so that we don't have superspreader events".

"Playgrounds are very important for children's emotional and social and physical development as well, so we want to make sure that we behave by the rules so that children can have access to them," he said.

Lifeline 13 11 14

Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 (for people aged 5 to 25)

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