Psychology startup, 'Speak Teen' has launched a pioneering new service designed to prevent and treat mental illness in young people. Led by Davina Donovan and supported by the Australian government's Medicare Better Access Scheme, the teen coaching offering provides virtual or face-to-face access to support for youngsters and their parents in a non-medical setting, enabling families to feel more comfortable and open to seeking help when they need it.
75% of mental illness starts before the age of 24
14% of children and teenagers in Australia have a diagnosable mental health problem
Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians aged 15 to 44
Parents often unintentionally miss the warning signs that something is wrong with their teenager as it can be difficult to differentiate normal behaviour from the warning signs of a teen not coping.
Three warning signs parents should look out for:
Any change in what is considered 'normal' behaviour for your child should be addressed as changing behaviour can indicate a problem.
Withdrawal from social activities can suggest something is not right. There will be times when a teenager won't participate in their usual activities however if a parent sees a consistent pattern of isolation from family, friends and activities this should be addressed.
The mood of your teen is another common warning sign. The teenage years are fraught with highs and lows in emotion and this is normal (in young men, anger is not uncommon and in young women, sadness). However, if you notice your teenager experiencing these emotions frequently, without a shift back to their 'normal self', there might be a problem and this should be addressed.
Identifying that not enough was being done to find a solution to the mental health epidemic, Speak Teen Founder and Psychologist, Davina Donovan says, "We shouldn't be treating problems like teen anxiety, depression, gaming addiction, bullying, suicide, low self-esteem, drug and alcohol abuse or moodiness, when we can take steps to avoid them altogether".
The Australian Government National Survey of Research Commercialisations (NSRC) states, "The large number of young people with mental health problems stands in contrast to the limited number of trained clinicians available to help them. There is a need to develop alternative approaches to reduce the prevalence of child and adolescent mental health problems".
Davina continues: "Too many families are disconnected and increasing numbers of teenagers are running away from home, dying by suicide and getting caught up in unsafe activities, while parents watch on helplessly. It is our mission at Speak Teen to offer a convenient solution to both teenagers and their parents to access help. Many teenagers have a soccer coach and netball coach but a 'teen coach' is perhaps the most important.
A Speak Teen coach equips teenagers and their parents with social, emotional and mental strategies to help them navigate the most challenging years of their lives. Sessions are bespoke to the family involved and techniques may include mindfulness, skill-building, resiliency training and self-esteem building. Evidence-based techniques such as cognitive behavioural therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy and interpersonal therapy are also used to help parents and teenagers reconnect and move forward.
Speak Teen Founder & Psychologist, Davina Donovan says, "Teenagers are telling Speak Teen coaches things that they're not telling their parents and it's not secrets about parties or risky behaviour, rather insights about their homes and relationships that many parents are often surprised to hear."
They feel lonely even when around friends and family
They feel invisible
Don't feel good enough despite parents saying positive things
"Teens are hypersensitive to criticism. Our coaches listen and validate whereas parents unintentionally make judgements and assumptions."
Speak Teen offers in-home coaching for Queensland residents in the Gold Coast, Ipswich, Redland Bay, Redcliffe, Sunshine Coast, and Brisbane regions. Virtual coaching is available for families nationwide and internationally.
The Australian Government will meet parents half-way with a $106.55 rebate on outreach coaching sessions with a GP Mental Health Care Plan.
Speak Teen is now accepting new families and invites you to secure a teen coach for your family today at www.speakteen.com.au.
Question: What encouraged the creation of Speak Teen?
Davina Donovan: Speak Teen emerged as a result of many teenagers accessing my private, solo psychology practice. I started to wonder why so many teenagers were drawn to my service. After asking them and their parents, I found that they enjoyed the relaxing environment and that I was a yoga teacher as well as a psychologist, which made me 'less like a doctor'. They told me 'you get me' and 'you speak my language'. Because I choose to practice in a client-centered way, I found myself going to clients' homes or meeting them in a location of their comfortability – this increased client engagement and more and more teenagers attended the practice. I realised that I should niche my service and Speak Teen was born. Teenagers do not want 'help' and are very reluctant to set foot into a recognised mental health service or doctor's office. However, teens enjoy coaching and mentoring. While Speak Teen provides evidence-based psychological services, this is 'disguised' as coaching. Speak Teen is an innovative service that has been designed specifically based on community need and feedback. We have worked with teenagers for many years and hear them often struggle to understand why their parents do not 'get them'. On the contrary, we've listened to parents feel anger, guilt and sadness in relation to feeling disconnected from their teen. So we decided: enough is enough! Thus we developed a service specific for teenagers and their parents. And most importantly, a service that met the direct needs of teenagers and parents based on feedback from them.
Question: What do you attribute the rising numbers of suicide and mental illness in young people to?
Davina Donovan: This is complicated. Partly the 'rise' is perception. Today, more than ever, mental health and suicide is discussed more widely in society. More people feel safer to come forward and admit there is a problem. There is more education available to schools and communities about the signs and symptoms of mental illness and suicide so it is more easily recognisable today. However, anecdotally, we are witnessing a rise in depression and anxiety in young people and, according to young people, this is attributed to the rising pressures of today such as the need to not only attend but do well at school; the increase in accessibility of drugs and alcohol; the increased exposure to 'mind rubbish' in the media and on social media and the rise in instances of bullying due to the ease of cyberbullying. It is important to note that there is no one cause of mental illness or suicide but a complex array of factors.
Question: How can parents use the Speak Teen service?
Davina Donovan: In many ways. We release a blog each week with tips and hints for managing teenagers. This information is available on our website, linked in and Facebook page. When a parent subscribes to Speak Teen they will receive this information via an email and text message each week. Speak Teen also runs parent groups - these groups are a safe and supportive way to learn the unique emotions, behaviours and thoughts of teenagers and to develop skills and confidence to recognise and manage these in teens. The specific questions of each parent are answered during this one day workshop and the group stay connected with each other, and with me, for 3 months after the group to ensure that skills are implemented, to troubleshoot any issues and to be a 'go to' if times get tough. Parents are also able to access one on one coaching from a Speak Teen coach - we support a lot of parents who find it challenging to parent their Teenager and we support and help parents manage the emotional difficulties that can accompany being a parent. Parents can also book their teenagers in for appointments. Bookings can be made discretely via our online booking system.
Question: What are the suicide and mental illness warning signs parents need to look out for in their children?
Davina Donovan: I wrote an article on this topic recently. There are many signs but here are 5 common and easy to spot signs:
Sign 1: Your Teen stops participating in activities they used to enjoy. This may indicate a sense of worthlessness, hopelessness or a general indication of physical & mental fatigue which can accompany anxiety & depression.
Sign 2: Your Teen starts to speak negatively about themselves, their future & the world around them. Prominent Psychologist Aaron Beck refers to this as the negative triad – a common sign of depression.
Sign 3: Withdrawal from friends & family. This is isolation. A teenager who is struggling may stop participating in outings because they 'can't be bothered', believe they are 'not good enough to' or because such activities evoke too much anxiety.
Sign 4: Their mood changes. Naturally Teens are prone to ups & downs in mood. However, a warning sign that your teen is in trouble is when their mood changes from their 'normal' & you notice a lower low, higher high, angrier angry or a more fearful fear than usual for them.
Sign 5: A Checklist score of 20 or over. The K10 is a screening tool used by GPs & mental health professionals to determine the likelihood of experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition. A score of 20 or over may indicate a problem:
In the past 4 weeks, how often: None of the time (1); A little of the time (2); Some (3); Most (4); All of the time (5)
Did you feel tired out for no good reason?
Did you feel nervous?
Did you feel so nervous that nothing could calm you down?
Did you feel hopeless? ¨ Did you feel restless or fidgety?
Did you feel so restless that you could not sit still?
Did you feel depressed?
Did you feel everything was an effort?
Did you feel so sad that nothing could cheer you up?
Did you feel worthless?
A very significant warning sign for suicide is the direct communication about life not being worth living. This can sound like: wanting to 'give up', communicating thoughts of death or dying, drawing or writing words about death or suicide, talking about feeling hopeless about the future or of being a burden or 'too much' for friends and family. The biggest myth about suicide is this: if someone talks about suicide, they won't do it. THIS IS A MYTH. Every single communication about suicide, joking or otherwise, needs to be taken seriously. Parents are encouraged to call a helpline if they become aware of any of these warning signs and they do not feel equipped to manage it.
Good numbers to contact are: Lifeline 13 11 14 or the suicide call back service 1300659467.
Question: Once one or more of these signs are spotted how can a parent approach the topic of mental illness with their teenager?
Davina Donovan: Firstly, it is best not to talk about mental illness or of there being something 'wrong'. A parents best weapon is to communication what they can SEE and NOTICE (i.e., I've noticed that you're spending more time in your room than usual for you') and Do Not Make Assumptions - teens hate this! After communicating what they notice, a parent can follow up with an open question (i.e., I've noticed that you're spending more time in your room than usual for you, how is everything going for you at the moment?'). And finally, communicate empathy and concern (i.e., I've noticed that you're spending more time in your room than usual for you, how is everything going for you at the moment? It seems like things are tough for you/I can imagine life must be tough for you at the moment with all the exams you have to do). Be prepared to chip away slowing, lowering the expectation that your teen will immediately identify an issue and want help. Keep noticing, asking open-ended.
Question: How will Speak Teen help our suicide target of zero?
Davina Donovan: Our aim is to get more and more teens into coaching BEFORE there is a problem. Teens typically don't want to admit there is a problem and, if there is a problem, they are often reluctant to get help for this. We hope that through coaching we can build skills and resiliency before there is a problem to deal with. However, should a problem arise, we hope that coaching is a less intrusive and more acceptable way of receiving the help and support they need.
Interview by Brooke Hunter