Aussie kids struggling with shock mental toll of COVID-19
Cooped-up kids are scared, lonely and suicidal as the COVID-19 crisis rips apart friends and families, and ruins crucial routines of school and play.
An alarming New Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) report, to be released today, reveals a worsening mental health crisis among a generation of children who miss their friends at school and university, and are "trapped'' at home with highly stressed or violent parents.
Hundreds of children who called the Kids Helpline said they wanted to die.
One in 20 kids said parents or siblings had become violent and abusive during lockdowns - but children felt "trapped and unable to run away''.
"Some young people spoke about wanting to run away from home,'' the report says.
"Some had been homeless in the past, and others were already couch-surfing or staying at friends' houses.''
The study examines data from 2567 counselling sessions with Kids Helpline, which has experienced a 24 per cent surge in calls for help from distraught children this year.
Counsellors noted "increased tensions'' within families cooped up together, with money worries and a lack of outside supports and activities.
More family feuds were triggered by "parents trying to stop children … from going out, young people not being allowed to visit romantic partners, arguments about schooling and extra financial stress''.
The study found that teenagers were traumatised by COVID-19 lockdowns, school work stress and an end to their "rites of passage'', such as school formals and plans for an overseas "gap year'' before starting university.
Kids frequently told counsellors that "everything enjoyable had been removed from their lives'' as they missed out on sport, shopping and parties.
"Everything we look forward to has been cancelled,'' one teenager told a counsellor.
The report found that high school students are "feeling overwhelmed with the amount of work that had been assigned'', with "significant anxiety'' among Year 12 students about falling behind in their studies.
"This had led to stress - and conflict with parents as well,'' the report says.
Girls were far more likely than boys to be upset by the stress of school work.
Australian Human Rights Commission president, Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher, said it was a "basic right'' for children to play with friends.
"I worry about children and young people at the moment,'' she told News Corp Australia.
"Children need to be able to play with their friends - it's a basic right - and I know many kids are suffering terribly at having to sacrifice that right because of the pandemic.
"So many kids are doing it tough right now and we need to do all we can to help them thrive during this difficult time.''
Tracey Adams, the chief executive of yourtown, which operates Kids Helpline, called for more focus on children's mental health.
Many kids told counsellors they "struggled'' with home schooling due to "boredom, too many distractions, difficulty concentrating and feeling overwhelmed with work.''
Teenagers missed the support of friends, teachers and school counsellors.
"Some spoke of loneliness, feelings of abandonment, introspection, and insecurities about their friendships,'' the report says.
Children told counsellors of their "sadness and worry'' about being separated from a parent or grandparent in hospital or interstate - or even missing the funeral of a loved one - due to border closures.
If you are in immediate danger call 000
Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800
Lifeline 13 11 14
Originally published as Aussie kids struggling with shock mental toll of COVID-19