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Mental health is the biggest concern for young people, Kid's Helpline report finds -

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TONY EASTLEY: The biggest issue facing Australian kids today is their mental and emotional health, and there are growing numbers of them seeking help.

There's been a 626 per cent increase in calls about the issue over the last 20 years, according to the Kids Helpline's annual insights report.

Experts say social media, a lack of down-time, and too much pressure all contribute to the problem.

Johanna Nicholson reports.

(Excerpt from Kid's Helpline advertisement)

CHILD: Sometimes I don't know what's wrong and I'm so confused...

COUNSELLOR: Hello Kids Helpline.

CHILD: Hi I need to talk about something.

COUNSELLOR: Sure, tell me about it.

(En d of excerpt)

JOHANNA NICHOLSON: Relationships, child abuse, family violence and teen pregnancy. Those were the key issues faced by children calling the Kids Helpline when it started 25 years ago.

Today, mental and emotional health tops the list.

Tony Fitzgerald is the Kids Helpline counselling centre manager.

TONY FITZGERALD: Over the years we've seen more than a 600 per cent increase in contacts around mental health and emotional health, including self harm and a 246 per cent increase in contacts from young people about suicide, whether that's their own concerns or concerns for another, for a friend or a peer.

JOHANNA NICHOLSON: Problems experienced by young people have also become more complex, and where a call once took 10 minutes to handle, it's now more than half an hour.

Tony Fitzgerald blames social media for making young people more anxious.

TONY FITZGERALD: The prevalence of issues such as bullying and cyber bullying certainly has contributed to mental health issues for young people.

These days, those kinds of issues don't go away when a young person leaves the school yard, it's a 24/7 kind of environment for them, so there's no respite.

JOHANNA NICHOLSON: Andrew Fuller is a clinical psychologist and the director of Resilient Youth Australia.

His team surveyed 91,000 kids and found that resilience was highest in grades three to six, but declined rapidly in high school.

ANDREW FULLER: We see young people in their adolescent years being more vulnerable to anxiety than they were in their childhood.

School structures change, I think we put a lot of pressure on kids and we don't empower them.

JOHANNA NICHOLSON: Andrew Fuller also believes the harmful effects of social media are overplayed.

ANDREW FULLER: Online bullying is nowhere near as prevalent as face to face bullying. But the other thing we need to think about, there are a number of isolated kids who draw a lot of satisfaction and connection from having online friends.

JOHANNA NICHOLSON: Andrew Fuller.

The principal of St Thomas More's primary school in Canberra, is Julie Wiley.

JULIE WILEY: I've been teaching for over 20 years now and I have seen an incline in children coming to school with mental health issues.

JOHANNA NICHOLSON: What do you think is behind this?

JULIE WILEY: It's very complex. I think a lot of children are in care from early in the morning until often six o'clock at night.

Their lives are very busy. They don't really have that down-time.

JOHANNA NICHOLSON: The Kids Helpline had almost 210,000 contacts last year.

Tony Fitzgerald says the rise in calls is alarming but also encouraging.

TONY FITZGERALD: There is heightened awareness of the issues around mental health and suicide in the community and that young people are feeling more confident in contacting services like Kids Helpline and seeking help.

What we do know from 25 years of experience is that if a young person does reach out for help, then the outcome for them is going to be a positive one.

TONY EASTLEY: Kids Helpline counselling centre manager Tony Fitzgerald ending that report by Johanna Nicholson.