Supporting young people returning to school in an unfolding bushfire crisis

headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation is reminding young people, their families and educators to recognise that going back to school period in the wake of the bushfire crisis may be difficult for young people and it may raise many different emotions.

Feeling such as apprehension, anticipation and nerves are common for a young person to experience during the period of transition back to school, however, these feelings may be magnified for communities both directly and indirectly impacted by the bushfires.

Kristen Douglas, head of headspace Schools says that, despite what the country has seen and experienced, the structure of returning to school and getting back into a routine can be beneficial for young people.

“Communities across Australia have and will continue to be impacted in varying ways during this bushfire crisis, however, for those who are able, returning to school can provide a sense of familiarity and safety for young people.

“The back to school period can be challenging for young people as they try to work through balancing studying and social activities, on top of this they may also continue to experience the mental impacts of the bushfires such as anxiety, sadness and anger.

“We’re encouraging parents to check in regularly with their young people, and look for changes in behaviour that seem out of the ordinary. Parents can also reinforce the positives of returning to school, and emphasise that school is a safe space for them.

“Listening to a young person’s concerns is also important and this can apply to both parents, teachers and friends. While you don’t have to have answers to all your young person’s concerns or questions, it’s important they know they have a safe space to share their feelings free of judgement.”

During periods of extended stress or following a disaster or trauma everyone will be impacted in different ways. Its important parents are aware young people might need different types and levels of support in the period following a disaster, and that this might change over time too, explains Kristen.

“Remind young people that nutrition, sleep and exercise is extremely important to get through tough times, as it can be one of the first things forgotten. Connection is also vital and a support system will help young people get through these challenging periods. This might include talking with a family member, friend, teacher or school counselling staff member. Most importantly, let your young person know there is support available, and where they can find it.” Kristen said.

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