Ep: 27 Supporting the mental health of our kids

An interview with Luke Lindsay, General Manager Lifeline QLD

Supporting the mental health of our kids

An interview with Luke Lindsay, General Manager Lifeline QLD and Statewide Services

Lifeline 24/7 Crisis support: 13 11 14

In this episode Angela interviews Luke Lindsay, General Manager Lifeline (QLD) and Statewide Services. Lifeline is a widely respected 24/7 crisis support service that provides short-term support for people who are feeling overwhelmed or having difficulty coping or staying safe. We are facing a global, national and local mental health crisis. More people are turning to Lifeline than ever before. In this interview Luke provides insights in to how we can support our kids to navigate the complexities and overwhelm we are currently being exposed to. He shares the importance of communication, support and seeking help when needed. This interview is so important to listen to right now so we can best support our kids and their mental health.

Episode Transcription

Lifeline  people  kids  important  pandemic  conversations  adults  support  mental health  parents  child  luke  anxiety  feel  experiencing  services  talk  supporter  overwhelmed  reality

Services referred to in the interview

Lifeline website: www.lifeline.org.au
Lifeline 24/7 Crisis support: 13 11 14

Children of Parents with Mental Illness (COPMI): www.copmi.net.au



Angela: Welcome to A Kid's Life Podcast, you're with me, Angela Lockwood, and you are also with Luke Lindsay. Luke Lindsay is the General Manager of Lifeline Queensland and Statewide Services. And the reason I'm bringing Luke on to A Kid's Life Podcast is because he knows every single day, the impact of mental health, mental illness is having on our kids. And it is such an important topic right now that we need to share far and wide. Luke definitely knows his stuff, not only being the General Manager of Lifeline in Queensland, but also he is an experienced mental health leader. He has a whole range of qualifications in mental health, being a masters of mental health, degree in health management, clinical nursing, mental health, he also has a really long career, over 18 years of acute and remote psychiatry, management roles, leadership, this guy knows his stuff. And we know right now, we are being bombarded with tips and strategies. And there's a lot of noise out there, and a lot of information on how to look after ourselves. And sometimes we can get lost in the overwhelm of all that, what I want to do is go straight to the source of somebody who sees this all the time, but not only just sees it is also looking to implement real strategies to support us adults, parents and teachers and healthcare professionals of how we can better support our young people. So Luke, I welcome you to A Kid's Life Podcast.


Luke: Thank you. It's great to be here. And that is a fantastic intro. It really makes me sound like I know what I'm talking about, doesn’t it?


Angela: Luke, one of my things in my whole career, Luke it's always surrounding myself with people much smarter, who know their stuff to make me look good. And that's exactly why I've bought you on here. Because you know, this stuff inside and out. W are you finding right now Luke? Like me, I'm feeling overwhelmed by kids. Through my work as an occupational therapist, I'm, I'm feeling and I'm seeing and hearing the anxiety that's being faced by a lot of kids. Are you seeing that through your services you guys provide?


Luke: Absolutely. And look, I think, what's really important to remember at the moment is that these are crazy times. And I think often what we're hearing, what we're seeing is parents and teachers and, and any kind of adults that have regular contact with kids, they're feeling overwhelmed. This is new territory, they're not sure how to navigate this territory. And for a lot of people, they've, you know, they've often experienced and managed their own concerns with their own mental health. But often when that mental health or those mental health concerns have an impact on their kids, or they start to notice behavioral changes, or changes in their own kids' well-being and mental health, they're not quite sure what to do. You know, and I think at the moment, that is just amplified on, you know, on top of, these crazy 18 months of what has been the pandemic, what we're seeing right now is a lot of people reaching out to ask, What do I do? Where do I start? Who do I go to?


Angela: So that and we forget about that, too, don't we? That, yes, as adults, we're experiencing all this overwhelm, and we're hearing all the negativity. But our kids are also hearing the same thing, because we've got the news on in the background they're, they're on social media as well. So they are having this constant barrage of information, too. I dare I say it, we're all in this together, hashtag. But really, we are, aren't we kids and adults, we are actually facing the same challenges right now.


Luke: Yeah, we absolutely are. And I think, you know, certainly from a lifetime perspective, we do a lot of work around talking about, how to actually provide simplified coping strategies, really simple things. And one of those that we talk about a lot with adults is around really limiting our access to social media interviews, because, we talk about anticipatory anxiety. And so that is where we are surrounded by the barrage of news and media and social media in relation to the pandemic. And often it's, it's quite catastrophic. And so as an adult, it really can increase our anxiety. It can, you know, have any impact on our sleep and on our appetite, personality changes the whole range of things. But the reality is that kids are having the exact same experiences. So our kids are also being exposed to constant media, social media, you know, friends and family talking about it, you know, their friends and their mates talking about it. So not only as adults are we being exposed to this, sorry, our kids. And I think the whole concept of really limiting our exposure to media and to news at the moment, I think it's probably more important that we have that focus for our kids. Because often we have the capacity to be able to, you know, work our way through the news and the media and work out what we want to listen to and what we don't, what's factual and perhaps what's, you know, not factual. Kids don't what they hear is what they believe. And often, they may not understand what they hear, they may interpret it in a particular way. Or they may just completely take it out of context. And not share that with anyone, but actually internalize that, you know, that can lead to an increase in anxiety and kind of personality changes, particularly for our young people. I mean, I think one of the really important things is it's really important to have conversations with our kids at the moment, you know, not to avoid them. Because for a lot of people, they feel like, well, if we, if we avoid having conversations with our young people, then we're not going to expose them unnecessarily. But the reality is, whether we like it or not, they're being exposed. So the importance of not avoiding conversations, but really having, you know, COVID-19 and, and pandemic and restrictions and lockdowns and those kinds of conversations with our kids is really, really important, being really honest and being really open. But making sure our conversations are age appropriate, is really really important, but also just that undercurrent of staying positive and hopeful. So not focusing on the doom and gloom, but really making sure those conversations are age appropriate. But there's also, you know, they end on a positive note. And we really kind of instill hope into our kids within those conversations. Because the reality is, we don't know what's coming. We don't know what's around the corner, we don't know what the next round of restrictions are going to look like. But we don't need to share that with our kids. We need to, you know, protect them from that. And by reducing their exposure to, you know, to excessive news. And media is a really practical way of doing that.


Angela: And it's the balance, isn't it between their negative media, but also not being overly positive and pretending it doesn't exist. Because I'm finding that balance, even with thethe young kids that I work with in primary schools, they're asking me questions that I'm thinking, why are you even thinking about this right now? Like, why? How is that even in your realm, and sometimes it's a very adult language that they're using. And I wonder about the conversations that are happening in people's homes at the moment, the negative language that's being used around lockdowns versus the reality language, you know, I can see why people are getting overwhelmed by what's the right thing to do. But I love your strategy around, you know, what you can be in control of what you're listening to, and I guess going to credible sources, as well as a really important part of that, rather than scrolling through Facebook and thinking that's where you're going to get your best information from.


Luke: Absolutely. And I think that sense of control is really important. And I think, for our kids, let's focus on the things that children can control. Okay, so they can't control what the daily numbers are, they can't control what the lockdown or the restrictions or the border impacts are going to be. But what they can do is they can control really practical things. So, you know, really focusing with kids on how they can stay safe and healthy is important, you know, really getting them to engage in practical things they can do, that will help them feel empowered, rather than feeling helpless. So, you know, basic things like reminding kids about hand hygiene. So teaching them how to wash their hands properly, you know, teaching them how to apply hand sanitizer, and when to apply things like, you know, blowing their nose and coughing and sneezing into their elbow, rather than their hand, some really practical things that kids can actually be in charge of, and feel empowered, because they can't control what's happening with a pandemic, whether they're vaccinated, whether they're, you know, heading into a lockdown zone, but some of those smaller practical things they can control. And at a subconscious level that can be incredibly grounding for kids.


Angela: I had an alarming conversation or a comment from a child who was seven this week. And he came up to me and said, I want to get the COVID. And I looked at him and I was sorry, what did you say? Obviously, it caught me off guard. And he said, I want to get the COVID. And I just said, what does that mean to you? And he goes, it means I can have some days off school. Now. I don't mean to make light of that comment. But it did really catch me off guard. Because I thought, isn't that an interesting thing that that really is what this young boy is seeing COVID is all about. And it's alarming in one sense, but it's also just showing the innocence of what kids really are taking in that he's probably heard that and that's all he gets. But, you know, obviously there's a little bit of conversation happening off the back end of that. But if kids are finding it really troubling at the moment, like obviously, there'd be signs and like sort of signs and things as parents and as adults working with children that we should be aware of what they would be right now what should we be on the lookout for? If it's tipping over into causing anxiety or our kids feeling under pressure


Luke: Yeah, look, I think we know that kids look to their parents or to their carers as a guide, in relation to, you know, how they react to situations. So if we can show our kids that we're calm, that creates a sense of calmness and reduces anxiety in those kids. So, as frustrated as we may be, you know, with the, the pressures of homeschooling and not being out across the border, or not being able to move out of a lockdown zone, you know, we need to really role model a sense of community, because our kids look to us, and they often they will often base their own emotional response to situations based on what they say, you know, from their, from their parents or from their carers. Now, I think it's really important to look out for signs of anxiety or the stress in the kids, because we know everybody reacts differently in stressful situations, and, and some kids are naturally more anxious than others, that's just the reality. And the pandemic, you know, can have a pretty significant impact in, in the way in which they exhibit stress or the way in which they exhibit anxiety, but it's really important to keep an eye out for the kind of highly anxious or unusual behavior in your kids and often younger kids can show can show signs such as, you know, some, some really obvious things like changes in their behavior, which add a character, you know, perhaps they're, they're more emotional than they usually are. Or we're seeing, you know, greater temper tantrums for one of a better word, or always seeing, you know, significant changes in their sleeping patterns, you know, they're not being able to fall asleep, or they're not wanting to get out of bed, or, or even their, you know, their, their eating and their appetite. So they're not hungry, or they're eating, you know, excessively, so those kinds of really visual and obvious changes. And we know, for older kids, you know, obviously, they can, they can experience the same signs. But also, what we see in older kids that are experiencing anxiety is they become more easily distracted, often will find they're having trouble concentrating or becoming a bit forgetful. And often, you know, in some cases, we can see kids start to develop unit repetitive or obsessive type behaviors, which is often a really early sign of anxiety in kids and, and maybe things particularly in this context around, you know, being overly concerned with germs of maybe things like, you know, wanting to wear their masks inside the home, as well as outdoors, or excessively wanting to wash their hands, or really wanting to, you know, to clean everything, which may be out of character for them. So it's those kinds of signs that we're looking for, particularly those emotional changes in, in both younger kids and older kids.


Angela: Yeah, thanks for that, Luke, because I was obviously listening very intently there in a couple of ways, I'd never even thought of things like, you know, wearing a face mask in the home or excessively washing their hands or cleaning up, you know, yeah, I'd never really thought that they would be sign. So they're really powerful things that as parents, because we, we always need to be on the lookout for our children for changes in behavior, pandemic or not. I know that I said on a recent webinar about vaping. And I could feel going, Oh, my gosh, there's something else we've got to think about now. But the reality out of you know, I see you being a parent of young kids myself, is we always have to be communicating with our kids. Don't worry about the reality of life, but at an age appropriate level is this, you know, pandemic or not? It's that connection that's really important.


Luke: It really is. And I think early intervention is absolutely the key, regardless of the scenario or the situation or world events, early intervention is our greatest, you know, our greatest approach in terms of getting onto things early. We know that we know that we have much more successful outcomes when we intervene really early. So it's when we do as parents or carers or guardians pick up on those early signs of anxiety or distress or changes in mood and those kinds of things. That actually we open up those conversations really early. And we do it in a way that's not a kind of sit down Question and Answer type of approach. But we do it in a way where, we may incorporate some of those inquiring related questions into perhaps an activity we're doing, you know, we might be kicking the football outside, you know, with a child, or we might be doing a jigsaw puzzle. And we kind of open up some non-confrontational informal questioning around, hey, you know, I noticed you really been struggling to, you know, to fall asleep the last week or so, you know, what happens for you, when you go to bed? You know, what do you think about like, what do you do, just to kind of open those very safe conversations. So the child feels as though it's just a normal informal conversation whilst engaging in activity. And because often that is where we get the most amount of information. It's when we're engaged in that informal approach. And that gives us a whole set of information we can then start to make some informed decisions around like okay, we think we can manage this at home by making a few practical changes. Or actually, this has been going on, you know, for weeks or months now. And actually, we think it's time to reach out and ask us for some further support. And look, I am going to shamelessly plug this, but something like making a conversation, you know, making a call to Lifeline (13 11 14), and talking through what the concerns are in relation to your own mental health and well being and your child and the impact and talking through some of your options often, you know, often leads to things like reaching out and making that initial contact with the general practitioner, you know, to get some advice on do we think this is an issue that perhaps, you know, we might want to go and see a pediatrician about it, it's an issue, we might want to talk to a counselor or a psychologist about, or some other form of allied health professional. So I think that was a very long winded way, and just saying, you know, those early interventions that earlier we noticed the changes in behavior or the changes in, in what would be out of context for our child, the quicker we can get in to start those conversations. So I really strongly encourage early intervention.


Angela: And I understand the importance of tribe, you know, we talk about kids having really good support systems and good, you know, good mates and good people, they can hang out with it, they can trust, but that's equally as important for adults, isn't it? How important is it to have friends that you as a parent can speak to as well about some of the issues that your kids are facing?


Luke: Oh, look, it's really vital. And then I think, often from a Lifeline perspective, throughout the last 18 months, obviously, across Queensland, we've seen a significant increase in calls to lifeline. So we've seen about a 20 to 25% increase in calls. And often, often, it's a lot of first time callers. So people that may not have historically called Lifeline. And you know, there's a range of reasons that people are feeling overwhelmed. A lot of them are related to the pandemic. Now, whether that be financial pressure or job uncertainty, we're seeing an increase in domestic and family violence and alcohol use in the homes because people are spending more time together, and, and feeling more overwhelmed. And so we're seeing people reach out to start to have some of these conversations and say, I'm not coping, and I guess what's really important is, right now it is okay, to not feel okay. And what's really important is that actually, we do reach out for help we start those conversations, and we feel comfortable having those conversations, we push past that perception of stigma, and, and we actually start engaging now, whether that be with our neighbor, with a friend with a work colleague, whoever you feel safe and comfortable with. Because just as we focus on early intervention for young people, early intervention for adults is just as important, you know, being able to open up and, and start those conversations. So we feel we've got a safe space, you know, and often, just being able to get some things off your chest and talk things through with someone close to you, it can be really, really successful, in terms of in terms of getting on top of those, those things that are contributing to that general feeling of being overwhelmed. Because we know, for example, if we think about it, there's a program that's offered across a number of states, and it's called COPMI, so children have a parent with a mental illness. And there's a lot of these kind of early intervention, where children who have a parent who experiences or has a mental illness requires, you know, the tribe, as you said, but you know, a series have kind of support around them, you know, to help to help cope with what's going on. And I think, where a child has an adult care or a parent, whoever that may be in their life, that is their primary source of support. And if that person is not coping, ultimately the child will be impacted by that in terms of what they're exposed to, in terms of what they see and hear. So it's really important that we create a community of mentally healthy adults that could support our children to also be mentally healthy.


Angela: I know even with my children, circle of friends as well, like, I am so fortunate to have people who I trust that I know that they have my kids back. And I think for me as a parent, that makes me feel a lot calmer in my parenting, that sometimes I won't get it. All right. In fact, most of the time, I probably won't, I'll try, but I probably won't. But I know that you know, trusted people around my kids is also allowing me to be a better parent because being able to chat to those parents or knowing that if they saw something in my kids that was concerning them, they would let me know and I know one of the things I talked to my kids about and is around them knowing that they have a crew around them that not that aren't just their kids, but if you don't want to talk to me, then there's you know, another friend who your parents you can talk to or there's you know your uncle, feel free to pick him pick up the phone I know, my kids on there, my son in particular, and it's fine. It's got my brother's phone number so that if he doesn't want to talk to me, he leaves you know, 10 hours away, he can pick up the phone and have a chat with a human. Having that big network, I often sort of picture these long arms like a tree, you know, coming out when they've got their base, and they've got their root in the family, but letting them know that there is a whole crew around them who have got their back is super important. But because I guess like, what I often think about is services like Lifeline have been around how many users Lifeline? You think I would have done my research on this, but that's a bad time. I think we're heading into our 59th year. Wow. So for 59 years Lifeline has been supporting people with their mental well being but I just find it fascinating that such a service has so many people that contact them, because does it take a little bit of courage to pick up the phone and talk to a stranger? Or is it the opposite? Like is it the opposite where they go? Actually, I don't want to share what I'm struggling with right now. I'll speak to somebody who I know is a safe person as a lifeline counselor? Or is it a bit of column A and column B?


Luke: Yeah, to be honest, it's a bit of both. And we've got you know, we've got a, we've got a cohort of people that call lifeline. Because from a brand, you know, the trusted brand, it's, it's been around for a long time. And it's really, really successful outcomes for many people that have been called lifeline. And so for a lot of people, there is still the perception of stigma. And one of the biggest challenges to anyone in our community accessing appropriate and timely mental health support, is that challenge of stigma, it is that fear of what will people think of me, it is that perception of it is weak to reach out and ask for help and to acknowledge some coping. And so for a lot of people, they don't want to reach out to family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, because they feel they'll be burdening them. Or they actually fear judgments of what the other person may feel. So that's because it's easier to pick up the phone and call a lifeline. Because when you call a lifeline, you're anonymous. You know, we don't ask for details, you know, you are an anonymous caller. And so some people feel really comfortable doing that for other people that call Lifeline, purely because they don't have anyone else to reach, you know, reach out to. And so for a lot of people that are experiencing isolation or loneliness, you know, Lifeline is their only option to reach out to and to ask for support. Because obviously, particularly over the last 18 months, we've seen a significant increase in social isolation and loneliness. And for a lot of people Lifeline is their connection into the world in terms of accessing support. But I think, I think in terms of those kinds of long arms of the tree that you talked about, I think that's really important. And often, you know, it is really important to encourage kids that you may not want to talk to us about this, because you may be worried that you'll get in trouble. Or you may be worried, you know that we weren't respond the way you want us to respond as parents, but really promoting that wider support network in terms of, you know, adult friends, neighbors, older siblings, teachers, childcare workers, you know, people that have regular contact with within a week is so unbelievably important. Because what we want is we want our kids to feel safe and comfortable asking for help if they need, it doesn't matter who that's from, you know, if that's from their teacher, or if that's from their mom or their dad, it doesn't matter who it's from, because ultimately, you know, that will start the conversations to see that young person toward the support they need. So you're absolutely right, building that wider social network, around access to supportive people is really, really important.


Angela: And look, before we finish up, I have this I need to ask you a question. I've always had this image of people who work at Lifeline, being these beautiful, calm souls who were just sitting there, you know, waiting. How do people become a part of Lifeline? And is such a vital service? I've never understood how that comes about. So could you dispel some myths, and particularly if anyone's listening, and I think this is really important. There are people out there right now who know, who want to do something bigger than themselves that want to be of service to a community know that, they have gifts that they can share with people is Lifeline, potentially one of those opportunities for people who want to play a bigger part in you know, assisting kids with their mental health?


Luke: Fantastic question. I'm always open to a shameless plug. I was asking for a friend of mine. Like absolutely, and I think one of the one of the amazing things about Lifeline and look across Queensland, we've got 600 plus and crisis supporters. Now. Those cross supporters are essentially, they're made up of a whole range of different people from our community. You know, we've got people in their early 20s, who are at university studying Social Work psychology, occupational therapy, that actually want to, you know, develop those micro skills, and get on the phones and really start to make a difference. And we've got, you know, a range of people that work, you know, in full time and part time jobs, but also come in and do volunteer shifts to give back to the community. And we've got a whole range of people that have retired, they've got a whole life, brilliant life experience, that have done the training, and that come in to give back and contribute to their community. So in terms of our crisis supporters, we've got a significant range of different types of people from all walks of life. Now the in terms of what makes a good crisis supporter, it's someone who, who has got really good active listening skills, it's someone who, you know, is completely, you know, non judgmental, and someone who just has that, you know, really kind of soft and empathic and caring nature is actually able to, you know, to provide some really good support, and we have a fantastic training program. So for anyone that is listening, that is interested, they can go onto the Lifeline Queensland website, and you'll find the information on how to apply to become a crisis supporter. Now, we offer a range of different training modalities, you know, the training runs anywhere between 10 to 18 weeks, we do Virtual Training, we do a blend of virtual and face to face, and we do pure face to face. And we have 10 centres across Queensland where that happens. But also in New South Wales, it's a very similar process. And the training, look, the training is, is quite intense. Then there is a process whereby you have some kind of mentorship and core coaching and supervision with an accredited cross supporter. And then eventually, when you get to the end of all of that, and you're comfortable, and you're competent, and everyone's happy, you become an accredited crisis supporter. So you can actually start taking calls on your own from one of our centers. But look, absolutely, we are always open and welcoming to people that are interested in becoming a cross supporter. And we run a whole series of different information sessions in groups and one on one. But anyone who is interested, we were really happy to have a conversation with you, and talk you through the finer details of what's involved.


Angela: And as always, I'll link to everything that we've spoken about throughout this, this conversation that I've had with Luke at the bottom of the podcast. But Luke, if people are really struggling right now, and they do need to contact Lifeline, what is the number and what's the easiest way that they can make a connection?


Luke: Yeah, so look, out 13 11 14 the number is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But look, there are some people that aren't quite ready to pick up the phone. So we also provide our services via text messages, and via online chat. So for those people that feel more comfortable, and it's often, you know, our younger generation that, you know, online chat and text is like second nature to them. We also run the online chat and text services, as well. So all three of those options are available.


Angela: Look, look, unfortunately, our time is finishing up. I feel like I could keep speaking to so many things that are really important for our kids right now and put it in looking after their mental health is of utmost importance. And also looking after your own mental health as an adult is so important right now. And I think you look for the services that you guys all provide through lifeline. And yeah, please just go far and wide. If this is something that you're really struggling with, or you have somebody in your life that you're struggling with, please contact any of the numbers that are below on this or any of the connection points that are below these podcasts. But Luke, thank you so much for your time. I know you're a super busy man. And yeah, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us today.


Luke: No problems. Thanks so much for having me. Appreciate it.


Angela: All right. You've been listening to A Kid's Life Podcast with Angela Lockwood. And of course, I was joined by Luke Lindsay, the General Manager of Lifeline Queensland and Statewide Services. For all other information about Lifeline and of course about any issues that are facing kids right now. Please subscribe to a Kid's Life Podcast in all of the places where podcasts are delivered. Enjoy your day and I appreciate your time and we'll talk to you soon.