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Healthy minds and loving support systems will help Schoolies make good decisions

Schoolies on the Gold Coast
School’s out: School-leavers celebrating and partying at a Schoolies event in Surfers Paradise; and (inset) Michael Jones. Photo: Rosies

FAMILIAR scenes of teenage school-leavers partying and running into the law were flashed across television screens again as Schoolies Week hit Surfers Paradise and other party locations in the past week.

Despite the good times of Schoolies, the down times for young people with mental health issues was exacerbated in transition periods like leaving school.

Brisbane counsellor Michael Jones said Schoolies was an opportunity for young people to let off steam after 12 or 13 years of schooling, particularly for those who had been under a lot of pressure from parents or themselves.

It was important to de-stress after school.

“It’s a really massive transition and a time when there is a lot of pressure to get into the right (university) course or get a job or whatever it may be,” Mr Jones said.

This meant having a supportive family at home was important, Mr Jones said.

He said Schoolies was one of the first chances young people had to use their new-found freedom, which was an important step to take in maturing.

And, if they had that loving and supportive network at home, when they went to Schoolies, they had the encouragement to make “really good decisions” and were less likely to seek other outlets. 

Also, Mr Jones said if they failed, they knew there were safety nets in place to protect and support them.

Freedom could just as easily be abused or misled.

Mr Jones said peer pressure was likely “a huge factor” when it came to binge drinking and drug use at Schoolies.

“They’re at that age where they’re trying to develop their own identity and form new friendship groups,” he said.

He said this meant they would try things they wouldn’t otherwise do and often hid their own struggles, not wanting to “expose themselves too vulnerably”.

Mr Jones said the obvious danger with Schoolies when it came to mental health was that young people might not look after themselves.

Healthy eating and sleeping habits were important factors in maintaining good mental health, he said, which many school-leavers neglected at Schoolies.

He said if young people were taking medication for mental health conditions, drinking and taking substances could interact with those medications, which could be dangerous.

There was also the historical concern about fatalities from falling from balconies or coward punches.

Mr Jones said there was often an issue where a young person affected by a death might not grieve the way that they should.

“They may not take the time out to process that effectively and seek the help they actually need to do that in a way that’s not going to affect them in the long term,” he said.

“Whether that’s seeking professional (help), talking to their friends or their family, whatever it is – if they don’t process those sorts of events effectively, it can really have a ripple effect in their life.”

Organisations that support Schoolies, like Rosies or Red Frogs, have improved their procedures when fatalities occurred, particularly with referral networks to professionals who could help young people in that way. 

Schoolies was also known for its hook-up culture.

The event itself was dogged by controversy this year about the involvement of Tinder, a dating app, in sponsoring the events.

Schoolies pulled the sponsorship after a public backlash about the hook-up culture it was promoting.

“I think that young people really struggle with their self-esteem and body image issues and all that sort of stuff especially at somewhere like the (Gold) Coast where looking good is ‘important’,” Mr Jones said.

It also fed into feelings of loneliness and isolation, which was not unique to the age group but he said it was exacerbated in them.

“Especially around suicidal ideation with relationship break-ups and being alone, it can have a really huge impact on them,” he said.

Moving forward into their adult lives, Mr Jones said the key to good future mental health for young people was just taking the pressure off.

“They’re 17 or 18 years old, with their whole lives ahead of them,” he said.

Having those loving support networks and relying on support from them was the key.

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