Live chat with Dan Mobbs - April 2011
Above: Dan Mobbs
Below is an edited transcript of a live chat session held on the LIFE website in April 2011 with Dan Mobbs, Clinical Practice Supervisor of BoysTown. The topic was ‘youth bullying and suicide prevention.'
Q. How can we protect young people from cyber-bullying when it seems that social networking online is an increasingly important part of socialization for younger generations?
A. Cyber bullying is a really significant issue largely because of the inherent risks in using on-line and social media. Most schools are beginning to address this issue by developing 'digital literacy' in students. Just like we teach road safety and water safety, cyber safety is a set of skills that all children need to learn if they are going to be using the internet. There are two different issues 1) is how do we act to prevent bullying from occurring in the first place and 2) how do we support students when bullying does occur. Tom Woods (a 17 year old) from Melbourne and cyber safety advocate has written a great blog on his web site: The Wood Verdict that outlines messages for young people, schools and the community.
Q. Do you get a lot of calls from children who are reporting suicidal thoughts? What approach does Kids Helpline take when working with these callers?
A. Good question. Kids Helpline (KHL) responds to many callers that present across the whole spectrum of suicidal behaviour. In 2010 we received over 7,000 calls where suicide was discussed. The 2009 overview of our service can be located here.
In 2009 KHL responded to 5,067 presentations where suicide was recorded as a presenting concern. Many of these are from young people re-contacting the service and engaging in an ongoing counselling process. Our approach when working with these client's is grounded in the principles of child centeredness and empowerment, however we also need to be conscious of our obligations with respect to "duty of care." This involves a comprehensive assessment process of each call treating each caller as a unique individual. We then offer a case managed service where we are able to liaise with community face to face services, facilitate emergency responses when required and work collaboratively to reduce the callers sense of isolation and distress. Often we are able to support clients to develop safety plans and link them with local face-to-face supports.
Q. What kind of practical skills are considered an important part of digital literacy/cyber safety - what is part of the cyber safety education package?
A. Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) run a great workshop about this issue and have a great website that you can access here. They discuss a development approach to cyber safety where young people are gradually exposed to the internet and taught skills to be able to protect themselves online. Some of the key skills for adolescences are developing their knowledge of how to block users, report cyber bullying to the site. It is also really important that young people are encouraged to seek help as many young people report being afraid to seek help as they are afraid that their access to the internet or their mobile phone may be taken away from them. In some recent research by Kids Helplinewe found that more than half the students surveyed told an adult about the cyber bullying and 75% of these young people found this helpful.
Q. In my experience a lot of people out there, even some of the professionals, focus heavily on a young person having a specific 'plan' to suicide making the focus of a risk assessment on if there is planning and intent. Some assume that no plan equals no risk. I disagree (keeping in mind that young people's plans can change quickly similarly to their intent) - what are your thoughts Dan?
A. That is a really important message especially given that most people report that suicidality fluctuates over time. I believe that to do a good assessment it is really important to consider when they last felt suicidal and to ask the client to give you an understanding of what the possibilities may be for them in the next few hours, days and weeks etc, are they likely to feel suicidal and what might they do then? It is extremely important in adolescence - they are already often impulsive.
Q. I recently watched a DVD produced by the Australian Communications & Media Authority called 'wise up to IT' (2008). beyondblue & headspace produce excellent education resources too. Do you find that multi-media resources on the topic are well utilised in youth care agencies and by young people?
A. Good question. We often use a lot of web based referrals but I don't have much access to feedback from young people. Some of the web based services that we often use in our work with client's are:
We find it most effective if you work through the resources with the client rather than sending them to the resource on their own.
Q. I'd like to know does Kids Helpline get more engagement through their online services than the phone support services?
A.We get a huge amount of emails - over 17,000 (which has increased from last year and the web based services are increasing at a huge rate. Telephone counselling is still the largest service we run and we often work with young people to transition from the web to the telephone.
Q. In my experience, even if you can get someone to seek help, often when they get to the mental health services, especially the hospitals, they don't get any help and are turned away. Does Kids Help Line follow up with young people after they've made a referral to ensure that they actually receive the help that they need? Especially given that they might be prepared to accept help at the time they contact you, but not when they are faced with other professionals, and the 'system'.
A. Yes, we offer young people an on-going counselling relationship and so we always offer ongoing support and encourage them to reconnect however we also leave the decision to contact the service up to the client.
Please note members of the LIFE Professional Development Network can also access the LIFE discussion forum at anytime to further discuss any ideas and topics bought up during any of the live chat sessions.
Other youth bullying and suicide prevention resources include: