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Spike in childhood mental health conditions prompts the greater Dandenong community to buddy up against bullying.

A Dandenong region private hospital is standing up and saying no to bullying after damning research highlighting a spike in youth mental health related conditions including PTSD, anxiety and depression, as a result of bullying.

On National Day of Action Against Bullying (Friday, March 19), South Eastern Private Hospital is installing a “buddy bench” at St Anthony’s Noble Park to help educate children about the importance of inclusivity and healthy relationships at school.

Recent Australian studies indicate one of the most severe consequences of bullying is PTSD. Research has shown that 40.5% of girls and 27.6% of boys show PTSD symptoms at the time of being bullied. These individuals’ torment can sometimes follow them into later life. This can be triggered by just remembering the bullying incident or by related stimuli, such as visiting their school as adults or by encountering their bully in a different environment. As a result, national health provider, Healthe Care Australia, is donating dedicated friendship benches to schools across the country to help change the narrative.

South Eastern Private Hospital consultant psychologist Jason Goh said there was a strong link between bullying and PTSD but hoped the new addition to school playgrounds would provide safe spaces for children needing support from peers or teachers.

“Without intervention, children who experience long-term bullying are at risk for chronic depression, increased risk of suicidal thoughts, suicide plans, and suicide attempts, anxiety disorders, PTSD, self-destructive behaviour - including self-harm and substance abuse,” he said.

“In a way, COVID-19 has masked the affects because children have been at home more, but negative behaviour has definitely been magnified on social media.

“The prevalence of bullying and youth mental health issues is a national crisis, but I think buddy benches are a great social education tool and will help promote inclusion, start conversations about healthy relationships and hierarchy in the playground, and provide a place of comfort.”

South Eastern Private Hospital CEO & Executive General Manager (Victoria - Specialty Hospitals), Andrew Blyth, said the hospital along with the wider Healthe Care group was donating 30 benches to schools across Australia on National Day of Action against Bullying. He said Healthe Care’s portfolio of mental health hospitals, including South Eastern Private Hospital were strong advocates of buddy benches as the narrative they established carried with children as they grew into adolescents and adulthood.

“Recent studies indicate that most Australian children have experienced bullying, with 20% bullied every week,” he said.

“Buddy benches are a proactive way to provide school students with a safe space when feeling lonely or in need of support. They also provide an opportunity to spark important conversations around mental health, building a foundation for conversation throughout school and beyond.”

Healthe Care is committed to providing many more benches into the future, with the goal of eventually seeing every school having one in their playground.