27/05/2020 - 11:18

Mental health platform to let kids stand tall

27/05/2020 - 11:18

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Claire Orange remembers twice needing to rethink her methods across her 25 years spent treating children’s mental wellbeing.

Mental health platform to let kids stand tall
Claire Orange says COVID-19 will place further stress on children’s mental health. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

Claire Orange remembers twice needing to rethink her methods across her 25 years spent treating children’s mental wellbeing. 

The first time came in the late 1990s when, while working as a speech pathologist, Ms Orange realised how the development of good mental health scaffolded a child’s overall development.

“It comes down to how well a parent can regulate, and if they can’t regulate themselves, they certainly can’t help regulate a child,” Ms Orange told Business News.

“That became exceptionally obvious to me if we were trying to fix a lisp or write a well-sequenced story.

“Sitting underneath all of that was the need to drive the mental health and wellbeing of a family before you could do any developmental work.”

That revelation prompted Ms Orange to become an accredited councillor and, in 2015, she started working with BEST Programs 4 Kids, a small Perth-based organisation that provides families with resources to manage children’s mental health.

Her approach was again challenged in recent years as the advent of social media added another dimension to considerations of children’s overall mental wellbeing.

“What I had once seen in 14 and 15-year-old girls in terms of eating disorders and self-acceptance, I was seeing in seven year olds,” Ms Orange said.

“Girls are now twice as likely to develop an eating disorder if they’re spending time online before the age of 12, and that’s playing out in my clinical life.”

Again Ms Orange was spurred to act, this time founding her mental health e-learning platform DiGii, in September last year.

Drawing on her new experiences treating children’s mental health, DiGii encourages children to engage in positive and meaningful interactions while online, with parents and teachers allowed varying degrees of moderation to help guide their learning.

DiGii has garnered wider attention from Western Australia’s tech industry in the past month, when Ms Orange won The Lateral INCITE Awards’ pitchfest.

That led to the company being shortlisted as a finalist in the awards’ startup of the year category.

Recognition for the company has come at a time when many families are dealing with the emotional impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The World Economic Forum noted in May that children in isolation may suffer a loss of safety and security, or even diminished intellectual development, due to anxiety and stress brought on by the pandemic.

Having learned how social situations and trends drive children’s mental wellbeing, Ms Orange said the mental health impacts of COVID-19 would become clearer in the months ahead.

“We’re already seeing an increase in family and domestic violence, an increase in the number of children spending more time online, and we’re seeing a massive increase in the predation of children online,” she said.

“When you’re looking at the critical drivers of what that means for a child’s mental health, it has a significant impact.”

Ms Orange said many children from low-income backgrounds already struggled to access support through digital means, and this issue would be magnified in coming months.

However, she was confident the enormity of the pandemic would bring attention to children’s existing struggles with mental health, particularly while online.

“If there’s anything good to come out of this pandemic, it’s the shining of the light on mental health, which until now has been stigmatised and forgotten,” she said.

“It’s just not as obvious as diabetes or cancer; not that they’re not [important], but mental health kills a lot of people.”

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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