Harnessing Solutions for Youth Mental Health: with Professor Ian Hickie

The Ultimo Series facilitates dynamic conversations among IGS parents, carers, and teachers.

Last night, guests joined Professor Ian Hickie in the IGS Renaissance Centre to gain insight and advice on ‘Navigating Youth Mental Health in the Post-Covid World’, throwing light on some of the behaviours and cognitions that young people are experiencing and how to approach and support young people as we move away from the pandemic. 

Head Girl Tiggy Marchbank and Head Boy Karam Hartmann welcomed guests with an Acknowledgement of Country and introduced Professor Hickie. Professor Hickie engaged the audience with in-depth expertise in clinical psychiatry, digital innovation, youth mental health care, and adolescent-onset mood disorders.

Professor Hickie immediately drew people in, asking meaningful questions about mental health – why do we ask ‘am I okay?’ ‘are you okay?’ We could learn more from our First Nations elders and ask ‘are we okay’ more often… this theme of interconnection continued throughout the evening. 

Hickie noted that we live in a time that is extremely challenging for young people, “The only thing that holds young people together in a crisis like COVID is schools. Schools become the main social architecture for young people.” So, schools need to ensure they provide social exposures that drive positive cognitive development. 

While ‘every adult’ believes tech is ‘the cause’ of wellbeing challenges, there are so many other pressures on young people: academic success pressures, disconnection, our changing social fabric. Professor Hickie posited, “Could we be doing a lot more about social cohesion and connection?” Young people benefit enormously from collective participation, volunteering, mentoring other young people, playing sports or joining extracurriculars. These are proven avenues for forging stronger social connections, addressing loneliness, and improving mental wellbeing. COVID stopped much of this – and we are all still finding our way back. Confronting and detailed statistics were shared and disseminated.

Professor Hickie discussed how too often we spend time focused on the ‘cause’ of disorder – when we should be focusing our efforts on effective care, and maintaining engagement to stay on top of future care. Every child is different, with a different mind – there is no neat category for everyone. Professor Hickie advised, don’t wait to intervene, before it’s too late. The sooner challenges are addressed, the better the outcomes for young people.

After Professor Hickie’s lecture, guests had an opportunity to ask questions in a very engaged atmosphere. Questions addressed ways to combat ‘school refusal,’ where Professor Hickie stressed the unique value of activities beyond the classroom and social interaction with other students and community role models. Even if students are eased back to school just for lunchtime, or after school activities, the social aspect of school is positive and powerful.

If kids are disconnected, they need to reconnect.  Everyone needs to feel productive. 

Young people need a ‘genuine’ school environment. Hickie commended International Grammar School for its inclusive environment and proactive approach to mental health. At IGS, older children mentor and interact with younger children, language learning embeds cognitive resilience, difference, and individuality are celebrated, there are diverse opportunities to ‘learn beyond the classroom,’ and the School community and staff demonstrably invest in trusted connections with young people and alums.

The event, part of The Ultimo Series, left attendees feeling empowered and inspired. As the IGS Drama Leader, Head Girl Tiggy Marchbank noted in closing how she had observed how discussions have made her even more determined to motivate young people to participate in drama for the mental health benefits.

Deputy Principal Thom Marchbank then concluded the event with thanks and closing remarks.

Professor Ian Hickie, Co-Director of Health and Policy at The University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre, is a leading figure in global mental health research and digital care innovations. Formerly serving as an NHMRC Australian Fellow and Commissioner on Australia’s National Mental Health Commission, he has dedicated his career to enhancing accountability for mental health reform. 

Thank you to Professor Hickie, Mr Marchbank, and all who made the first event in our Ultimo Series a resounding success. You can listen to Professor Ian Hickie on the Minding your Mind podcast on Spotify.

Proceeds of all ticket sales support the IGS Sharing Program including our Indigenous Scholarship Fund and Building Fund. 



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Term 4 – 5.45pm to 7.30pm, Thursday 21 November 2024

Mary-Jo McVeigh, Social Worker of the Year 2023 USyd, and Director of Cara House, presenting on the ethics of care and lessons from the neurobiology of early life trauma and abuse.

About The Ultimo Series
Prepare for an intellectually invigorating experience with our thought-stimulating series of academic lectures. Drawing on the expertise at IGS’ doorstep, renowned thought leaders will facilitate discussions and engage in interactive Q&A sessions on critical topics, such as our environmental impact, navigating Artificial Intelligence, the ethical intricacies of social media, and how to prepare our children for a changing world.

The Ultimo Series is directed by Thom Marchbank, IGS Deputy Principal Academic.