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Wake Up Call For Australia As Young People Show Concern For Mental Health

6 December 2016 at 8:27 am
Wendy Williams
Mission Australia is calling for a more targeted and coordinated approach to ensure youth support services are accessible across the nation, in light of new research showing rising numbers of young people are concerned about alcohol and drugs, mental health and discrimination.

Wendy Williams | 6 December 2016 at 8:27 am


Wake Up Call For Australia As Young People Show Concern For Mental Health
6 December 2016 at 8:27 am

Mission Australia is calling for a more targeted and coordinated approach to ensure youth support services are accessible across the nation, in light of new research showing rising numbers of young people are concerned about alcohol and drugs, mental health and discrimination.

According to the Mission Australia Youth Survey 2016, which was released on Tuesday, alcohol and drugs, and equity and discrimination are the most pressing issues facing Australia as a nation, with mental health entering the top three for the first time in the 15 year history of reporting.

The findings, following an extensive survey of nearly 22,000 teenagers, show concerns about mental health have doubled since 2011.

top 3 national issuesMission Australia CEO Catherine Yeomans told Pro Bono Australia News the findings were a “wake up call”.

“Our survey provides a window into young people’s thoughts, concerns and ambitions,” Yeomans said.

“In a way it actually validates what we see as a service provider on the ground but nonetheless I think the feedback from the young people is a wake up call.

“This is our 15th year of doing the survey, it is the largest of its kind, we had over 20,000 respondents between the age of 15 and 19, and they identified the top three national concerns… of being one alcohol and drugs, two equity and discrimination, and three, and for the very first time in the top three, issues related to mental health.

“And this is the one that really I think we have to pay attention to because this has doubled since 2011 in terms of the number of responses identifying this as a top issue of national concern.”

In terms of personal concerns, young people nominated coping with stress, school or study problems and body image as their top three issues.

Mental health issues were also increasingly identified as personal concerns for young people.

Yeomans said it was difficult to know the reasons behind the rise of mental health concerns.

“It may be because there is increased awareness around issues related to mental health. And that could be a good thing,” she said.

“It also may mean that young people are increasingly experiencing issues related to mental health.

“When we asked the young people what were they most concerned about personally, and we hear that it is coping with stress and school and study problems and body image, well we can see that these are all issues that would not support somebody’s mental health if they’re not supported in dealing with those issues and personal concerns.”

Yeomans said the findings showed the need for a coordinated, comprehensive and cohesive national plan to “ensure we are delivering the right programs to the young people who need them most”.

“There are some great educational awareness programs working in schools but we need to make sure all young people are able to access and navigate the appropriate supports, advice and information to help them in times of need,” she said.

“Increasingly we need to consider whether we’ve got age appropriate programs and whether we’re talking about these issues at a young enough age.

“Very concerningly, our staff report at the frontline that they are seeing more and more younger people presenting with issues related to mental health and very distressingly sometimes there are young children, as young as eight, having suicidal thoughts.

“We absolutely must act and we also need to think as well with mental health services whether there is an appropriateness around a gender-based response.

“Because we do know more young women are reporting concerns relating to depression and anxiety and are more likely to be affected by issues such as family breakdown, pressure around personal appearance or school and study pressures.”

The latest research also showed one in seven females reported experiencing gender discrimination, more than three times the proportion of males.

While, one in five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people reported experiencing discrimination on the basis of race or cultural background, which was more than three times the proportion of non-Indigenous young people.

It comes as this year’s survey looked in more detail at discrimination experienced and witnessed by young people.

Graph showing discrimination

More than one quarter of young people indicated that they had experienced some form of unfair treatment or discrimination in the last 12 months.

The main reasons cited for their experience were gender (39 per cent) and race/cultural background (31 per cent).

As many as half the young people surveyed had witnessed someone else being unfairly treated or discriminated against in the last 12 months, most commonly on the basis of race/cultural background (58 per cent) and sexuality (41 per cent).

Yeomans said further reflection and action was needed to address the numbers of young people both experiencing and witnessing discrimination.

“These levels are simply unacceptable and we must ask ourselves what we can all do to change these results,” she said.

“Our young people are seeing this in their communities, and friendship groups and education environments that they’re involved in, so we must pay attention to that, we must think about how much the dialogue that we are having in the community is either helping or not helping people who are experiencing discrimination.

“Political and social leadership is required to help change some of those pervasive attitudes. We have to challenge stereotypes and explicit discrimination when we see it. And this needs to be addressed by governments, businesses, sports and other institutions as well as in the media and at schools.

“Commonwealth, state and local governments all have important roles to play in facilitating successful youth transitions and addressing these societal issues so young people have a firm foundation from which to reach for their dreams.”

Yeomans said Australia needed to create an environment where every young person feels valued and respected and “can see a way that they can realise their aspirations for the future as well”.

“It’s important that we give young people a voice and that we feed those concerns into the policy making process,” she said.

“Young people are our future, their hopes and dreams are our hopes and dreams.

“It is only right that we make sure we are supporting them on their journey as they transition from childhood to adulthood.”

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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