Mental Health Number One Concern For Young Australians
7 December 2017 at 4:51 pm
For the first time, mental health is the number one issue of national concern for young Australians, according to major research from Mission Australia.
The charity’s Youth Survey 2017 was released on Thursday, listening to the concerns of 24,055 young people aged 15 to 19 years.
They identified mental health, alcohol and drugs and equity and discrimination as the most important issues in Australia today, with mental health topping the list of issues for the first time in the survey’s 16 year history.
One-third of young people (33.7 per cent) identified mental health as a national concern, which is more than double compared to the results in 2015 (14.9 per cent).
Many of the top personal concerns reported by young people related to their mental health, including coping with stress, body image and depression.
Mission Australia’s CEO James Toomey said the results showed that more needed to be done to destigmatise mental health issues.
“Important work is already happening to destigmatise mental health issues and it is significant that young people are becoming more aware of the impacts mental illness can have on their lives and those around them. However, the fact that mental health has climbed to become the top national concern for young people reinforces that much more needs to be done,” Toomey said.
“Young people need a coordinated, comprehensive and cohesive national response to ensure they can access the right mental health supports when they need them.
“It makes sense to invest in universal mental health programs in schools, as well as community-based mental health services, and to design services with young people to ensure they are youth friendly.”
Toomey said family and friends also needed better information so they could be equipped to support a young person requiring help.
“This report tells us that many young people facing challenges reach out to friends and family for support. I can tell you from experience that family members and friends need to know how to navigate the bewildering variety of services and information sources that are available, and be provided with targeted information about ‘mental health first aid’ and other practical supports that exist,” he said.
Only four in 10 young people reported feeling extremely or very confident about achieving their study or work goals after school, with mental health also identified as one of the major barriers to achieving this.
One 19-year-old female respondent from Western Australia said she wanted: “For Australia to acknowledge the fact that mental health is a huge issue and do something about it, and the other issues surrounding mental health such as drug use, homelessness and family breakdowns.”
Along with mental health, the other major barriers identified for young people achieving their post-school goals were academic ability (22 per cent) and financial difficulty (14.2 per cent).
“As a uni student who just moved out of home, being able to pay rent as well as survive without a job or parental help was my biggest stress. Centrelink has helped a bit but getting a job was extremely hard as I had very little experience and was 18. I have now got a casual cleaning job at my church which helps but the availability of jobs to uni students, especially new ones I think is something that should be a lot better than it is,” an 18-year-old male respondent from Tasmania said.
The Youth Survey 2017 report identified alcohol and drugs (32 per cent) and equity and discrimination (27.3 per cent) as the most important issues for young Australians after mental health.
Alcohol and drugs was also noted as a much higher national concern for young people in regional areas (36.9 per cent) compared to their major city counterparts (29.5 per cent).
Toomey said: “The results show that young people are recognising the broader social issues that will impact on themselves and their peers. As our future leaders, it’s important that they are given a voice and opportunities to engage with decisions that will affect their lives.
“Young people continue to tell us that they are concerned about alcohol and drug use in their communities. We urgently need to address the underlying causes of substance misuse to minimise negative impacts on young people, and provide prevention and early intervention programs where they are most needed.”
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people reported higher levels of personal concerns across a range of issues, with higher rates found for drugs, bullying, personal safety and discrimination.
Alcohol and drugs in particular were raised as a significant national concern for the Indigenous community (41 per cent compared to 31.5 per cent for non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people).
Toomey said Australians had a duty to support all young people and that a long-term commitment to addressing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander concerns was an important part of this.
“We need a more inclusive and consultative way of working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people that supports and empowers them to make decisions about how to address the concerns they see in their own lives and in their communities,” he said.
“If we better understand the hopes, fears and everyday realities that young people face, we will be better equipped to celebrate their achievements with them, support them through difficult times and help them realise their aspirations as they make their journey into adulthood and independence.”