Australia Needs More Action on Youth Mental Health

By Andrew Heaton

(image source: The Safety Box)

Australia needs more action to assist young people who are experiencing mental health issues after a survey of more than 20,000 youths revealed that the prevalence of probable mental illness was on the increase.

Based on responses from more than 21,172 Australians between the ages of fifteen and nineteen, the Youth Survey 2016 indicated that 22.5 percent of people within that aged group met the criteria for having a probable mental illness such as a depressive or anxiety related disorder – up from 18.5 percent as recently as 2012.

Across that age group, young women and girls (28.6 percent) were more than twice as likely to meet the criteria as boys and young men (14.1 percent).

Young indigenous Australians (31.6 percent) were also more likely to meet the criteria compared with their non-indigenous counterparts (22.2 percent).

Of those who met the criteria, the top issues of personal concern were coping with stress, school or study problems, depression and body image.

Almost three quarters (74.9 percent) of those who met the criteria for a probable mental illness were either ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ concerned about coping with stress.

More than half were extremely or very concerned about school or study problems (59.4 percent), depression (58.2 percent) and body image (55.2 percent).

Further issues of concern included family conflict (41.2 percent), bullying/emotional abuse (34.3 percent) and suicide (32.2 percent).

Around Australia, adolescence is recognised as a period which entails a range of physical, emotional and academic challenges.

Around have of all lifetime mental health disorders emerge by the age of fourteen and three quarters emerge by the age of twenty.

Mission Australia Chief Executive Officer Catherine Yeomans said action was needed on several fronts.

These include:

  • Greater funding within the education system so as to enable schools to resource programs which assist those students who experience difficulty
  • More investment in evidence based self-help support tools using technology and the internet
  • Better resources to equip parents, friends and others with information about how to respond when young family members or friends experience mental health issues; and
  • Greater investment in early intervention and community based help for young people.

Yeomans said it was also important to break down remaining stigma associated with mental health so as to enable young people to feel comfortable in seeking help.

In respect of young indigenous Australians, she says support must be delivered in a manner which was appropriate from a cultural perspective and also from the viewpoint of regional and remote areas.

Yeomans said supporting young Australians through experiences of anxiety and depression was critical.

“If we don’t give people the support they need for these types of experiences particularly in terms of anxiety and depression, there is a risk that these can go unaddressed, get worse and lead to other issues in that young person’s life,” Yeomans said.

The survey is distributed to secondary schools as well as other community and youth services providers.

As part of the survey, the data regarding the proportion of young Australians who meet the need for a serious mental health condition is based on the widely used Kesler 6 (K6) system, which consist of a brief six item scale which asks participants about their experience of anxiety and depressive symptoms over the past four weeks.

Mission Australia is now encouraging young people to take part in its next Youth Survey in 2017, which is now open.

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