Youth Mental Health Report Shows Need for Greater Support

By Petrina Smith
Wednesday, 18 June, 2014

One in five young Australians are likely to be experiencing mental illness, and less than 40% are comfortable seeking professional help, according to a new Youth Mental Health Report released by Mission Australia and the Black Dog Institute.
The Youth Mental Health Report also found the rate of mental illness among young Australians aged 15-19 was much higher among females and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, while young people with a disability were also overrepresented.
Mission Australia CEO Catherine Yeomans said the findings highlight the increasing vulnerability of Australian youth, and the need for greater supports to help them on their journey into adulthood.
"The confronting findings in this report illustrate the significant challenges many of our young people are facing when it comes to psychological distress and mental health issues.  "This report makes it clear that Australian youth – particularly those facing significant disadvantage – need more support, not less. "We must invest in early intervention and support to ensure vulnerable youth get the assistance they need to work through these challenges and live happy and healthy lives," Ms Yeomans said
The Youth Mental Health Report report surveyed around 15,000 young people across the country aged 15-19 using the widely accepted measure of non-specific psychological distress known as the Kessler 6, which consists of a six item scale that asks about experiences of anxiety and depressive symptoms over a period of four weeks.
The report compared young people who were classified as having a probable mental illness and those who were not.
Key findings include:

  • 21% of young people surveyed were experiencing a probable mental illness

  • Females were almost twice as likely as males to be experiencing mental illness – at 26% compared to 14%

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander respondents were also more likely to be experiencing mental illness – at 32% compared to 21% for non-Aboriginal

  • Over 60% of young people with a mental illness were not comfortable seeking information, advice or support from community agencies, online counselling and/or telephone hotlines

  • Young people with mental illness were around five times more likely to express serious concerns about depression (57% compared to 11.5%) and suicide (35.3% compared to 6.8%)

  • Young people experiencing mental distress were also more likely to be personally concerned about bullying/emotional abuse and family conflict, and were struggling with a higher number of concerns than young people who were not likely to be experiencing a mental health issue.

Professor Helen Christensen, Director of the Black Dog Institute says these results are sobering yet not unexpected.
"We know that Australian young people are struggling, but as our recommendations show, we also know how many of these issues can be addressed. We need to teach appropriate mental health strategies and awareness in schools, just like we teach English, maths and science. We also need to provide quality support and advice via channels that they are comfortable approaching. Finally, the community as a whole needs to acknowledge this problem and start the right conversations."
NSW Mental Health Commissioner, John Feneley said: "Parents, schools, community leaders and service providers need to listen to what young people say about what supports work for them and why, and to act on that advice by ensuring more young people are provided with the right supports sooner. With the right supports in place, a challenge in a young person’s life can become an experience that builds strength and resilience.
The Youth Mental Health Report provides a range of recommendations to address the issue:

  • Targeting mental health in schools through awareness and early intervention programs

  • Promoting peer education and support

  • Reducing stigma that may prevent help-seeking behaviour in young people

  • A whole of community focus on prevention and early intervention

  • Use of online initiatives to improve access, appeal and affordability of mental health services

  • Ensuring culturally appropriate service delivery, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, as well as culturally and linguistically diverse communities

  • Building a better understanding of mental health issues among families and those working with young people

More information: Youth mental health report - June 2014
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