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Health

Almost 1 in 4 Young Australians Live With Psychological Distress: Report


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Around 1 in 4 young Australians live with mental health difficulties, with young girls and women twice as likely as boys and men to be impacted, a new national survey has revealed.

The report — a collaboration between Mission Australia and Black Dog Institute, and the most extensive study of its kind — surveyed just under 27,000 young Australians between the ages of 15 and 19. Most notably, the report shows Australians who reported psychological distress jumped from 18.7% in 2012 to 24.2% in 2018.

Mission Australia CEO James Toomey said the report makes it clear that youth mental health “must be tackled as a priority.” 

"It’s deeply concerning that so many young people are experiencing psychological distress," Toomey said. "The sheer volume of young people who are struggling with mental health difficulties shows that there remains an urgent need for improved access to timely, accessible, and appropriate support."

The report also shows rates of psychological distress among Indigenous Australian youth are considerably higher than non-Indigenous Australians — at 31.9% against 23.9%. 

Participants in the survey said their top three issues of concern were “coping with stress, mental health, and school or study problems.” Family conflict, physical health, financial security, body image, social media, and LGBTQ issues were also highlighted. 

Still, Helen Christensen, the director of Black Dog Institute, says these issues fail to explain the percentage jump from 2012 fully. 

"We are still in the dark as to why mental health and suicide risk has increased in our current cohort of youth, a finding that is not unique to Australia,” she said.

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However, Patrick McGorry, the founding director of mental health non-profit Headspace, said there are “probably a whole range of factors,” including climate change and lack of social support services. 

"The general thing I would say is that the scaffolding around young people as they mature is much weaker than it used to be,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald. “I think we’re seeing the scaffolding fall away and become much more fragile.”  

McGorry also says the country’s inadequate social support system means many young Australia who do reach out for help are failing to receive the care they desperately require.

"When they do seek help, we can’t get them in, and we can’t give them the quality care they need,” he said. “Fifty percent of people who die from suicide in Australia have desperately tried to seek help and have been turned away or failed to get quality care.”  

"That’s the more urgent problem; to save the people who are already reaching out,” he added. 

Researchers now hope the report will see policymakers work to increase the mental health percentage of the health budget — which currently sits at around 7%.