Psychological distress spurs call for action

Psychological distress spurs call for action

Considerably more young people in Australia are experiencing psychological distress than seven years ago, according to a new joint report by Mission Australia and Black Dog Institute.

Almost one in four young people say they are experiencing mental health challenges, with young females twice as likely as males to face this issue. A higher proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people also met the criteria for psychological distress than their non-Indigenous peers.

The Can we talk? Seven year youth mental health report – 2012-2018 presents Mission Australia’s Youth Survey findings of the past seven years – and is co-authored with Black Dog Institute experts – to ascertain and investigate rates of psychological distress experienced by young people in Australia who are aged 15-19.

The report further examines the concerns, general wellbeing and help-seeking behaviours of the close to 27,000 participants of the 2018 Youth Survey aged 15-19.

Key findings include:

  • Close to one in four young people met the criteria for experiencing psychological distress – a substantial increase over the past seven years (rising by 5.5 percent from 18.7 percent in 2012 to 24.2 percent in 2018).
  • In 2018, more than three in ten (31.9 percent) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people met the criteria for psychological distress, compared to 23.9% for non-Indigenous young people.
  • Across seven years, females were twice as likely as males to experience psychological distress. The increase in psychological distress has also been far more marked among females (from 22.5 percent in 2012 to 30.0 percent in 2018, compared to a rise from 12.7 percent to 15.6 percent for males).
  • Stigma and embarrassmentfear and a lack of support were the three most commonly cited barriers that prevent young people from seeking help.
  • Young people experiencing psychological distress reported they would go to friends, parents or guardians and the internet as their top three sources of help. This is compared to friends, parents or guardians and a relative/family friend for those without psychological distress.

Professor Helen Christensen is Black Dog Institute’s Director and Chief Scientist.

 “Global research tells us that over 75 percent of mental health issues develop before the age of 25, and these can have lifelong consequences,” she said.

“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.”

“Adolescence is a critical time in which to intervene, but we also know that young people experiencing psychological distress can be harder to reach. This report shows that young people in distress will seek help directly from the internet. As such, we need to continue to provide online and app-based tools that may be a key part of the solution. We also need to catch the problems upstream by prioritising early intervention and prevention efforts.”

If you need to talk to someone about your mental health, help is available. Contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor

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