Young people's mental health issues on the rise – report

Young people

A new report reveals that one in four young people in 2020 said they are experiencing mental health challenges – a significant increase since 2012 when one in five young people were facing similar concerns.

The report, conducted jointly by Mission Australia and Black Dog Institute, also reveals that young people had higher odds of experiencing psychological distress if they identified as female, non-binary, living with disability, or as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.  

In July, a separate study involving a nationwide survey of teachers found that more than 70% saw the last 12-18 months as having a significant impact on student mental health and wellbeing. Less than half of all respondents felt well-equipped to respond to mental health issues in their students, with lack of school resources (time/staff/space) cited as the primary challenge (42%).

The findings of the Psychological distress in young people in Australia fifth biennial youth mental health report: 2012-2020 released today have spurred calls for greater action from governments, schools, families, businesses and others to prioritise tailored, timely and accessible mental health support.

“With the prevalence of psychological distress experienced by young people increasing, this report warrants attention and swift action,” Mission Australia’s CEO James Toomey said.

“Undoubtedly, COVID-19 has had a detrimental impact on many young people’s mental health. Youth mental health is an important national challenge that must be addressed.”

Toomey said all communities have a duty to safeguard young people’s wellbeing and properly support the enormous number of young people contending with mental health challenges.

“Every young person in Australia should have access to appropriate supports at the time they need it, regardless of their gender, location, background or any other circumstances, and most definitely under special circumstances like a global pandemic,” he said.

Toomey said a key part of this includes further investment in evidence-based digital mental health services.

“Importantly, young people must be central to the co-design, development and adaptation of youth mental health services and tools – both at school and within their communities”.

Black Dog Institute’s Director of Research, Professor Jennie Hudson said global research shows that over 75% of mental health issues develop before the age of 25, and these can have lifelong consequences.

“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,” Hudson said.

“Early intervention in adolescence and childhood is imperative to help reduce these figures.”

Hudson said the new report shows that young people in distress will seek help directly from friends, parents and the internet.

“As such, we need to continue to build gatekeeper support training and provide online and app-based tools that may be a key part of the solution - something we are invested in doing at the Black Dog Institute.”