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Mental health the top concern for young Australians

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Mental health is the number one issue among young Australians, with body image, stress and study problems among their biggest worries.

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It’s the first time mental health has topped the list of issues of national concern for young people in Mission Australia’s annual Youth Survey, which began 16 years ago.

Mental health edged out alcohol and drugs as the most important concern for 15-to-19-year-olds, with equity and discrimination the third biggest.

The number of young people who identified mental health as a national concern has more than doubled since 2015 when 15 per cent of respondents considered it an issue.

Mission Australia chief executive James Toomey said this could be because there’s been more public discussion about mental health in recent years, which has helped remove many long-held stigmas and encouraged people to talk about their struggles.

However, he said the fact that mental health is now the biggest concern among young people suggests more needs to be done to provide specific co-ordinated services to help them.

“When we look at the question of where people go for advice and guidance … people talk to friends and family and peers but those people are not always particularly well equipped to give appropriate advice and guidance,” Toomey said.

“I think we need to continue the destigmatisation of mental health to make it more likely that people are going to be able to come forward, and then when they do they can talk to people who can join them up with a coherent service system or get support at the time they need it, as opposed to waiting some considerable time.”

In terms of personal issues, nearly half of the 24,055 young people surveyed were worried about their stress levels, while more than a third had school or study problems.

Body image was also a concern for one in three young people, particularly girls, while nearly a quarter were either extremely or very concerned about depression.

More girls than boys expressed concerns about mental health issues, while boys were more worried about drugs and alcohol.

Despite their worries, around two-thirds felt happy with their lives and positive about the future.

Seventy per cent plan to go to university after finishing school, while nearly a third want a job, 28 per cent aim to travel, 12 per cent are intent on going TAFE or college, and eight per cent hope for an apprenticeship.

But only four in 10 were confident they would achieve those goals.

Half thought they would face barriers including their own academic ability, money problems and mental health issues.

Toomey said the number of young people lacking confidence in terms of achieving their goals has doubled in the past few years.

Australian readers seeking support and information about depression can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.

MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78.

Multicultural Mental Health Australia www.mmha.org.au.

Local Aboriginal Medical Service details available from www.bettertoknow.org.au/AMS

– AAP

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