Mental health worries grow for teens

Drugs and alcohol, discrimination and mental health are the top three issues concerning Australia, according to teens who took part in the latest annual Mission Australia Youth Survey released recently.

The survey, the largest of its kind, surveyed nearly 22,000 Australians aged 15-19 about their lives, including personal concerns and those they believed were national problems.

Mental health ranked in the top three of national concerns for the first time in the 15-year history of the annual survey.

Researchers found the percentage of young people nominating mental health as a top national concern had doubled in the past five years to more than 20 per cent.

Coping with stress, school and body image were the top three personal concerns of teens in the study, similar findings to those of previous years.

However, mental health issues were also increasingly seen as personal concerns for young people – a worrying trend according to Mission Australia.

Mission Australia chief executive Catherine Yeomans said the survey provided a window into the “thoughts, concerns and ambitions” of young people today.

Ms Yeomans said there needed to be a coordinated national approach to dealing with the concerns of teens across the country which involved key stakeholders working together for the benefit of young people.

“If young people are telling us that they think mental health is one of the top three concerns facing the nation, then we should sit up and pay attention and we should think about whether we’ve got the right responses in place.”

She said dismissing the issue and labelling it nothing more than teen angst could have awful consequences.

“I think we do that at our peril. It’s a high pressure time for a young person and it’s incumbent on us to help young people navigate that period of their lives safely.”

 “The old adage ‘prevention is better than cure’ is key when we consider the issues young people face, especially in terms of mental health issues, as they commonly occur during this developmental period.”

With most teens saying they would seek help and guidance from family and friends, Ms Yeomans questioned whether there were enough support services provided for loved ones needing to help teens with mental health issues.

She said families and friends needed to be able to find and access vital support services for teens more easily – making the process of gaining professional help easier.

“Are we doing enough that these people, in trusted relationships, are able to provide supports as well, or are able to direct young people to the right supports?”