Youth need voice on own mental health: study

Young people’s voices should be heard in the development of mental health initiatives aimed at teens in Australia, say leading experts in the research of teen mental health.

The Five Year Youth Mental Health report, a joint initiative by Mission Australia and the Black Dog Institute, was released recently. One of the recommendations of the report was that young people should be engaged in the development of youth-friendly mental health services and be advocates on mental health issues.

The report found the key group teens turned to for help with mental illness first was friends, followed by parents, the internet and other relatives.

Hence, equipping family and friends with ways to effectively provide support to teens in need was also among the recommendations.

Mission Australia’s chief executive Catherine Yeomans said the project, which gained an insight into teen mental health, was important to the work of Mission Australia – an organisation which advocated on behalf of teens for support services.

“The [report] shows some alarming results with almost one in four young people meeting the criteria for a probable serious mental illness… These results make it clear that mental illness is one of the most pressing issues in our communities, especially for young people, and one that has to be tackled by governments, health services, schools and families,” Ms Yeomans said.

Black Dog Institute director Professor Helen Christensen said the report found the biggest problems which concerned Australia’s youth today were depression, coping with stress, body image and school or study problems.

“Reluctant to seek help, those with higher levels of risk of mental health problems tend to seek help from the internet – suggesting the stigma and fear of being judged continue to inhibit help seeking,” Prof. Christensen said.

Many young people involved in the survey supported web-based initiatives to help teens’ access information and support services that deal with mental illness.

The report’s recommendations also saw technology as a key tool in the support of young people with mental health issues, an important alternative to traditional face-to-face discussions.

Ms Yeomans said a tailored approach to mental health services was needed for Australia’s youth which offered a range of service options to meet their diverse needs.

“It’s critical that responses to support a young person’s mental health be culturally and gender sensitive…we need to ensure that all young people, whether they live in urban or regional areas, have the resources they need to manage mental health difficulties, whether it is for themselves or for their peers. Parents, schools and community all play a vital role and we must fully equip them with the knowledge and skills to provide effective support to young people.”