The youth mental health crisis in Australia

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depressed teen

Recent figures suggest a dramatic increase in the number of young people and children presenting at hospital Emergency Departments for self-harm, stress and anxiety, mood, behavioural and emotional disorders.

In New South Wales, Emergency Departments saw a 27 per cent increase in the number of 10-19 year olds who needed help with suicidal thoughts, self-harm and intentional poisoning between 2010 and 2014.

In Victoria, a similar study found a 46 per cent increase in the number of children presenting to hospital for self-harm, stress and anxiety, mood, behavioural and emotional disorders between 2008 and 2015.

The rise in in spite of increases in funding for mental health support services by Australian governments, at both a state and federal level, and a considered effort to ensure a growing awareness of mental health issues.

More teenagers are in psychological distress.

Last year, Mission Australia released a report which suggested that more Australian teenagers are in severe psychological distress than ever before.

The top three issues for teens were identified in the report as: coping with stress; school and study problems; and depression. Other notable issues were bullying and family conflict.

But Australia is not alone, a recent American study has also reported an increase in teens suffering from depression.

And a similar study in the United Kingdom showed a dramatic rise in the number of teenagers being admitted to hospital for self-harming in the past decade.

While the figures show one way traffic, the question is why?

Is it social media? The pressure of the ‘plugged-in, and always-on’ internet mentality? Is it simply that more young people are now speaking out due to a reduction in stigma?

Teens are at higher risk

Experts explain that while teens experience a number of physiological and social issues, such as hormonal changes during puberty, increased responsibility, peer relationships, and independence outside of the family unit, they can often be more susceptible to stress, which can result in serious mental health issues.

However, that doesn’t necessarily explain the rise in the numbers of children aged 10-14 who are also suffering from such issues.. About half of all serious mental health problems begin before a child reaches the age of 14 years, so it is important to recognise if there is cause for concern.

School-based programs have successfully reduced suicide rates overseas, for example in Sweden. Now across NSW, many schools are introducing these targeted programs to prevent tragedies.

But is this enough?

Mental Health Services

Many experts believe that despite increases in funding, there are still gaps in mental health services – not enough specialised providers, those working in the system suffering the strain of overwhelming caseloads and long-waiting lists, particularly for community-based-service providers.

They say there’s still not enough funding for frontline services and in rural and regional areas remains an issue.

Beyond Blue statistics highlight the youth mental health problem in Australia.

  • One in seven young Australians experience a mental health condition.
  • One in fourteen young Australians aged 4-17 experienced an anxiety disorder in 2015. This is equivalent to approximately 278,000 young people.
  • Death by suicide in young Australians is the highest it has been in 10 years, and accounts for the deaths of more young people than car accidents.

While the solutions are undoubtedly as complex as the many illnesses young people face, the fact that mental health appears to be on the rise suggests that current intervention programs are not doing enough.

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