Research — 07 December 2016

Young Canberrans are unhappier, more stressed and less optimistic about their futures than other Australians, a new report has found.

Mission Australia’s 2016 Youth Survey released on Tuesday found a rising trend in the number of Canberrans aged between 15 and 19 who are concerned about mental health, discrimination and alcohol and drugs.

The annual survey, undertaken by 22,000 Australians including 500 Canberrans, revealed mental health was the highest concern for a quarter of young people in the ACT, the only state or territory to list this as number one.

The concerns participants had to choose from were coping with stress, school or study problems, body image, depression, family conflict, bullying or emotional abuse, personal safety, discrimination, suicide, drugs, alcohol and gambling.

The territory also had the highest proportion of young people feeling “extremely concerned” about personal stress at 30 per cent, followed by school or study problems at 20 per cent and body image at 22 per cent.

Just more than one third of young Canberrans reported experiencing unfair treatment or discrimination in the past year – the most commonly cited reasons being gender, age and mental health – compared with about a quarter of all Australians.

And it didn’t get any better for the ACT when it came to overall happiness.

About 13 per cent of young Australians scored their happiness at 100, almost 23 per cent wrote 80, 5 per cent wrote 40 and 2.6 per cent were at zero.

Canberra figures were generally three per cent lower in the happy range and three per cent higher in the under-50 range.

The findings were just as gloomy for the capital in regards to looking ahead in life.

About 65 per cent of young people in Canberra and across the country reported feeling very positive or positive about the future.

However, one in six people in Canberra felt negative or very negative about the future, compared with one in ten nationally.

Mental health agencies expressed concern at the ACT figures, stressing the need for a more targeted and co-ordinated approach to youth support services.

Beyond Blue psychologist who specialises in youth, Luke Martin, said early intervention strategies must be applied more widely.

“We know that about three in four young people with mental health issues don’t seek help,” he said.

“But when they do, generally treatments are really effective so the challenge for all of us is how do we get them the help that they need, because particularly for young people adolescence is all about independence and sometimes that attitude stops people from reaching out.”

The report found the top sources of help for young Canberrans were friends and family, with less than five per cent citing community agencies as their primary support.

Mission Australia ACT and Southern NSW director Ben Carblis said agencies and schools must ensure young people are able to access and navigate the appropriate supports, advice and information to help them in times of need.

“Some of the reason behind this rising trend could be that there is greater acceptance and awareness of mental health issues,” he said.

“But certainly we can be doing more, and as a society we need to ensure that the conversations are happening regularly, they we are connecting with them, that they aren’t afraid to ask for help.”

He said his experience with a rise in children as young as eight having suicidal thoughts indicated a need to re-think how early mental health services were provided.

One person took their own life every eight days in Canberra last year, a situation Hunter Institute of Mental Health described as the “worst it’s ever been”.

ACT Mental Health Minister Shane Rattenbury was contacted for comment.

This article first appeared on ‘Canberra Times’ on 6 December 2016.

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