Research Sector News — 16 September 2015

Youth advocates have expressed grave concerns about services for the homeless, with many “struggling” to provide adequate support for those also living with mental health issues.

The Youth Affairs Council of Western Australia held a summit last week, to coincide with World Suicide Prevention Day, with the aim of raising awareness about homelessness and mental health concerns among young people.

“When you think of homelessness, you think of homeless men,” YACWA ambassador Annabeth Bateman said.

“The fact is many homeless people are under 25.”

Ms Bateman said she understood the issue first-hand, as her own experience with mental illness inspired her to quest for change.

“I first sought support as a consumer, as someone who suffered from depression and anxiety,” she said.

“My experience encouraged me to become an ambassador to help those who were going through the same sort of issues.”

Census data from 2011 showed 9,572 people were homeless that year. Of those, 2,276 were aged 12 to 24, while 1,493 were even younger.

“80 per cent of homeless youths are diagnosed with mental health issues,” YACWA chief executive Craig Comrie said.

“The problem is that the homeless services are struggling to support the mentally ill.

“To make a difference, we need to make sure the homelessness sector can accommodate those with mental illness.”

The Mental Health Commission of Western Australia is currently formulating the Suicide Prevention 2020 strategy accompanied by a Youth Engagement Strategy.

WA Mental Health Commissioner Tim Marney said two strategies were currently being developed – one for suicide prevention and the other for youth engagement.

He said the former was a priority because suicide was a leading cause of preventable death.

“The Youth Engagement Strategy has been informed by consultation with young people aged 12 to 25 across Western Australia,” Mr Marney said.

“It outlines the activities and mechanisms which will enable young people to have ongoing input into Suicide Prevention 2020.

“This is to ensure engagement with young people is relevant, current and meaningful.”

Mr Marney said “key action” areas of Suicide Prevention 2020 included public awareness, timely data and evidence to improve services, coordinated services to target high-risk groups and increased suicide prevention training.

Ms Bateman said more government bodies needed to voice their concern.

“[Mental Health Minister] Helen Morton spoke really passionately at the summit, I would love to see the same attention given by other policymakers,” she said.

The recommendations of the summit are expected to be released in November.

This article first appeared on ‘WA Today’ on 15 September 2015.

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