New report reveals impact on young Australians’ mental health

Ongoing impact: A report from Orygen and Mission Australia has highlighted the mental health impact of COVID-19 on young Victorians. Photo by AAP: Dan Peled

A new report released by Mission Australia and Orygen has highlighted the impact of COVID-19 on young Australians in 2021.

In a survey of more than 20,200 young Australians aged 15 to 19, 51 percent of those polled agreed that COVID-19 was negatively impacting their mental health.

The survey found that Victoria was the state where COVID-19 had the greatest impact on youth mental health, with 69 percent of young Victorians reporting their mental health had been negatively impacted. About 4,600 young Victorians were interviewed for the study.

Victoria also stood out from other states with regard to the percentage of youth who reported that their participation in activities (78 percent), education (78 percent), physical health (63 percent) and friendships (48 percent) were negatively affected.

Across Australia, the negative impact on mental health was reported more often in women (62 percent) and inter-gender youth (70 percent) than in men (34 percent).

The report has drawn attention to the ongoing impact that pandemic restrictions have had on younger members of the community.

“Over the past two years, young people have been bearing the brunt of the effects of COVID-19 and have faced many unique challenges,” said Orygen senior research fellow Dr. Kate Filia.

“For those who reported that more areas of their lives were adversely affected by COVID-19, greater severity of psychological distress was experienced.

“We also saw that this led to increased stress, loneliness and a perceived loss of control over their lives for these groups of young people.”

Mission Australia executive for practice, evidence and impact Marion Bennett has called for additional help for “young people whose mental health and well-being have been affected by the pandemic”.

“We need to improve access to mental health services, improve mental health screening and support offered through schools and workplaces,” she said.

“It is also vital that we ensure that young people at risk of homelessness are identified early and have access to evidence-based housing and support models such as youth foyers when they need them.”

The report praised the Victorian government for achieving its goal of having state-funded mental health practitioners in all state and specialty secondary schools. The report called on all states and territories to follow this model.

Despite the thumbs up for the state government’s program, opposition spokesperson Emma Kealy has tightened what she identified as $60 million in cuts, following the termination of the Mental Health and Wellbeing Coronavirus Response Package.

“There is mounting evidence that the impact of six Labor lockdowns is still very much felt, by all Victorians,” said Ms Kealy.

“Distance learning has been devastating to our children’s education and emotional well-being. Today’s report reaffirms what we already know: that our children are suffering and that they still need dedicated support now, more than ever.

“It’s just the wrong time for the state government to release $60 million from programs incentivized to address the devastating mental toll of the lockdown.”

An analysis of the most recent budget indicates that Department of Health funding for clinical mental health will increase by more than $400 million. However, the funding allocated for community support services appears to have been reduced by $18 million.

The Victorian Government has been contacted for comment.

If this article has raised concerns for you or someone you know, the following services are available: Lifeline 13 11 14 and Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.

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