Indigenous Australians still figure too highly in rising rates of youth mental illness

SBS World News Radio: New research revealing a significant increase in mental illness rates among young people has prompted calls to find solutions.

Indigenous Australians still figure too highly in rising rates of youth mental illness

Indigenous Australians still figure too highly in rising rates of youth mental illness

19 year-old Savannah Van der Veer has experienced mental illness since she was six.

She says the challenges of high school caused further deterioration in her mental health.

"The HSC was so hellish and I didn't even finish it. I mean it was just the bane of everyone's existence it was just a ridiculous amount of pressure."

Body image was also difficult for Ms Van der Veer, who developed an eating disorder.

"I just kind of assumed I wasn't allowed to be fat, because I'd never seen someone who was the same size as me in the media."

A report, released jointly by Mission Australia and the Black Dog Institute, shows her experience is not uncommon.

The survey reveals there are more young Australians in psychological distress now than there were five years ago.

The top issues of concern include stress, school and study problems, depression and body image.

Dr Bridianne O'Dea, a mental health researcher at the Black Dog Institute, says the findings are alarming.

"It's always alarming when we have increases in mental health problems, particularly because they're so impactful on young people's lives. It's another source of evidence to show that attention must be paid to prevention and early intervention in young people."

The survey found almost 1 in 4 young people met the criteria for having a probable serious mental illness.

That's an increase of 4 per cent per cent from 2012 to 2016.

It also revealed females are twice as likely as males to experience psychological distress.

And over 32 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander respondents met the criteria, compared to 22 per cent for non-Indigenous youth.

Catherine Yeomans, the CEO of Mission Australia, says mental health in the Indigenous community is an ongoing concern.

"For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, three in ten of the respondents identified psychological distress. In terms of a cohort of young people, unfortunately we continue to see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander overrepresented in statistics that relate to their mental health and wellbeing."

Bullying is another area of concern and Dr O'Dea, who has specialised in effects of cyber-bullying, says this has intensified due to the increased use of social media.

"One of the most serious things about cyber-bullying is that it expands the effects of traditional bullying, because the spread is greater so more people can be involved. It's quite instant and can be quite permanent and also quite intense because of all of that."

Ms Yeomans is calling for more funding to be put into schools across the country to support mental health programs.

"What we'd like to see is involving schools in evidence-based mental health support programs. Obviously there needs to be funding to help schools deliver these programs but it's a good way to get a universal mental health program right across the country."

More community-based support could also be the answer.

Ms Van der Veer has been taking part in Creative Youth Initiative, a service run by Mission Australia that provides free creative programs to young people, particularly in the area of mental health.

Based in Sydney, the TAFE-supported program helps young people through visual arts and music courses, and find employment upon graduation.

Ms Van der Veer says it's been great for her mental state.

"It got me out of the house and gave me something to do, which was probably the best thing I needed most at the time. Also the structure of the program was quite loose and you do things at your own pace which is great when you're the type of person who struggles at school."



4 min read
Published 19 April 2017 at 8:00pm
By Abbie O'Brien