Young Australians with a disability are twice as likely to experience bullying, report finds

A new report also found disabled youth are more prone to mental health concerns.

Young people with disability face more mental health issues and more bullying.

Young people with disability face more mental health issues and more bullying. Source: Getty

Young Australians with a disability are twice as likely as their peers to experience bullying and feel sad about their lives, according to a new report.

The Youth Survey Disability Report by Mission Australia also found disabled youth are more prone to mental health concerns.

Amy Marks was born with a form of cerebral palsy and now works as a disability advocate.

The 23-year-old told SBS News she faced her share of challenges during her childhood and teenage years.

"It was difficult for most of my primary school education. I was the only kid with a visible difference," she said.

"I always felt kind of different to my peers. In saying that, as we got older I did become vice-captain at primary school which I thought was very cool at the time. Going into high school, it started again, I got bullied a fair amount particularly in years seven and eight."

From the age of 13 to 15 she felt those differences particularly badly.

"You are trying so hard to fit in and when you had differences, particularly for me, visible physical differences, it was hard to connect with my peers," she said.

Amy Marks said that she experienced bullying in school.
Source: Supplied.

Damning report

Mission Australia chief executive James Toomey told SBS News the new findings were disturbing.

"It highlights the multiplication of challenges of young people with disabilities compared to their peer group - you see numbers of these young people describing themselves as sad or very sad about their lives, 24 per cent compared to 10 per cent of their peer group," he said.

"A quarter of those young people had concerns and talked about suicide, compared to 13 per cent of other young people in the survey."

The survey was conducted among 25,000 young people with a disability aged from 15 to 19. 

Six out of ten reported facing a range of barriers to their post-school plans, including those relating to their mental health or academic ability.

Respondents with a disability were also three times as likely as their peers to consider physical health as an obstacle to achieving their goals after school.

Mission Australia is calling for greater consultation and collaboration with disabled youth. 

Mr Toomey said more action is needed to address their concerns, improve their well-being and remove the physical, structural and social hurdles that impact on their lives.

"It's very important to understand that driving down stigma associated with disabilities is a very, very important element of making young people with disabilities feel safe and they are then less likely to experience bullying, whether it's physical or verbal."

'Things are improving' 

On the positive side, the report found young people with a disability are engaged with their education with more than eight out of ten studying full time.

And Amy Marks said things are improving.

"I think particularly the generation that's growing up now, the teenagers and young people, they're a lot more socially-aware and accepting of differences," she said.

For Ms Marks it has been about accepting her disability as a part of who she is.

"I just kind of live with it. It's a part of me every day. It's as much a part of me like my eye colour or my accent and all of that. I was once given some good advice that I still carry to this day that like anything in life, you can have a relationship with your disability," Ms Marks said.

"It doesn't have to be a stagnant thing and when you are in a relationship you have good days and bad days. You want to show it off to the world, some days you want to hide it and accepting that it is a relationship and that is can change and it can be an ongoing part of my life."

Readers seeking support can contact Lifeline crisis support on 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 and Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 (for young people aged 5 to 25). More information is available at Beyond Blue.org.au and lifeline.org.au


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Published 20 May 2020 at 11:04am, updated 20 May 2020 at 11:09am
By Gareth Boreham, Jarni Blakkarly

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