Psychological distress on the rise in youth

By Ashlea Witoslawski

National Youth Mental Health Foundation headspace has revealed alarming new data on the levels of psychological distress among young Australians.

Released on the third annual headspace day, as part of National Mental Health Week, the research found almost one in three young Australians (aged 12 to 25) reported high or very high levels of psychological distress.

The levels are more than triple the rate in 2007.

The data also showed rates of distress were significantly higher among young women, with those aged 18 to 21 years reporting the highest levels.

It was also found Victoria has the highest percentage of young people reporting high or very high levels of psychological distress, compared with other states.

Headspace chief executive Jason Trethowan said the new research was concerning.

‘‘This new research has revealed a startling and deeply concerning increase in the levels of psychological distress currently being experienced by young people throughout Australia, affecting young people of all ages, locations and backgrounds,’’ he said.

‘‘The figures are too high to be ignored or not be taken as serious warning that the mental wellbeing of our future generation needs to be prioritised, nurtured and safeguarded.’’

Mr Trethowan said one of the most vulnerable times for a young person to experience mental health issues was between 18 and 24 years old.

‘‘At this stage, young people face a unique set of life challenges: transitioning from school to study or the workforce, moving out of home and relationship break-ups, which can all make it hard for them to stay in a positive state of mind,’’ he said.

‘‘We need to continue to invest in services for our young people, and help them build their mental health literacy from a young age.’’

As part of National Mental Health Week, running from Sunday to Saturday, headspace recommends young Australians find their passions, stay active, and keep close and connected relationships to improve their mental health.

If you, or someone you know, is going through a tough time and are aged 12 to 25, get in touch with headspace Shepparton on 58238800.

You can also find a number of online resources and fact sheets at

Support needed

A new report from VicHealth and Lateral Economics found the delay in graduates finding full-time work is having a serious impact on their mental wellbeing and costing the state up to $100million a year.

The average graduate now takes 2.6 years to find meaningful full-time work — up from just one year in 1986.

Key findings of the report found increased rates of unemployment and underemployment in Victoria had led to an 11 per cent increase in under-utilisation of young people in the workforce in the past decade.

It also found the delay is causing graduates to experience high levels of anxiety and depression at a cost of $100million a year, equating to a lifetime cost to the economy of $1.25billion.

The report also found up to half of the costs could be avoided by increasing support for young people’s mental wellbeing and social connection.

VicHealth chief executive Jerril Rechter said the report highlighted the large costs to Victorians associated with the impact of unemployment and underemployment on young people’s mental wellbeing.

‘‘This research shows the transition to full-time work is a really tough time for young Victorians, with many experiencing stress, anxiety and depression as a result,’’ she said.

‘‘Gone are the days of walking straight out of university into a job being the norm.

‘‘For most young people it now takes years of churning through insecure and often unpaid work before securing a meaningful full-time role.’’

Ms Rechter said it was important to not underestimate the impact it was having on the wellbeing of young Victorians.

She said VicHealth was looking to work with a range of organisations to shape a more supportive environment for young Victorians as they began their careers.

Lateral Economics senior economist Gene Tunny said the data highlighted the need to tackle the issue now to avoid snowballing costs into the future.

‘‘Young people delayed in starting their career not only face current challenges to their economic and emotional wellbeing but future costs as well,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s really important we re-think how we best support young people now to avoid these potentially huge economic and personal costs into the future.’’

The report Youth Resilience and Mental Wellbeing: The economic costs of delayed transition to meaningful work was launched in Melbourne last week.

Jerril Rechter

The breakdown

In June, VicHealth started looking into the issues of young people and their journey to purposeful work.

As part of the Staying on Track participants’ report, it was found during a crucial transition period between the ages of 18 and 25, young people were not doing so well. It found:

●One in four young Australians are experiencing a mental health condition, including anxiety and depression.

●One in four young adult Victorians report limited access to social support when needed.

●One in eight young adult Victorians are lonely, a key risk factor for depression.

●75 per cent of adult mental health conditions emerge by age 24.