Young people living in regional and remote Australia are being let down by a lack of support services to tackle their mental health needs, a new report released by ReachOut and Mission Australia revealed today.

Lifting the weight: understanding young people’s mental health and service needs in regional and remote Australia, tells the story of young people in regional and remote areas and their mental health and service needs.

Almost one in four young people in regional and remote Australia had a probable serious mental illness according to Mission Australia’s Youth Survey 2016.

While the prevalence of mental health disorders is similar for people living in and outside of a major city, research has shown the risk of suicide rises as distance from a major city increases. This indicates that young people living in regional and remote areas may be exposed to a unique set of structural, economic and social factors that result in poorer mental health outcomes.

Mission Australia’s CEO James Toomey said: “Mental health concerns know no geographical or cultural boundaries; however, the provision of services does. Our research shows that young people in regional and remote communities struggle to access the same level of support services as young people in urban areas.

“We know that young people turn to their friends and family for support, so we need to provide parents, carers, teachers, counsellors and sporting coaches with the appropriate skills and support to help.

“Pleasingly, young people appear to be very aware of mental health issues and are asking for change. Our duty is to support them and provide the services they need in order to flourish into adulthood. This is especially true for the young people we work with, who often face additional challenges such as home and family instability or issues such as substance addiction.”

ReachOut’s CEO Jono Nicholas said: “We know that mental health is one of the top concerns for all young people.

“Our research shows that while many young people in regional and remote Australia value their lifestyle and like where they live, having enough money, study stress and pressure and planning for the future weigh heavily on their minds.

“Young people noted that they face many barriers to accessing services – such as embarrassment, fear, a preference for self-reliance, transport and cost, amongst others.

“Access to appropriate and timely support can make a real difference in young people’s lives, and we need to harness the potential of digital technologies to deliver the services and supports young people want, when and where they need them.

“Further, investment in evidence-based mental health and wellbeing programs delivered through schools can help equip and support young people to deal with worries and stresses, and if needed, get additional support.”

The report is based on data from the 8,267 young people aged 15-19 residing in regional and remote areas who participated in Mission Australia’s Youth Survey 2016 between April and August 2016, and quantitative and qualitative data produced by ReachOut with the support of Future Generation Global (FGG) Investment Company.

FGG’s CEO Louise Walsh said:  “FGG is an innovator in investment, and with ReachOut we are supporting innovation and digital transformation in youth mental health to improve the lives of young people in regional and remote Australia.”

Download the report: Lifting the Weight (PDF).

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Need to talk to someone right now?

National 24/7 crisis phone support for young people is available from Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800), Suicide Callback Service (1300 659 467), and Lifeline (13 11 14).

Young people can turn to ReachOut.com from anywhere and at any time for free self-help tools, information, and a peer support forum.

 

Key findings (for regional and remote young Australians)

  • Top three worries were financial issues (29.9 per cent), school or study stress (21.2 per cent) and the future (15.2 per cent).
  • Top three issues of concern were coping with stress (42.2 per cent), school or study problems (36.0 per cent) and body image (30.4 per cent).
  • Almost one in four young people (22.2 per cent) in regional and remote Australia had K6 (Kessler 6, a measure of psychological distress) scores indicating a probable serious mental illness.
  • The top two sources of help for young people were friends (82.6 per cent) and family (parent/s, 76.9 per cent; relative/family friend, 63.7 per cent; brother/sister, 53.7 per cent).
  • 43.4 per cent of young people indicated that they would access the internet for help with important issues in their life.
  • Just over half (51.7 per cent) of all young people who indicated they had a problem for which they needed professional help did not seek this type of help.

 

Recommendations

These findings point to the need for a whole-of-community approach to address the mental health needs of young people living in regional and remote Australia.

To achieve this, we need to:

  • Promote the co-design of services with young people, and re-orient services to meet young people’s needs;
  • Empower parents, guardians and peers to provide appropriate support to young people experiencing mental health difficulties;
  • Invest in programs that promote mental health and wellbeing in the early years;
  • Fund and support schools to improve the mental health and wellbeing of young people through evidence-based programs;
  • Equip communities and gatekeepers to support the mental health of young people;
  • Utilise the potential of Primary Health Networks to deliver better mental health outcomes for young people;
  • Harness the potential of digital technologies to improve service availability and accessibility, and to train and resource those who play a key role in helping and
  • supporting young people; and
  • Improve financial supports and offer programs that help young people to transition from education to work, or through different types and levels of education, so that those living in regional and remote areas can achieve their educational, employment and career goals.

 

What is “probable serious mental illness”?

Probable serious mental illness refers to the likelihood of having a moderate to severe mental disorder as detected by the Kessler 6 (K6), a psychological screening tool used widely in the sector and which has also formed part of Mission Australia’s Youth Survey for the past 5 years. The K6 consists of a brief six-item scale that asks about the experience of anxiety and depressive symptoms during the past four weeks. Based on established scoring criteria, the K6 has been used to classify Youth Survey respondents into two groups – those with a ‘probable serious mental illness’ and those with ‘no probable serious mental illness’.

About ReachOut

ReachOut.com is Australia’s leading youth service providing immediate help and support for free anytime and anywhere. ReachOut is accessed by more than 1.58 million people each year – that’s around 132,000 people every month, and 4,330 people every day.

ReachOut data consisted of a survey of young people living in regional and remote Australia and co-design workshops and online tasks. A panel provider recruited a nationally representative sample of approximately 400 young people. Data was collected between July and September 2017. Data from 264 participants was included in this report.

62 young people aged 16–22 years from six targeted regional communities – two each in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia participated in a five-hour co-design workshop and completed two separate online research tasks. In addition, 16 participants took part in an online diary study. All of these tasks were undertaken between April and July 2017.

 

About Mission Australia

Mission Australia is a national community services organisation delivering evidence-based services to achieve the greatest positive change and promote independence in the most marginalised and disadvantaged communities throughout Australia.

Mission Australia’s integrated services help people find safe and affordable housing, support children and families experiencing disadvantage, empower vulnerable young people and assist those with mental health illness and disability.

The Mission Australia Youth Survey is Australia’s largest online youth survey, providing a platform for young people aged 15 to 19 to ‘speak up’ about the issues that really concern them. The annual survey gives valuable insights into the lives of young Australians and an understanding of their aspirations, values, concerns and ambitions as well as a snapshot of how young people feel about their own lives and broader national issues.

 

About Future Generation Global (FGG)

Future Generation Global is a listed investment company with the dual purpose of providing an attractive investment for shareholders and an ongoing source of funding to Australian charities with a focus on children at risk and youth mental health.

 

Media contacts

 

Anne-Marie Baker
Head of Media and Corporate Affairs,
Mission Australia
Mobile: 0475 959 494
Liza Davis
Director of Strategic Communications and Government Relations, ReachOut Australia
Mobile: 0418 164 231
Aimee Meredith
Media Manager, Mission Australia
Mobile: 0491 226 164

 

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