Youth Mental Health & Wyong Headspace

Youth Mental Health & Wyong Headspace Main Image

02 June 2021

It appears the impact of COVID-19 on children and young people and their mental health and wellbeing has almost been forgotten by this government as it grapples with other problems. But we can't risk a generation of young Australians, and the risks start early in life. It's a common misconception that mental illness emerges for the first time in teenagers, but mental health struggles often begin earlier in life. Research from Beyond Blue shows that half of all mental health conditions experienced at some point in our lives will have started by 14, and three-quarters of mental health problems occur before the age of 25. As the Black Dog Institute pointed out in their children's mental health and wellbeing report, released last month, children who are struggling are at greater risk of continued problems into adolescence and adulthood, including long-term mental illness.

That leads me to the July 2020 data released by headspace, which revealed half of young people felt their study and work situation had been negatively impacted by COVID-19. Figures show that young people under the age of 25 accounted for nearly half of all job losses during the pandemic, the single largest group. This government hasn't properly supported young people during the pandemic. Many young people working in casual jobs missed out on JobKeeper, many young people under 22 years who had lost their jobs missed out on youth allowance, and the recent drop in JobSeeker has left many young people struggling to get by. That's before the impact of the fourth Victorian lockdown.

ReachOut, an online mental health service for young people and their parents, had its busiest year in 2020, with 2.8 million people accessing ReachOut's youth service. Young people reported that mental health issues were exacerbated due to isolation, uncertainty and the loss of big milestones and enjoyable things in their daily lives, like getting to see their friends at school. Over 1.2 million people have accessed ReachOut's youth service site so far this year.

The National Suicide Prevention Adviser's final report found the current approach to suicide prevention misses opportunities to support people because it predominantly focuses on health service response at the point of crisis. We need to intervene earlier, when suicidal distress is developing. Young people are less likely to seek professional help than any other age group. According to Beyond Blue, only 31 per cent of young women and 13 per cent of young men with mental health problems have sought any professional help. Unfortunately, when they do, the services they finally turn to to seek help are often overwhelmed, leading to long wait times.

I'd like to share some of the experiences of one young person and her family. I'll call her Jane, and these are the words of her parents: 'Jane's first bout of suicidal ideation happened when she was nine. She couldn't cope with me being away, and she said she wanted to "die in a hole" or "stick knives in a power point", because these are the things nine-year-olds know to speak of. Shortly after that she was diagnosed with ADHD. She'd been struggling with learning for a few years. I just didn't realise what it was. So aged nine she saw a publicly funded psychological service because CAMHS said she wasn't high risk enough. That early intervention service for eight to 12 year olds took four months for her to get into. She settled for a bit. Then last year her mood worsened. Her paediatrician added another medication and she started seeing her psychologist again. But this year she started self-harming again, cutting mostly, and then an admission for an overdose. She's lucky because I can afford private care for her at $220 a go every fortnight and she sees her GP and her paediatrician and it adds up. My friends tell my they can't even get in to see a psychologist at the moment privately or otherwise. Even when we got admitted to hospital that night, a fortnight ago, at 8 o'clock she was only seen by a psych registrar at 3 am and only because I pushed. And CAMHS were ready to leave us be, figuring she had a GP, a paediatrician and a psychologist but we needed support as a family so I made them visit us.' She goes on: 'Honestly the mental health state of kids Jane knows is depressing in itself. It's like a cancer spreading through teens. And parents are floundering because we don't know why it's so bad and how to help.'

In the week before the 2019 election the government announced $1.5 million for a new headspace for Wyong. It was posted on Minister Hunt's Facebook page on 24 August 2019. In the two years since headspace Wyong is yet to be delivered. There are so many young people living outside of big cities, in the outer suburbs and in regional Australia, who are struggling to get by. When they turn for help it's not available because of under-resourcing and long wait times. When I spoke to Minister Hunt yesterday he said headspace Wyong was the top of the list. It better be.