Rising mental health issues in young Australians ‘deeply concerning’

Amanda Lyons

24/10/2019 2:18:51 PM

Researchers are unsure about the reasons behind the increase, but GPs are well placed to provide young people the help they need.

Young people's mental health.
The number of young Australians experiencing mental health concerns has increased significantly over the last seven years.

The latest joint Youth mental health report by Mission Australia and the Back Dog Institute has found a significant rise in psychological distress among young Australians.
An increase of 5.5% in the seven years since the last report means almost one in four young people is now experiencing mental health challenges.
These numbers are even higher for young women, who are twice as likely as young men to experience these issues. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are also significantly more likely to report mental health concerns than non-Indigenous young people.
‘It’s deeply concerning that so many young people are experiencing psychological distress,’ Mission Australia Chief Executive James Toomey said.
‘Youth mental health is a serious national challenge that must be tackled as a priority.’
Researchers are uncertain of the reasons behind the alarming rise in the statistics, an issue that Dr
James Best, Chair of the RACGP Specific Interests Child and Young Person’s Health network, told newsGP is consistent across the globe.
‘It’s a question that’s being asked a lot, because around the world we are seeing a rise in mental health issues and distress in young people,’ he said.
‘You can speculate as to why; whether it’s increase in the pressures on adolescents in an increasingly uncertain world, or whether online bullying is playing a role, but we are not entirely sure and it’s an area of research that needs to be continued.’
While reasons for the increase may not be clear, experts agree that early intervention is vital to long-term wellbeing, as over 75% of mental health issues develop before the age of 25.
‘Irrespective of their location, background or gender, young people must have the resources they need to manage their individual mental health journey with access to youth-friendly and evidence-based mental health supports,’ Mr Toomey said.
Dr Best believes GPs are a key aspect in supporting young people with mental health concerns, not only as direct care providers, but also in enabling access to other health professionals and services.
‘It is essential GPs maintain their role as the entry point into the health system for children and young people, and also that role of picking up problems and risk factors for problems in this area,’ he said.
‘We should be screening for children in distress or who are at risk of becoming distressed, for things such as adverse childhood experiences, and trying to provide help to families that are struggling or direct them to resources where they can get help.’
Dr Best also feels GPs offer something unique that can be especially helpful to young people struggling with mental health concerns, who the Youth mental health report highlights as being difficult to reach.
‘Because GPs see people recurrently over a long period of time, we can really establish a rapport and develop a trusting relationship which is critical in adolescent health,’ he said.
Dr Best advocates the HEADSS adolescent psychosocial assessment model as a useful one for GPs in handling discussions with young people who may be experiencing mental health issues.
‘It’s a really elegant structure to make psychosocial inquiries, it helps the GP and other people who are talking to young people to work their way through, starting with, “How are you going? How are things at home, how are things in your educational environment, what sort of activities do you do?”
‘And then you can start asking about more prickly areas like drug use, sexual activity, safety and suicidality.’
Dr Best also believes it is valuable to simply follow the model of movements such as ‘R U OK?’ which aim to normalise conversations about people’s mental health, and utilise this as part of the GP–patient relationship.
‘Just asking the question, making that simple inquiry about how things are going, how are things at school,’ he said.
‘I think normalising an inquiry like that is very useful, and saying things like, “These are the sort of questions I ask everybody”, because it can be a difficult bridge to cross, sometimes.
‘I think we really need to grab the thistle and utilise this unique position we have, as GPs, to provide a link to help for these young people who need it.’

Child and young person’s health Children’s mental health HEADSS Mental health Youth mental health

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