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Young Australians' 'psychological distress' is rising

And how church communities can provide support

Nearly one in three young Australians report high or very high levels of psychological distress – an alarming figure that has tripled during the past decade.

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Mental Health organisation headspace revealed this new data about young Australians (12 to 25 year olds) to coincide with the third annual headspace day, as part of National Mental Health Week.

“We need to continue to invest in services for our young people.” – Jason Trethowan

Jason Trethowan, CEO of headspace said, “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.”

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

In 2007, about 9% of young adults reported high or very high levels of psychological distress. This year, that figure has jumped to 32%, with rates of distress being significantly higher among young women (38% compared with 26% of young men) as well as within the age bracket of 18-21 year olds (38% compared with 20% of 12 to 14 year olds).

“One of the most vulnerable times for young people to experience mental health issues is between 18 and 24 years of age,” Trethowan explained. “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.”

Some of the key factors that may have led to the increase in young people’s psychological distress, are that young people are “having less sleep, being less active and eating less healthy than previous generations” – a trend headspace has tracked for the last decade.

The reason for these changes may be “a significant increase in screen time,” Trethowan noted, explaining that “whilst there are many positives around social media and the role of technology, binge-watching, gaming and scrolling impacts sleep and physical activity and can overtake real life connections. And certainly the expectations of study and achieving through work are also weighing on young people.”

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

The organisation collaborated with young people throughout Australia to develop seven tips for mental health:

1. Get into life and do stuff that’s important to you

2. Learn new ways to handle tough times

3. Build close and connected relationships

4. Eat well

5. Stay active

6. Get enough sleep

7. Cut back on alcohol and other drugs

Churches are well-positioned to provide young people with the support they need to develop mental health.

Headspace’s Senior Clinical Advisor Nick Duigan told Eternity: “We encourage young people to follow the seven healthy tips and talk to family, friends or church communities if you’re going through a tough time.”

Dr Rebecca Loundar is a Clinical Psychologist and Senior Lecturer at Alphacrucis College. Her particular emphasis is on anxiety, depression, stress and life adjustment/transition issues. She told Eternity that churches are well-positioned to provide young people with the support they need to develop mental health.

“Connecting with others in meaningful ways is a key factor for the development and maintenance of mental health in young people,” Loundar explained.

“Young people can experience connectedness, support and stability with churches when there are opportunities for healthy relationships and belonging to develop, active inclusion and opportunities for young people to participate.”

Loundar recommended the range of ‘MindMatters‘ resources developed by Beyond Blue as a great place for church leaders to learn about responding to mental health challenges faced by young people in Australia.

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