By Mazoe Ford.
Nearly 1 in 4 Australian teenagers meets the criteria for having a “probable serious mental illness”, a joint report from Mission Australia and the Black Dog Institute has found.
The Five Year Mental Health Youth Report presented findings from the past five Mission Australia youth surveys, during which thousands of adolescents answered questions on several topics, including mental health.
The report found that there are more people in the 15-to-19 age category in psychological distress than there were five years ago.
It also found girls were “twice as likely as boys to meet the criteria for having a probable serious mental illness”, and almost a third of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander respondents met that criteria, compared with 22.2 per cent for non-Indigenous youth.
Mission Australia chief executive Catherine Yeomans said the results were “alarming”.
“The effects of mental illness at such a young age can be debilitating and incredibly harmful to an individual’s quality of life, academic achievement, and social participation both in the short term and long term,” Ms Yeomans said.
“Their main concerns are coping with stress, school and study problems, coping with depression and anxiety, and body image.”
Black Dog Institute director Helen Christensen said because adolescence was a time of great change, teenagers needed lots of support.
“I think [the report findings] are considerably disturbing, and I think it speaks to the fact that perhaps [Australia] is not doing enough for young people as they go through adolescence,” Professor Christensen said.
“You can get some people who experience something more serious than the usual angst that most people go through when they’re growing up, and because of vulnerability, past traumas, or a number of other factors they’re kind of propelled into a deeper and more frightening space.”
Inside ‘you feel a bit dead’: teen
Bex Vandersluis, 19, had a difficult upbringing during which she was shuffled between relatives’ homes, guardians’ homes and youth refuges.
She was diagnosed with depression and anxiety as a child and then post-traumatic stress disorder and disassociation as a 15-year-old.
“I don’t really know what it’s like now to live without depression and anxiety,” Miss Vandersluis told ABC News.
“To the world you look like you’re OK, you have a face full of make-up and a smile on your face, you don’t look like you’re sad, but inside you feel a bit dead.”
Despite various interruptions to her education, Miss Vandersluis graduated from high school and is now completing an art course.
She eventually wants to become a prosthetic makeup artist and an advocate for mental health organisations.
“There’s no reason to be ashamed of feeling hurt, scared, angry, or frustrated over anything because everyone copes with things in different ways,” she said.