Worrying findings from regional mental health report

REPORT: A report into youth mental health in regional and rural Australia has revealed the mental health of young people is worsening. Photo: Shutterstock
REPORT: A report into youth mental health in regional and rural Australia has revealed the mental health of young people is worsening. Photo: Shutterstock

A new report into youth mental health in regional and rural Australia has revealed that the mental health of young people outside of metropolitan areas is worsening, but it did show more positive findings including a rise in young peoples' mental health literacy.

Mental health service ReachOut has released its report, which included data collated from people aged 16 to 25, between 2017 and 2021.

It found that during that five-year period there has been an increase in probable serious mental illness among rural young people from 20.9 per cent to 27 per cent.

Data from 2021 showed that of all the age groups included in the research, 18-19 year-olds were the group most likely to be impacted by mental ill health.

The report also found a significant increase in the proportion of rural young people concerned about the future, from more than 15 per cent in 2017 to more than 33 per cent in 2021.

Also highlighted by the report was a greater awareness of services available, while 53 per cent also indicated a willingness to access online mental health services in 2021 compared to 20 per cent in 2017.

ReachOut chief executive officer Ashley de Silva said the report demonstrated the complexity of mental health challenges for young people living in rural areas across Australia and the need for ongoing and tailored support.

He said during the research period, regional communities had faced drought, natural disasters and a global pandemic.

"The findings of ReachOut's new report about the mental health of young people in rural areas are sadly not surprising," Mr de Silva said.

"These figures reinforce the need to focus on rural populations as a priority for mental health services.

"There can be many challenges associated with accessing mental health support in regional areas, which is why free, easy access to online services like ReachOut are so vital."

The report was supported by funding from Future Generation Global and its social impact manager Emily Fuller said it showed the importance of listening to young people when it comes to supporting their mental health.

"We believe that listening to [young people] and shaping mental health support in line with their views is the way to improve outcomes," she said.

"Young people know what they need, the question is are we hearing them and making it happen."

Dealing with crisis situations such as COVID-19 has played a huge role on mental health in young people and according to the Kids Helpline, the number of children and young people presenting with varying levels of mental, emotional and psychological anguish continues to increase in 2021.

The organisation said there were 8242 contacts in 2021, up from 6887 for the same period in 2020 - March to August - which represented 45 contacts per day over the last six months from young people expressing concerns related to suicide.

"Our professional counsellors responded to on average 20 per cent more children and young people reaching out across March to August and making a connection related to suicide related concerns about themselves or others compared to 2020, with 16 years of age being the mean age expressing these concerns to our counsellors," yourtown chief executive officer Tracy Adams said.

Speaking on World Suicide Prevention Day this month, Suicide Prevention Australia chief executive officer Nieves Murray said young people were seeking help at twice the rate of their parent's generations, following decades of awareness-raising, stigma reduction initiatives and advocacy.

"Creating hope through action is an important part of World Suicide Prevention Day and every other day of the year," she said.

According to the State of the Nation in Suicide Prevention report, people aged 18 to 34 reported having conversations about suicide (40 per cent) and seeking help (41 per cent) at twice the rate of their parent's generations (20 per cent and 19 per cent respectively).

If you or someone you know is struggling, there are services available.

Lifeline: 24/7 hotline 13 11 14. Text from 12pm to 2am - 0477 13 11 14. lifeline.org.au

BeyondBlue: 24/7 hotline 1300 22 4636. Online chat 1pm-12am at beyondblue.org.au

Suicide Call Back Service: Call 1300 659 467