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Supporting good mental health in young people

Speeches in Parliament
Penny Wright 14 May 2014

Senator WRIGHT:  On 20 March this year the Senate passed a motion about adolescent mental health and wellbeing and noted the alarming findings of the 2014 survey by Resilient Youth Australia, which showed 38 per cent of girls and 28 per cent of boys between years 7 and 12 feel constantly under strain and unable to overcome difficulties and highlighting the pressures and challenges that many young people in Australia face in 2014. In that resolution the Senate also affirmed that every school student should be able to access the tools to develop emotional resilience and called on the federal government to facilitate nationwide monitoring of adolescents' emotional resilience and wellbeing and to ensure that every school provides an environment conducive to students' wellbeing, including access to qualified mental health personnel to support students during adolescence.

The statistics regarding the mental health challenges faced by our young people are indeed sobering. In a report for from the Inspire Foundation, which is one of the pre-eminent pioneers for e-mental health for young people in Australia, I found these statistics. I know they are generally agreed. One in four young Australians live with a mental health difficulty. Seventy-five per cent of people with a mental health difficulty will experience the onset by the age of 24. Suicide is the leading cause of death for young Australians aged between 14 and 25. Perhaps most damning of all, over 80 per cent of young males and nearly 70 per cent of young females with mental difficulties did not access any mental health services. It does not take a lot of thinking to realise that the statistic about suicide being the leading cause of death for Australians between 14 and 25 could be a different statistic if indeed those mental health services were available. I quote the ReachOut Strategic plan 2014-2017. They say:

Whilst the prevention of mental illness is a crucial part of our mission, we must also help young people flourish, equipping them with the knowledge, skills and resources to thrive in a changing world.

As the Australian Greens spokesperson for mental health and for schools, I am acutely aware of the challenges confronting young people in Australia today. I hear from parents and teachers from around Australia on a regular basis, and they are reporting to me that at an increasingly young age Australian children are exhibiting symptoms of depression, anxiety and other disorders like body image, self-harm and eating disorders, just to name a few. These are, of course, conditions that interfere with young people's ability to enjoy their childhood and to learn, grow up and be proud of who they are. This is one of the reasons that I helped establish the Parliamentary Friends of Youth Mental Health to explore not only the conditions and treatment options available in relation to young people's mental health but to encourage a wider discussion in the parliament and in the community about the pressures and challenges that are besetting young people in 21st-century Australia and to look at ways to build resilience.

It is also one of the reasons that the Australian Greens are working so hard for a more inclusive Australia where every person-and that includes every young person-can participate fully and has the chance to feel proud of who they are. Bullying and discrimination on the basis of race, cultural background or sexual preference is just not on. That is why it is such an important principle for the Greens to remove the exemption that makes it legal for religious schools to discriminate against their students and their teachers on the basis of their sexuality. It sends a very clear message to young people attending those schools that who they are is not okay. We know that this is devastating for young people just at a time when they are developing a sense of who they are and venturing out into the world. It is also why the Australian Greens' policy is clearly to increase the number of qualified mental health counsellors and social workers in government schools by redirecting money from the national chaplaincy program and boosting that money significantly to pay for that qualified, expert workforce.

When it comes to mental health support for our students, the time for amateurs is over. The statistics clearly show that. That suicide statistic is absolutely alarming. We need to invest in the services that are needed to turn around those statistics from that over 80 per cent of young males and nearly 70 per cent of young females with mental difficulties do not access any health services at all.

Mental ill health and mental health and wellbeing should be non-partisan issues. Our young people are our future. It is incumbent on us as a community to do what we need to do to ensure that we can nurture, protect and support them to grow up strong and healthy.


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