The State of Youth Mental Health—And What We Can Do About It
To say there is a mental health crisis in Australia today is to state the obvious, and telling young people about it will likely be met with no shortage of eye-rolling. The truth is, we know there’s a problem. The statistics speak for themselves—almost two in five young Aussies aged 16-24 experienced a 12-month-long mental disorder in 2020-21. And believe me, my generation has sat through enough lectures decrying the evils of social media.
However, as toxic as social media is, the nature of the problem is more significant than that. The steady decline in our national mental health, especially amongst young people, results from numerous compounding factors, of which social media is just one.
Consider the world that we, as the generation on the cusp of adulthood, stand to inherit. Millions, if not billions, of lives have been ravaged by a global pandemic. Our governments are tackling the existential threat of climate change through strategic thumb-twiddling, and having a place to live is steadily becoming a luxury.
There’s a lot to worry about and just as much to mourn. That isn’t to say there is no hope, only that we live in uncertain times, which presents a unique threat to our mental well-being. Global, systemic issues don’t always cause poor mental health, but they certainly don’t help.
Moreover, this is where social media fits into the picture. After all, global disasters and inequitable economies are hardly new phenomena. Neither are bullying, beauty standards, consumerism, political extremism, or conspiracy theories. Social media doesn’t create new problems so much as exacerbate existing ones.
The instantaneous spread of information means the world’s woes are inescapable; there is no haven from cyberbullying and no release from influencer-induced insecurity, for example. Add this to the inherent instability of the formative years of young adulthood, and a national shortage of mental health providers, and it’s no surprise there’s a crisis. It would be surprising if there wasn’t.
I don’t say this to be pessimistic. I say this because understanding is the first step to solving a problem. No be-all-end-all answer will instantly fix the mental health crisis; this is a multifaceted problem. It calls for a multifaceted solution.
What We Can Do About It
World Mental Health Day (10th October) 2023 provides an opportunity for individuals and communities to unite in supporting the World Health Organization’s theme: ‘Mental health is a universal human right’. This day aims to enhance understanding, raise awareness, and catalyse efforts to promote and safeguard the mental well-being of all as a fundamental human right.
Good mental health is vital to our overall health and well-being.
On an individual level, we can improve our mental health by focusing on what we can control. Socialise, exercise, sleep well, and maybe even consider putting the phone down for a minute. The future may look uncertain, but that doesn’t mean nothing can be done. Importantly, if you need help, seek it—that’s what the services are there for, even if they’re imperfect. A professional can help you far more than a blog post ever could.
Mental health is a fundamental human right for all people. On a cultural level, we need to destigmatise mental health. Mental illness is not a moral failing any more than physical illness is. The sooner we accept this, the sooner we can get to work fixing the bigger, more systemic problems.
On that note, the Government must recognise the gravity of the mental health crisis.
As a psychology student, I can assure you that many individuals are eager to make a positive impact. The shortages are in the form of postgraduate funding and resources, not morale. We need more mental health practitioners, especially in rural areas, and to do that, we need to improve our oversaturated and underfunded training pathways. We also need to prioritise regional healthcare, perhaps through rebates or other incentives for practitioners. And while we’re at it, maybe we can get to work on that whole climate crisis bit, eh?
If you need help, call:
Lifeline – 13 11 14
Kids Helpline – 1800 55 1800
Beyond Blue – 1300 224 636
Men’s Line – 1300 78 99 78
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Looking for more information about mental health and well-being? See these Glimmer articles.
cost of living, housing affordability biggest concerns among young people. https://headspace.org.au/our-organisation/media-releases/cost-of-living-housing-affordability-biggest-concerns-among-young-people/
Mounting research documents the harmful effects of social media use on mental health, including body image and development of eating disorders. https://theconversation.com/mounting-research-documents-the-harmful-effects-of-social-media-use-on-mental-health-including-body-image-and-development-of-eating-disorders-206170
National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing. https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/health/mental-health/national-study-mental-health-and-wellbeing/latest-release
World Mental Health Day. https://www.who.int/campaigns/world-mental-health-day