Females aged between 15 and 17 are almost twice as likely as young males to have a mental illness, according to a report released this week.
The latest Youth Survey Mental Health Report 2015, conducted by the Black Dog Institute and Mission Australia, has found that 26 per cent of girls aged 15 to 17 had a level of psychological distress that indicated a probable serious mental illness, compared with 13.9 per cent of boys.
Sydney student Carmen, who has asked to remain anonymous, was clinically diagnosed with depression at the age of 14, a year after she migrated to Australia.
“When I first started my schooling in Australia I had a very heavy accent and that was a target on my back, and people used to physically beat me up because of my origin,” she said.
“It got to a point where I wouldn’t even want to get out of bed because I was afraid of what was going to happen as soon as I walked out of the house.”
Carmen said she suffered from depression for three-and-a-half years.
“When I was 16 it turned into suicidal tendencies, and the rest of the time I was basically in and out of hospital… academically I did suffer,” she said.
Carmen was able to overcome her mental health issue with counselling and family support.
“A few weeks before I turned 18 I finally managed to kick it,” she said. “The late teenage years can be a tough time for girls, especially with peer pressure and academic expectations.”
Mental health and the connection between school and study
The report found school was a significant stress factor for many young people, because of the strong emphasis on final examinations and academic outcomes which often led to symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress outside the normal range.
“These are really concerning results for young women and it’s not just typical teenage angst, we are talking probable serious mental illness,” a spokesperson for Mission Australia told The Newsroom.
Coping with stress and school or study problems were the top two stressors among both females and males, but more than 70 per cent of females were either very or extremely concerned about school or study problems compared to 52 per cent of males.
“[The] research suggests there are several factors … that have been shown to impact them [young women] more than young men, increasing family breakdown, school and study pressures and pressure around appearance,” the Mission Australia spokesperson said.
In 2014, 64.2 per cent of young people, both male and female, said they were either very or extremely concerned about school or study problems, an increase from 58.4 per cent in 2012.
According to the report half of all lifetime mental health disorders emerge by the age of 14, and three quarters will emerge by the time a person is 24, but access to mental health services for this age group is amongst the poorest.
“We need to make mental health promotion and prevention programs available on the tools that young people are most comfortable with; their mobile phones, tablets and computers. However, it is imperative that these tools are evidence based and effective as well as easily accessible,” the spokesperson said.
The federal government is expected to hand down its response to a national mental health review at the end of the year, and Mission Australia is urging the government to take the findings in the latest report into account.
“We urge the government to consider the findings from the report, as they relate to young people’s mental health, as they form the response to the mental health review,” the spokesperson said. – Daniel Walker
Top photo from Ben Atkinson-James