Youth Mental Health

Thank you, Madam Speaker. Last week was National Mental Health Week, and yesterday we received a report that gives us some sense of that young people in our territory are facing. For example, of the 351 young Canberrans surveyed, one-quarter reported experiencing psychological distress. Figures were higher for females, at 33 per cent, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, at 43 per cent.[1]

I worry about the wellbeing of these youths and want to see them receive whatever help they need. Unfortunately, this can be difficult in the ACT. Seeing a counsellor at Headspace or even at school often requires months on a waiting list. The Adolescent and Young Adult Mental Health Inpatient Unit that Labor promised would be up and running by 2016 hasn’t been delivered at all. I have previously spoken about parents needing to take their children to Sydney and even to Melbourne in order to access specialist mental services. These gaps in service provision and long waiting lists can discourage youth from seeking help, but today I want to encourage young people not to give up.

I know that it can be difficult to open up and tell someone what you are feeling, but it is important to do so. You may be worried that people will judge you. I can’t promise you that some won’t, but I am confident that there are people all around you who won’t. Talk to a trusted friend. Talk to a parent or other family member. Talk to a teacher at school or to a faith leader at your church, temple, mosque or synagogue. If you don’t find the right person to confide in at first, do not give up. Keep looking. Keep reaching out. There will be someone who will listen to you.

Even when you have the courage, it can be difficult to start the conversation. Just tell someone that you’re not feeling OK and want to talk about it. You may lack the words to accurately describe what you are feeling. That’s normal. Your own understanding of the situation will often improve and become much clearer as you start discussing it. That happens to everybody. You will learn more about yourself as you go.

Remember too that you are not alone. As I mentioned earlier, one-quarter of all young people aged 15 to 19 in the ACT report experiencing psychological distress. For some age groups, the figure is closer to half.[2] It can be really scary to think that no one else is experiencing what you are, that there is something uniquely wrong with you. I want to assure you that you’re normal. Many of your peers are experiencing the same things right now, and many of us adults have experienced and/or still experience them too.

In addition, I ask that all young people, regardless of their personal situations, try to be a real friend. Be the sort of friend someone else can trust. If someone starts talking to you about a problem, don’t panic. You don’t need to know what to say. Just listen. Be kind. Treat the other person the way you would wish to be treated. If you need advice about how to help a friend, ask for it. We are all in this together.

I look forward to seeing the Youth Aware of Mental Health program being introduced into Canberra schools in 2020. The federal Liberal government is making this program available as part of its $500 million commitment to young Australians and their families. This program will teach you how to better help yourselves and each other. Please take it seriously. And in the meantime, please don’t be discouraged. Speak up, seek help, and when you can, be the help that someone else needs. You are important to us. Thank you.

[1] S. Hall, J. Fildes, B Perrens, J. Plummer, E. Carlisle, N. Cockayne, and A. Werner-Seidler, ‘Can We Talk? Seven Year Youth Mental Health Report 2012–2018’, Mission Australia, 2019, pp. 83–86.

[2] Ibid., p. 85.

#Youth #Community #Family #Children #Adjournment

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