Supporting Psychological Distress in Young People


Before we can help young people with their mental health concerns, we need to listen to what they are saying. One of the first things that we request of participants in Youth Mental Health First Aid is to guess what young people listed as their top concerns. When Surf Coast Youth Shire conducted their survey, no one expected that young people would list mental health as one of the top three concerns.

With that context, even more data has recently emerged to suggest that young people are crying out for help. The ABC program Behind the News is an adolescent friendly news program that recently quizzed 47,000 viewers on what caused them to worry. The results were collated into an interactive chart.

What are the major concerns of young people?

When given a list of worries, respondents overwhelmingly listed “the future” and “your body” as major concerns. Rates were similar across teenager girls and boys, but boys had higher rates of distress over body image than girls. Concerns about body image and spiked at the age 14-16, with worries about the future taking prevalence at age 18.

These concerns are especially worrying with Headspace’sfindings that low self esteem can lead to unhealthy behaviours such as withdrawing from friends and family, excessive dieting and substance abuse. Respondents were then asked if there was anything they would change about themselves or their lives. Once again, body image was the major concern, with 40% of 18 year old boys and 60% of 15 year old girls saying they would change their bodies. Disturbingly, children as young as 6 years old indicated that they had a problem with their bodies.

Who do young people turn to in times of distress?

The ABC’s findings were rather alarming. As we can see in the graph below, less than 30% of adolescents said they would turn to a support service when they were feeling worried or stressed. On top of this already concerning data, 30-45% of adolescents aged 14-18 said they would not turn to anyone in times of distress.

Although a majority of youths aged 6-14 indicated they would turn to a parent, that number drops sharply at age 16 for both boys and girls. Teenage girls responded that they were more likely to seek help from their friends. Meanwhile, 20-30% of adolescents would seek help from another relative, and 25% would turn to a teacher for support. These results reveal that even though young people are experiencing a high level of psychological distress, there are few places they feel they can turn to when they are in need of help.

What can we do to help?

If you are concerned that a friend or family member may be experiencing issues with their body image, there are a few ways that you can support them. You can read more about self esteem and the warning signs of issues with body image at Headspace. In more severe cases of body image, professional help may need to be sought. This assistance can be provided by general practitioners, school counsellors, psychologists and specialist mental health workers.

Finally, we encourage anyone with a young person in their lives – whether this is through family, work, or frontline work – to participate in Youth Mental Health First Aid. You can empower yourself with the skills, knowledge and resources to act as a first responder in the event of a mental health concern or crisis. Find out more and book your place in YMHFAat Hero Town Geelong.

Steph Downing
Stephanie Downing is the administrative assistant for Hero Town Geelong. Born and raised in Geelong, Australia, Stephanie is a graduate of Deakin University with her Honours degree in Professional and Creative Writing. She adores words of all sorts and is especially infatuated with the medium of poetry and fiction, with publications of her work being featured in magazines such as WORDLY Magazine, Plumwood Mountain Journal and Cordite Poetry Review.
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