We need to have more conversations with young people about mental health.

In the 2017 Mission Australia Youth Survey Report, mental health was rated by young people as the most important issue affecting Australia today [1]. While the majority of young people reported feeling optimistic about the future, they also saw mental health as one of the major barriers to achieving their work and study goals.

Issues like anxiety, depression and substance misuse can have a devastating effect on individuals and communities, and if not addressed early, can impact on a young person’s ability to work, socialise and function throughout their life.

Of the people who experience a mental health disorder in their lifetime, half of those will start having problems before the age of 14 [2]. Early detection and intervention are therefore vital to improving the wellbeing of young people who are struggling, preventing the tragedy of suicide, and helping them to flourish in the future [3].

But despite this, most young people don’t seek professional help to manage their mental health [4]. And those who are in most need of support are the least likely to seek it.

October is NSW Mental Health Month, so we’re taking some time to talk about what schools can do to support students who are struggling.

 

Why aren’t young people asking for help?

One of the biggest reasons young people don’t seek professional help is stigma. One type of stigma is the actual or perceived prejudice directed towards people with mental health problems in the community [5]. But according to Dr Claire Kelly, Manager of Youth Programs at Mental Health First Aid Australia, self-stigma can be a bigger barrier for young people when it comes to accessing support. Self-stigma is the internalisation of negative attitudes and beliefs about mental health issues by those who are experiencing them, and has a negative impact on self-efficacy and self-esteem.

Another major barrier to help-seeking is poor mental health literacy [5]. Young people often have difficulty understanding their psychological distress and knowing whether or not their experience is ‘normal’. They may be unsure whether they’re in need of professional support, and may feel confused and i