One in five young people in Australia experience mental health issues and half of mental health conditions will develop by the age of 14, the age that myself and many of my friends are. Devastatingly, one in 10 young people self-harm and one in 40 attempt suicide, with suicide continuing to be the leading cause of death for youth.
While these statistics are already tragic enough, what has exacerbated issues among young people is undoubtedly the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of youth. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, “young people have experienced high rates of psychological distress as a result of the pandemic.”
Another risk factor is that 91% of vulnerable youth are on platforms such as Instagram and TikTok, with the prevalence of toxic and often triggering social media content. Research has shown that social media has accounted for higher rates of depression, anxiety and low self-esteem, among teenagers.
Not only are young people at large affected by mental health issues, young people from CALD or migrant/refugee communities are at a unique risk. Trauma, language barriers and discrimination can affect the mental health of these communities.
Research has found that, “More frequent experiences of racial discrimination were related to increased psychological distress.” These experiences of racism contribute negatively to mental health, however, despite the prominence of mentally ill health among multicultural communities, help is not accessible, with language and cultural barriers.
Seeking help is frowned upon, especially among my Arab Muslim community. I see culture and faith manipulated to antagonise sufferers of mental illness and delegitimise their conditions.
An example of the lived experiences of young people from my community, is the story of Lina, who is a young muslim woman who was brave enough recently write in the ABC, regarding her journey of ‘separating mental health struggles from her ‘worth’ as a Muslim.’ Struggling with self-harm, stress and attempted suicide for several years, she was told that her mentally ill health was somehow her fault.
The situation is obviously concerning, however, there are ways to build a better world from the standpoint of mental health. We need a greater focus on the mental health of young people in multicultural communities, with better access to culturally appropriate services.
Another solution that is necessary, is for young people to take the lead in discussions around mental health. Young people need to be at the table when it comes to shaping changes that will affect youth.
On a more micro level, what we can all do is be more careful with our language regarding mental health in front of young people. We need to lead by example for the next generation, to equip them with empathy and ensure they have the right perception of mental health.
With the young people in our lives, we need to listen to their concerns and make them feel safe and supported. The issue is dire but together we can change it.