A new ANU study has found the proportion of 18 to 24-year-olds experiencing severe psychological stress increased from 14% in February 2017 to 22.3% in April 2020.

Young Australians’ mental health has taken a turn under the COVID-19 pandemic with those under 35 experiencing a spike in “severe psychological distress”, according to the Australian National University (ANU).

A study from the ANU tracked 3,155 Australians before and during the pandemic, with the proportion of 18 to 24-year-olds experiencing severe psychological stress increasing from 14% in February 2017 to 22.3% in April 2020. The figures for adults between 25 and 34 increased from 11.5% to 18% in that same period.

Associate Professor Ben Edwards, from the ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods, said young Australians are “significantly worse off in terms of mental health than those who are older”. He put that down to reductions in employment opportunities and the lack of the ‘financial buffer’ that older generations have had time to establish.

“While the benefits of social distancing and lockdown have been large largely to do with physical health, the downside has been the impacts on young people’s mental health,” he said.

“This will have a long-lasting impact on young people’s lives. We need to consider what we can do to address the needs of our youth.”

The study is the first of its kind to measure mental health data before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Canberra Weekly has contacted youth mental organisation, headspace, for comment on the ANU’s findings and is awaiting a response.

Locally, the ACT Government is looking into the issue of youth mental health more broadly. The Standing Committee on Education, Employment and Youth Affairs will hold its second public hearing for the Inquiry into Youth Mental Health today, Tuesday 2 June.

The committee chair, Michael Pettersson MLA, said the Committee has reopened the submission process until Friday 19 June, due to the “powerful evidence” received at the first hearing.

“Hearing directly from individuals and families impacted by youth mental illness is invaluable to the Inquiry process,” he said.

“It is these on-the-ground accounts that allow the Committee to understand the gaps and areas for potential improvement in the system.”

For more information on the Inquiry or on making a submission, visit the Legislative Assembly website.

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with mental health, these services provide support:

  • Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800
  • Lifeline: 13 11 14
  • Headspace: 1800 650 890 or www.headspace.org.au
  • Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636

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