Common Mental Health Issues in Youth Across Australia
The mental health of children, teenagers, and young adults is supposed to lay a healthy foundation for their later years. However, common mental health issues in youth point the opposite direction: before the age of 25, young people are estimated to have experienced about 75% of mental health issues.
According to the headspace National Youth Mental Health Survey, rates of psychological distress remained high among Australian young people in 2021. It’s estimated that one in three (34%) of young people report high levels of distress. When left untreated, these issues may unfortunately damage the development of a number of indispensable skills, including social and communication skills.
A thorough understanding about youth mental health issues as well as how to approach a struggling teen or young adult is vital for their recovery. In this article, we’ll go over common mental health issues and their symptoms, as well as what causes them and how to solve them.
The 7 most common mental health issues in youth today
In Australia, around 20% of young people will have an episode of depression in a 12-month period.
A common cause of depression stems from the pressures of young years, such as getting good grades, getting a job, or fitting into a certain group of friends. The failure to achieve those things may result in feelings of worthlessness and sadness. However, there also may be a heritable factor involved.
Common symptoms of depression include:
- Lasting feelings of sadness.
- Crying spells.
- Loss of interest in daily and enjoyable activities.
- Changes in sleeping patterns.
Treatments may involve a combination of talk therapy (psychotherapy) and antidepressant medications under the supervision of a mental health professional.
One in 14 Australian children and young people aged 4 to 17 years experience an anxiety disorder of some kind.
A number of factors can lead up to anxiety in youth, such as barriers and high expectations set by family, peers, and teachers. Stressful or traumatic events and a person’s family history may also play a significant role in the escalation of anxious behaviour.
People learn to cope with emotions like stress and fear differently during their early years. The way they were taught to deal with those emotions as children, for instance, may interfere in how they deal with them throughout teenage years and early adulthood.
Common symptoms of anxiety include:
- Chronic worries about future events.
- Extreme worries about daily activities.
- Trouble focusing.
- Headaches and/or stomachaches.
- Withdrawal from social groups or activities.
For anxiety, cognitive-behaviour therapy (CBT) works particularly well. In more serious cases, a combination of CBT and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may yield better results. There are other medication alternatives that should be discussed with a mental health professional.
In Australia, ADHD affects approximately 281,200 children and adolescents aged 0 to 19.
Although the true root cause of ADHD remains unclear, the disorder appears to be a combination of the environment a child has grown up in – as well as their genetic predisposition to the disorder. According to KidsHealth, most young people with ADHD have a parent or relative who also suffers with it.
Common ADHD symptoms include:
- Impulsive behaviour.
- Constant fidgeting.
- Trouble focusing.
- Lack of organisation.
A combination of psychotherapy and stimulant medication, when suggested by a mental health professional, works effectively as an ADHD treatment.
Research from the Australian Institute of Health and Wellness shows that 26% of young people aged 15 to 24 reported having any long-term mental or behavioural issue. But that’s not all: genetic factors also play a role in behavioural problems other than ADHD.
However, behavioural conditions may also stem from external issues like family problems, trauma or abuse, and bullying at school.
Common symptoms of behavioural problems include:
- A tendency to be disrespectful towards parents and other family members.
- Explosive behaviour (violent and aggressive).
- Recurring mood swings.
- Talking back.
Until a root cause has been established for the behavioural issue in question, talk therapy can be helpful for patients to talk freely about one’s issues.
The Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing estimated that 2.4% of young people aged 11 to 17 reported having problematic eating behaviours. Despite their manifestation being through a bad relationship with food, eating disorders are still psychological disorders.
Teenagers and young adults are more at risk for this type of behaviour due to a number of causes. Body image dissatisfaction, often caused by a tendency to reach unachievable body “goals”, is one of them. Childhood trauma has also shown a strong link with eating disorders in later years, and other mental health issues like anxiety and depression may also overlap. Genetics may also play a role in the likelihood of someone developing a food-related disorder.
Common symptoms of eating disorders include:
- Meal skipping.
- Frequent weighing.
- Hair loss.
- Unusual eating habits, like binge eating.
Treatments may include psychotherapy, as well as enrolment in comprehensive eating disorders treatment programs.
The first episodes of psychosis often happen in a person’s late teens or early adult years, often in their late teens to mid-twenties. As an estimate, 1 in every 200 Australians will experience a psychotic illness each year.
Psychosis is an issue – a symptom, to be more specific – but it’s not an illness. It is, however, triggered by mental illnesses, physical injuries, extreme stress or trauma. Alcohol, drug abuse, and the use of certain medications may contribute to the occurrence of psychotic episodes. As a reminder, substance abuse could be a coping mechanism for other issues, like anxiety and depression.
Common symptoms of psychosis include:
- An inability to express emotions.
- Detached behaviour that seems far from reality.
- Withdrawal from friends and family.
- Difficulty maintaining meaningful relationships.
Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and antipsychotic medication may be the best course of treatment for young patients.
In 2020, The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) stated that young people aged 14 to 17 reported on suicidal thoughts and behaviours experienced in the previous 12 months. Approximately 17% of those young people had thought about taking their own life at some point.
There are several reasons that may result in suicidal ideation in youth. Some of them include but aren’t limited to: loss of an important person, child abuse, mental health disorders, family history of mental disorders, drug use, and exposure to family violence.
Common symptoms of suicidal ideation include:
- Withdrawal from social relationships.
- Talking/writing about suicide, phrases such as “I’d be better off dead”.
- An increase in alcohol or drug consumption.
- Becoming depressed.
Treatment options include hospitalisation and medical treatment for underlying mental disorders (such as major depression). A type of psychotherapy called dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) has shown to be effective in reducing suicide-related behavior in adults and adolescents.
A word on mental health issues in the LGBT community
The LGBT youth goes through issues that will, unfortunately, affect their mental health at a higher rate. They’re the main targets of discriminatory behaviour like homophobia, name-calling, and even physical violence, which makes them more susceptible to developing mental health issues.
It remains crucial that people learn about how the LGBT community can be affected by these problems, and what they can do to help. For more information read about the Mental Health Issues in LGBT Youth.
What resources are available to youth with mental health issues?
There are various support services available to young people with mental health issues. Only in Australia, there are several mental health organisations 100% focused on guiding youth toward a healthy recovery. To get instant contact to one or more of these organisations, visit our guide for youth mental health organisations.
How can Youth Mental Health First Aid help?
Common youth mental health issues include depression, anxiety, ADHD, eating disorders, behavioural problems, and suicidal thoughts. There often are more complex underlying causes to these issues, which can only be explored and treated with the help of a licensed mental health professional.
If not addressed early in life, youth mental health problems will manifest in all areas of adulthood. For this reason, adults must take action in order to learn and discuss these issues more freely and without stigma.
Programs like The Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) work with evidence-based strategies, and are essential in increasing the chances of an adolescent’s mental health improving in the long-term.
Enrol in a Youth Mental Health First Aid course today
The more comfortable a young person is with their mental health, the easier it will be for them to talk about it when something feels wrong. And the sooner they speak up, the sooner they’ll find the right treatment for them. With MHFA courses, their mental health issues will become easier to deal with. Not only for them, but for everyone who’s a part of their lives.