2. every young person needs
Good health, and recovery from illness or substance misuse
"There is a high level of youth suicide within my community, and aside from being destructive for the community I feel it represents only the 'tip of the iceberg' in relation to youth mental health issues."
"Create more opportunities for young people to discuss and learn about drugs and alcohol. Community perspective-health services, other young people. More information rather than fear and scare tactics."
– Young people from rural and regional Victoria
We want every young person to enjoy their best possible health. Every young person should be connected with things that help them to stay healthy, like sport, art, culture, and community life. If a young person has been unwell, or harmed by drugs or alcohol, they should have the right support to recover.
Right now, most young Victorians aren’t getting enough physical exercise, and many experience poor sexual health, including rising rates of sexually transmitted infections. But perhaps the biggest worry is mental health. Nearly 1 in 5 young Victorians show signs of depression, and a third describe feeling concerned about their body image. One in 10 young Australians have self-harmed.
Young people are leading the way in breaking down stigma about mental illness and encouraging each other to ask for help. But some communities simply don’t have health services that all young people can access, especially in rural areas, and not every school has the staff and resources to cope with their students’ wellbeing needs.
All young Victorians can access timely, effective mental health prevention.
First steps by 2020
Fund prevention initiatives to strengthen the mental health and wellbeing of groups of young people at elevated risk of mental illness, such as Aboriginal young people, young women, and young people with a history in the child protection system.
Fund prevention approaches which align with the 'megatrends' identified by CSIRO and VicHealth. These should be subject to expert evaluation.
Fund youth suicide prevention initiatives, including in rural and regional communities and Aboriginal communities. Interventions should meet local needs, respect local expertise, and strengthen local capacity. Effective interventions should be funded long term.
All schools support students to enjoy good mental health and recover from mental illness.
First steps by 2020
Ensure all secondary schools and flexible learning providers can access Teen and Youth Mental Health First Aid training. Training should be delivered through partnerships between education providers, local youth and health services, and Mental Health First Aid Australia.
Ensure all secondary-age students have access to wellbeing services, counsellors, trained youth workers, and Aboriginal and disability support staff, with an improved ratio of Student Support Services to students and increased resourcing to the Secondary School Nursing Program. Rural, regional and interface schools should be a priority.
Ensure all school wellbeing teams can access clinical supervision and secondary consultation, with a particular focus on rural, regional and interface areas.
Ensure all school staff can access high quality training in trauma-informed practice and mental health literacy, with support to embed these changes in their classrooms. Interventions should be relevant to the needs of each school, with resourcing in place to get the whole school community on board. (Short-term or one-off 'programs' should be avoided, as these are not sustainable and often lack whole-of-school commitment.)
Fund youth mental health promotion in communities with high rates of mental illness, self-harm or suicide per head of population, including in rural areas. Successful initiatives need strong local partnerships between schools and services, local ownership, strengthening of local expertise, and commitment to youth participation. (For example, these elements have been important to the Live4Life program in Macedon Ranges, Glenelg Shire and Benalla.) Initiatives should be evaluated by clinical experts, and, if successful, resourced long term.
All young people can access high-quality mental health care, wherever they live.
First steps by 2020
Fund a fully integrated youth mental health service system, ranging from early intervention to specialist care. Improved access for rural communities should be a priority. Services should be able to work flexibly, e.g. after hours or in non-clinical settings, according to the community’s needs.
Fully cover the costs of distance, travel and outreach in the design and funding of mental health services operating in rural and regional areas.
Build capacity of youth mental health services to be culturally competent, welcoming of all young people, engaged with families and communities, and informed by understanding of refugee experience, racism and trauma, as advised by the Centre for Multicultural Youth. Young people’s access to interpreters in mental health settings should also be strengthened.
Preserve and strengthen community-based mental health rehabilitation services, so they can continue to provide psychosocial supports, especially for people with mental illness who do not access the NDIS.
Ensure all young people with mental illness accessing the NDIS are supported to advocate for themselves, and can access high quality care in their local area.
Drug use by young people is treated as a health issue, and addressed through evidence-based treatment, education and prevention.
First steps by 2020
Ensure all secondary-age students have education about alcohol and other drugs (AOD) which is age-appropriate and accurate. Students should be engaged in the design of education models, which should also involve families, be relevant to young people’s lives, and address prevention, harm minimisation and help-seeking.
Extend youth AOD services to ensure all young people can access support, wherever they live. There should be a particular focus on rural communities, and funding models should fully cover the costs of rural service delivery.
Strengthen the cultural capacity of youth AOD services and detox services, and expand options for Aboriginal designed and controlled services on a healing model for young people. (Lessons could be taken from the Bujilwarra and Wulgunggo Ngalu models.) Focus on expanding access for rural and regional communities and young women.
Investigate the viability of running a drug-checking pilot at music and entertainment venues, with the aim of minimising drug-related harm. It should happen in partnership with Ambulance Victoria, DanceWize, Victoria Police and health services, and be informed by evidence from models overseas and interstate.
All young people have their physical and sexual health needs met, including through high quality education and access to appropriate services.
First steps by 2020
Expand opportunities for young people to take part in physical exercise, in partnership with sporting clubs, health providers and youth services. Focus on young people at higher risk of not taking part, such as young people with disability, young women, and young people on low incomes.
Improve health outcomes for young women by implementing the recommendations of Women’s Health Victoria. Priorities include enhancing young women’s health literacy, promoting positive body image, tackling objectification of girls and women, empowering young women to know their rights (including in health services), and working with young men to challenge abusive ideas about gender and promote respectful relationships. There should be a strong commitment to youth engagement throughout.
Provide sexual health education accessible to all secondary-age students, which is accurate, age-appropriate, relevant to the students' lives, and addresses issues affecting young people, including consent, respect, critical media skills, and coping with impacts of social media and pornography. Education models should be engaging and relevant to all students, including students with disability, students from culturally diverse backgrounds, and students who are same-sex attracted and/or sex or gender diverse.
Expand young people's access to generalist health care, for example through the Doctors in Secondary Schools program. There should be a focus on communities where young people face geographical isolation and/or financial disadvantage.
Resource local data collection about young people’s wellbeing, which is detailed, up-to-date, continuous, comparative, accessible and trustworthy. For example, some communities have used the Middle Years Development Index and Communities that Care.
How you can take action
Ask your local candidates these questions in the lead up to the 2018 state election:
1. What are their top priorities for improving young people’s mental and physical health?
2. What will their parties do to improve young people’s access to mental health services in rural, regional and interface communities?
3. Schools are under great pressure to protect students’ mental health and respond when students show signs of mental illness. How would your candidates support schools in relation to student mental health?
4. What sort of education do they think secondary students should be receiving about alcohol and other drugs?