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Good health, and recovery from illness or substance misuse

We want all young people to enjoy good mental, physical and sexual health, supported by education and services which are age-appropriate, effective and accessible.

Young people name alcohol and drugs and mental health (with discrimination) as the most important issues facing Australia.

Young people are leading the way in breaking down stigma about mental health, but their own health continues to be at risk. Young Victorians describe their most common problem as coping with stress. Nearly 1 in 5 Victorian secondary students show signs of depression, and one third report concerns about body image. One in 10 young Australians have self-harmed.

Treating mental illness is not enough. We must plan for good mental health, which, according to headspace, includes “being able to work and study to your full potential, cope with day-to-day life stresses, be involved in your community, and live your life in a free and satisfying way.”

We encourage preventative work aligned with the five “megatrends” identified by the CSIRO and VicHealth as shaping young people’s mental wellbeing: the competitive nature of employment, the impacts of technology and globalisation, the growing diversity of Australian society, overexposure online, and improved understanding of mental illness.

In particular, we must build strong communities around young people who face elevated risks of poor mental health. Often this is linked to discrimination, societal pressures, or abuse. For example, young women are twice as likely as young men to show signs of poor mental health, and to worry about stress, depression, body image, and study. Young women are hospitalised for self-harm at four times the rate of their male peers. Meanwhile, Aboriginal young people – living with the impacts of dispossession, racism, trauma and loss – are less likely than their peers to feel positive about life and five times as likely to self-harm.

We need services and schools which can meet young people’s wellbeing needs. Right now, not all schools have enough qualified, supported staff, and not all communities have accessible local services. In rural areas, especially, this is a problem. Services tend to be concentrated in cities and regional centres, and rural outreach is often scarce, even by services which aim for widespread coverage.

Concerns are also being raised about unintended impacts of the NDIS. Young people may struggle with the NDIS requirement to have their mental illness classed as a permanent disability; it’s important they are supported to advocate for themselves, especially if they have multiple health issues. Meanwhile, there are grave fears about the redirection of all funding from community-based mental health services into the NDIS. It’s estimated that 90% of Victorians with severe mental illness won’t receive NDIS coverage.

The alcohol and other drug (AOD) space is also important. Nearly 30% of Victorians in their 20s used an illicit drug in the past year. Most young people  will ‘grow out of’ this period of experimentation, but some face high risks, including addiction. The 2018 Victorian parliamentary Inquiry into Drug Law Reform articulated the need for better drug education, more rural and regional services, and harm minimisation approaches at music and entertainment venues.

Other priorities for strengthening young people’s health include: