THEY’RE healthier, better educated and more connected to a world of opportunity, but this generation’s teenagers are more depressed than ever.
Mission Australia’s latest annual analysis found 22.8 per cent of Australians aged 15 to 19 exhibited symptoms of a serious psychological issue, up from 18.7 per cent in 2011.
“We’re talking about an alarming number of young people facing serious mental illness, often in silence,” Mission Australia boss Catherine Yeomans said.
Beyond Blue reports suicide as the biggest killer of young Aussies — more so than road accidents.
In 2015, 391 people aged 15 to 24 died by suicide compared with 290 a decade earlier.
Experts say a cocktail of unique modern stressors, dwindling socialisation and non-stop exposure to the planet’s many problems plays a big part in growing illness rates.
Daniel Hermens, a psychologist and researcher at Sydney University’s Brain and Mind Centre, said 15-to-25-year-olds had the most significant mental illness burden — and it was getting worse.
“Young people have better awareness and are intervening earlier to seek treatment, but that’s not the entire reason for the increase,” Dr Hermens said.
“It’s the social pressures we see — cost of living, world affairs … a fall in socialisation ironically driven by social media. It’s new or different types of stress, and substance abuse remains an issue.”
Teens across the board are struggling, and young men are still more prone to suicide, but girls are twice as likely to be in “severe psychological distress”, Mission Australia found.
In 2016, 28.6 per cent of young women showed signs of severe mental illness, up 6 per cent in five years.
Youth Focus ambassador Jared Stone said although rates of depression among young people were high, he didn’t think today’s generation struggled more than young people did in the past.
“The society we have been brought up in is far more accepting than we have ever been about talking about and discussing mental health issues in the community and in society,” the 25-year-old said.
“My generation feels more free to talk about it than generations gone by. In generations gone by the rhetoric was ‘suck it up and get on with it’.”
Mr Stone, who won Australian Apprentice of the Year in 2015 for his work with Western Power and plays drums in local band Sail On! Sail On!, speaks openly about his struggles with depression as a teenager.
“I struggled for a while growing up and went through a rough patch as a teenager and I was fortunate enough to have a great support network and people around me, so I was fortunate in that regard and not everyone is,” he said.
Studies in the US have found a significant uptick in mental illness rates occurred in the social media boom.
Far from just an exercise in vanity, teens saw Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook as part of their identity, Dr Hermens explained, and compared themselves to peers online.
“But they’re seeing a false version of others,” he said.
Australian schools have taken a proactive approach. A 2014 University of WA report found that in 40 per cent of cases, a school staff member was the first to suggest a struggling young person sought help.
If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or lifeline.org.au