One quarter of young people in Australia experience a mental health problem at some point in their life, yet 50 per cent of those do not seek help.
Getting through your teens and twenties can be tough. Exams, school bullies, work pressures, body changes, relationship dramas, and sex are just some of the stresses young people face every day.
However, there is a big difference between “feeling blue” and being clinically ill. A mental illness is a behavioural or mental pattern that can cause suffering or poor ability to function in ordinary life.
Many people deny experiencing a mental illness. This is because our society treats mental health conditions like the plague and we are too scared to admit that we might be suffering from one.
If you are feeling anxious 24/7, or your Monday blues stay ‘til Sunday, or you are not eating because you do not look like Kendall Jenner, then maybe you should speak to someone.
And if you do suffer from a mental illness, you are one of 10.4 million Australians who experience a mental disorder at some stage in their life.
Gina James, Monash University student, was told by her Psychologist that “a lot of people have this, you’re not special. And that’s a scary thing.”
In the US, seeing a Psychologist is about as normal as going to the gym. So if almost half of Australians experience mental ill health at some point in their life, why is seeing a Psychologist still taboo? We take care of our physical health and we should be taking care of our mental health too.
3.4 million Australians experience depression or anxiety and 50 per cent of those people do not seek support. Seeking support is crucial to identifying problems affecting your life and moving past them.
Headspace Youth Community Development and Group Worker, Andrew Gardiner, says “it is important to seek help early on and not get to a point where it overwhelms your life.”
Headspace is a National Youth Mental Health Foundation providing early intervention mental health services to 12-25 year olds. It is a free program, designed to be easily accessible for young people experiencing problems affecting their wellbeing, whether mental, physical, social, or alcohol- and drug-related.
Kate Smith*, Monash University Student, started experiencing anxiety when she was 12, with a general fear of public speaking, which later escalated to a point where she struggled going to University and parties, and became depressed.
“These feelings of anxiety evolved to the point where I could hardly step foot in a tutorial or lecture theatre without freaking out or becoming very uncomfortable. Those week one introduction games were one of my worst fears, and having to sit exams or group projects became and still seem to be a level of hell.”
Mental illness is not just depression and anxiety, though these are more common. Other mental illnesses affecting our youth include eating disorders, mood disorders, insomnia and addiction.
Gina was diagnosed with major panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) last year. She says, “there is an inconvenience to it – you’re trying to live your life but you can’t”.
“My diagnosis made it real, and was almost a relief. The anxiety and depression I had previously felt made me feel defeated. But being diagnosed made me realize I’m not crazy and I’m not a loser.”
“It sucks to be afraid of your own brain”.
Kate and Gina are still seeing Psychologists and now living comfortably with the support of their friends and family.
Tom Mills*, Monash University Student, suffered from anorexia in high school and lost 25kg because he wanted to be skinny. Like most males, he found it difficult to seek help because of the ‘blokey’ culture that exists in Australia. “I found it very hard, being a male, to come to terms with what [anorexia] was. The stigma around it being a female-only issue made me feel trapped and ashamed to ask for help.” Tom is still conscious of what he eats but is now at a healthy weight, and never saw a Psychologist.
Women are more likely than men to use services for mental health problems, but that does not mean men experience them any less. “Young men have just as much if not more problems than young women”, says Andrew. “Men are taught that they shouldn’t cry and show feelings. Being seen as a weakling can be a barrier for young men seeking help.”
Anyone and everyone can develop a mental illness. No one is immune to experiencing mental ill health. Most people who do seek appropriate help and treatment are able to recover well and live a full life.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) tells us that depression will be a greater threat to today’s youths than any other disease by the time they reach 30. Many young people flourish despite society’s influence. However, many young people are unaware or indifferent to what the WHO predicts will be a depression epidemic by 2030.
We do not like to talk about mental health in Australia. But for the sake of our health, we should.
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide and you are in Australia, call:
- Emergency on 000 (or 112 from a mobile phone)
- Lifeline on 13 11 14
- Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
- MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
- Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
*Name changed for privacy reasons.