The amount of young Australians being prescribed antidepressants and other powerful medications to deal with mental health issues has increased significantly over the past few years.
Researchers from Sydney University found that the amount of children aged between 10 and 14 who were prescribed antidepressants increased by more than a third from 2009-2012.
Their research, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, also found that use of anti-psychotic medications rose by almost 50 per cent.
The authors of the study pointed out the likely “over-medication” of persons with “mild psychological distress” is concerning, as is the use of powerful medications in young people, despite the uncertainty of risk-benefit profiles. In other words, it’s unclear whether the benefits of these powerful medications actually outweigh the risks in terms of side effects, yet more and more young Australians are taking them.
Why all the meds?
Mental illness has been increasing in young Australians for some time, and a new report from Mission Australia in partnership with the Black Dog Institute, titled the “Youth Mental Health Report”, found one in five are dealing with a serious mental illness.
Young women are almost twice as likely as young men to be experiencing mental illness — yet less than 40 per cent of young people were actually comfortable asking for help from a health professional.
Mission Australia CEO, Catherine Yeomans, said the findings highlight the increasing vulnerability of Australian youth and the need for greater support to help them on their journey into adulthood.
“The confronting findings in this report illustrate the significant challenges many of our young people are facing when it comes to psychological distress and mental health issues,” Yeomans said.
What can we do?
Professor Helen Christensen, director of the Black Dog Institute, wants to get people talking about the issues facing young Australians.
“We need to teach appropriate mental health strategies and awareness in schools, just like we teach English, maths and science. We also need to provide quality support and advice via channels that they are comfortable approaching. Finally, the community as a whole needs to acknowledge this problem and start the right conversations,” she said.
A safe and stable home, a school environment that fosters positive social connections and genuine opportunities for education and training are the key steps that young people can take to achieve wellbeing, according to NSW Mental Health Commissioner, John Feneley.
Parents, schools, community leaders and service providers need to listen to what young people say about what supports work for them and why, and to act on that advice by ensuring more young people are provided with the right supports sooner.
According to the report, there are many steps to take to address the increase in mental health issues, including:
- Targeting mental health in schools through awareness and early intervention programs
- Promoting peer education and support
- Reducing stigma that may prevent help-seeking behaviour in young people
- A whole of community focus on prevention and early intervention
- Use of online initiatives to improve access, appeal and affordability of mental health services
- Ensuring culturally-appropriate service delivery, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
If any young person you know is in need of support, contact the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or visit beyondblue.com.au.