The state of youth mental health in Australia has become an election issue for voters, the majority of whom acknowledge that there are tens of thousands of young Australians with complex and serious mental ill-health who are unable to access the specialist care they need, a Galaxy YouGov poll has revealed.
The poll, commissioned by Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, surveyed 1869 Australian voters last month on their attitudes to youth mental health in Australia.
Three-quarters of voting age Australians believe mental health should be a top priority for the next Australian Government, highlighting the considerable work still to be done on this issue.
Although 88% of Australians believed that untreated mental ill-health could derail young people’s lives and lead to lifelong problems, less than one-third of Australians believed that young people with mental illness had good access to treatment, and only around one in 10 Australian voters were very confident that a young person with mental ill-health would be able to get the help they needed before it reached crisis point.
Professor Patrick McGorry, executive director of Orygen, said the poll results confirmed that mental health was a pivotal election issue for Australian voters, and that the mental wellbeing of Australia’s young people was of particular concern to voters.
“There is a rising tide of unmet need for mental health care for young people,” Professor McGorry said. “The 2019 Federal budget acted to respond to growing wait lists for headspace centres, which will help with better access, as will more centres. However, headspace is merely a primary care service, a front door, and the next Australian Government must move to cover the very large group of young Australians who can only be helped by desperately needed team-based specialist clinical services.
“These young people are too unwell for headspace but can’t access any other publicly funded mental health services.”
In Australia more than a quarter of mental health presentations to emergency departments are young people aged 15-24 years, Professor McGorry said. “These ‘avenues of last resort’ are not the place for young people to get the care they really need. They deserve better,” he said.
“These young people are losing their futures, and in a growing number of cases, many hundreds each year, their lives. It is devastating families, weakening our society and undermining our economy. This poll shows that Australians want to see the next Australian Government address the neglect that young people with complex and severe mental illness are experiencing.” Professor McGorry said.
“We call on Australia’s political parties to commit to building on the headspace network of services so these important services can then provide vital support and more specialised and quality mental health care for young people with more severe and complex mental health needs. This will enable these young people to recover and flourish and avoid lifelong health, social, education and employment failure.”
The polling also revealed:
- 88% of voters agreed that early intervention was preferable to waiting until a young person was extremely unwell before seeking treatment;
- 90% agreed that young people should be able to access timely treatment in their local communities rather than waiting for a life-threatening crisis that required emergency department admission; and
- 87% of voters polled agreed that young Australians should have ready access to community-based mental health care.
Read the full polling report here.