You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Nearly 1 in 4 teens meet criteria for 'probable serious mental illness': Mission Australia report

ABC News logo ABC News 19/04/2017 Mazoe Ford

Bex Vandersluis, 19, was diagnosed with depression and anxiety as a child, then PTSD. © ABC News/Mazoe Ford Bex Vandersluis, 19, was diagnosed with depression and anxiety as a child, then PTSD. Nearly 1 in 4 Australian teenagers meet the criteria for having a "probable serious mental illness", a joint report from Mission Australia and the Black Dog Institute has found.

The Five Year Mental Health Youth Report presented findings from the past five Mission Australia youth surveys, during which thousands of adolescents answered questions on several topics, including mental health.

The report found that there are more people in the 15-to-19 age category in psychological distress than there were five years ago.

It also found girls were "twice as likely as boys to meet the criteria for having a probable serious mental illness", and almost a third of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander respondents met that criteria, compared with 22.2 per cent for non-Indigenous youth.

Mission Australia chief executive Catherine Yeomans said the results were "alarming".

"The effects of mental illness at such a young age can be debilitating and incredibly harmful to an individual's quality of life, academic achievement, and social participation both in the short term and long term," Ms Yeomans said.

"Their main concerns are coping with stress, school and study problems, coping with depression and anxiety, and body image."

Black Dog Institute director Helen Christensen said because adolescence was a time of great change, teenagers needed lots of support.

"I think [the report findings] are considerably disturbing, and I think it speaks to the fact that perhaps [Australia] is not doing enough for young people as they go through adolescence," Professor Christensen said.

"You can get some people who experience something more serious than the usual angst that most people go through when they're growing up, and because of vulnerability, past traumas, or a number of other factors they're kind of propelled into a deeper and more frightening space."

Inside 'you feel a bit dead': teen

Bex wants to become a prosthetic makeup artist and mental health group advocate. © Bex Vandersluis/ABC News Bex wants to become a prosthetic makeup artist and mental health group advocate. Bex Vandersluis, 19, had a difficult upbringing during which she was shuffled between relatives' homes, guardians' homes and youth refuges.

She was diagnosed with depression and anxiety as a child and then post-traumatic stress disorder and disassociation as a 15-year-old.

"I don't really know what it's like now to live without depression and anxiety," Miss Vandersluis told ABC News.

"To the world you look like you're OK, you have a face full of make-up and a smile on your face, you don't look like you're sad, but inside you feel a bit dead."

Despite various interruptions to her education, Miss Vandersluis graduated from high school and is now completing an art course.

She eventually wants to become a prosthetic makeup artist and an advocate for mental health organisations.

"There's no reason to be ashamed of feeling hurt, scared, angry, or frustrated over anything because everyone copes with things in different ways," she said.

"If I can help one person by telling my story, that's what I want to do."

More young people turning to the internet for support

The report revealed that teenagers were increasingly turning to the internet to help them deal with their troubles.

"This might signal that we have a way to go to reduce the stigma of mental health issues, [because] young people are not prepared to admit they have a problem, so they're looking for the anonymity of researching on the internet to try and seek help," Ms Yeomans said.

"What we need to make sure is that when young people go to the internet they actually can find evidence-based, self-help tools and ways to refer to help and get the support they need."

Above that, Mission Australia and the Black Dog Institute are calling for specifically funded, mental health programs in all Australian high schools.

"If we don't do anything we should expect these results to just continue to increase, so we need more early intervention and prevention resources for young people," Ms Yeomans said.

Professor Christensen said "schools are the perfect place to start making changes".

"At the moment we have a mixed bag of different programs that are offered throughout schools, [but] we think there should be a much more evidence-based, strategic approach to reducing depression and anxiety," she added.

Miss Vandersluis agreed that schools "need more awareness of what mental illness looks like and how to help".

"If people know how to recognise it and what to do in those situations we can stop the old way of keeping mental health behind closed doors, like we should be ashamed to feel bad. We shouldn't."

If you or anyone you know needs help:

* 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

* Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36

* Headspace on 1800 650 890

More From ABC News

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon