‘Borne the brunt’: New report outlines COVID-19’s affect on young people

Affected: Sixty-nine per cent of Victoria’s young people said COVID-19 had affected their mental health. Photo by Megan Fisher

A new report released by Mission Australia and Orygen has brought attention to the impact of COVID-19 on young Australians in 2021.

In a survey of over 20,200 young Australians aged 15 to 19, 51% of those surveyed shared that COVID-19 had a negative impact on their mental health.

The survey indicated that Victoria was the state where COVID-19 had the greatest impact on youth mental health, with 69% of young Victorians stating that their mental health had been negatively affected. Approximately 4600 young Victorians were interviewed for the study.

Victoria also stood out relative to other states with respect to the percentage of young people who indicated that their participation in activities (78%), education (78%), physical health (63%) and friendships (48%) had been negatively impacted.

Across Australia, the negative impact on mental health was more widely reported among females (62%) and gender diverse young people (70%) compared to males (34%).

The report has drawn attention to the ongoing impact pandemic restrictions have had on younger community members.

“Over the past two years, young people have borne the brunt of the effects of COVID-19 and have faced a multitude of unique challenges,” Orygen senior research fellow Dr Kate Filia said.

“For those who reported more areas of their lives adversely impacted by COVID-19, a greater severity of psychological distress was experienced.

“We also saw this leading to increased rates of stress, loneliness and a perceived loss of control over their lives for these groups of young people.”

Mission Australia executive for practice, evidence and impact Marion Bennett has called for additional assistance for “young people whose mental health and wellbeing have been affected by the pandemic”.

“We need to increase access to mental health services, improve mental health screening and supports offered through schools and workplaces,” she said.

“It’s also vital we ensure that young people at risk of homelessness are identified early and have access to evidence-based housing and support models such as youth foyers when they need them.”

In the report, the Victorian Government was praised for achieving its goal of having state-funded mental health practitioners in all government and specialist secondary schools. The report called for all states and territories to follow this model.

Despite the report’s thumbs up for the state government’s program, opposition mental heath spokesperson Emma Kealy has honed in on what she has identified as $60 million in cuts, following the cessation of the Mental Health and Wellbeing Coronavirus Response Package.

“There’s growing evidence the impact of six Labor lockdowns is still very much being felt, by all Victorians,” Ms Kealy said.

“Remote learning was devastating for the education and the emotional wellbeing of our kids. This report today reaffirms what we already know – that our kids are suffering and they still need dedicated supports now, more than ever.

“It’s exactly the wrong time for the Andrews Labor Government to carve $60 million from programs that were boosted to deal with the devastating mental toll of lockdown.”

An analysis of the most recent budget indicates that the Department of Health’s funding for clinical mental health will increase by over $400 million. However, the funding allocated for community support services appears to have reduced by $18 million.

The Victorian Government has been contacted for comment.

If this article has raised concerns for you or someone who you know, the following services are available: Lifeline 13 11 14 and Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.