Conservative estimates suggest that up to 15% of Australian high school students will experience some form of mental health problem before they complete year 12, according to Dr Adrian Tomyn, from the Department of Psychology at RMIT.
“This risk is heightened for young people experiencing social and economic disadvantage and other barriers to successful engagement with education and post-secondary training,” he writes in a report released this week. Dr Tomyn says these risks might manifest as behavioural problems, drug and alcohol problems, inadequate family support, disability, homelessness and caregiving responsibilities.
Dr Tomyn’s report surveyed more than 23,000 ‘at risk’ young Australians and examined the happiness levels of young people aged 12-19 who were participants in the Federal Education department’s Youth Connections Program which provides support for ‘at risk’ young people across Australia.
“The findings support the importance of the three corners of the ‘Golden Triangle’ of happiness - supportive relationships, money and having a sense of meaning and accomplishment in life,” he said.
"Disadvantaged young people tend to have significantly lower levels of overall happiness than the average young Australian, largely due to lower scores on ‘Standard of Living’ and ‘Achieving in Life'," he said.
"But they tend to score no differently to average teens on ‘Relationships’ and this seems to be a crucial factor that supports happiness and prevents further loss to wellbeing in the face of adversity.
"Friends and family are among the most important protective ‘buffers’ for mental health – they act as vital sources of comfort, reassurance and support during difficult times.
"People low on social resources are at high risk for depression when faced with a personal crisis, so the fact many of these ‘at-risk’ young people have strong social support networks is crucial for their current state of mind and future wellbeing."
Other findings include:
- about one-quarter of ‘at risk’ teens have a suspected or diagnosed mental health issue, which is compromising their participation in education
- happiness decreases with increasing levels of youth disengagement, with those out of education or employment at very high-risk for low personal wellbeing and depression.
Dr Tomyn says that the Youth Connections program helps young people to “reconnect” with positive life choices in education and employment.
“This provides them with the greatest opportunity to build successful, secure, fulfilling and happy futures for themselves and their families.”