“Young people are the generation that are on the threshold of leadership.” Keeping youth mental health in the spotlight

By · 23 August, 2020 · Blog, Features, Interviews

Sometimes, opening up can be difficult – especially in the midst of a global pandemic.

Approaching the subject with a positive, empowerment stance can make all the difference.

“I think that young people are already resilient,” says Professor Patrick McGorry, Executive Director of Orygen, Professor of Youth Mental Health at the University of Melbourne, and a Founding Director of the National Youth Mental Health Foundation.

Young people were “already lacking a sense of security before COVID 19 as a group. As a cohort, things like climate change, casualisation of the workforce, and levels of anxiety and stress generally were all there before. All of those things have created a perfect storm, plus the fact they couldn’t get the same person to person support from their friends and peer groups; it’s very important to young people, especially the peer group… Now on top of that, they’re going to have to bear the main stress of the recession in terms of economics and unemployment levels.”

Yet, despite this – McGorry believes that the only way to turn that around is “a grassroots process of young people showing leadership and advocating for their own needs to be met. I just think that’s the way to respond. Young people themselves need to speak up”.

McGorry explains that at Orygen, “we have youth advisory groups in all aspects of our services and research… we involve young people in everything we do” including “online digital programs that have been developed with young people like e-Orygen,” an online social community.

Findings from the 2019 UN Youth Representative Report revealed that mental health was the third most raised issue on the 2019 Youth Representative survey. As in previous years, it was also raised frequently in consultations across the country, particularly the availability of mental health services across Australia and the ongoing stigma still present.

Never spoken about mental health? Be somewhat clever in your approach. “Many of them have faced challenges before, I think they have coping skills. A lot of the things that people use to cope like exercise, sports, music, the arts, all of those things have basically been curtailed a lot. The usual ways people deal with stress and threats to their confidence have been cut off and unavailable.”

Instead, young people can “divert it into other activities, maybe learning a language or developing new skills, and limit the amount of time you’re exposed to the bad news”.

Most important, he notes: “already, we are coming out of it. That’s definitely a source of hope. Taking one day at a time, not thinking too far ahead. Try to live for the moment a bit more. It’s not the end of the world.”

“It sounds a bit trivial to say this but it’s just a pandemic, it will pass. You look at previous disasters or crises, the world has always recovered. You’ve got to believe in the human spirit that we can overcome these things – and we always do.  We’ve got more technology and knowledge now that we’ve ever had in human history. Try to grab onto the beams of hope you can actually find” he suggests.

“If you want to get positive results for your community or generation, you kind of have to organize it. We’ve got to believe in young people’s ability to create and identify what the issues are”.

The only question now is who.

“I think young people are the generation that are on the threshold of leadership”.

If you’re searching for resources to support you, McGorry tells “the International Association of Youth Mental Health has got resources on its website. Headspace has material, and Orygen. There are lots of sources of information on how to look after yourself, how to maintain a positive attitude during the crisis”.

“Orygen had a partnership with the World Economic Forum to develop a blueprint for supporting young people’s mental health around the world, launching at the World Health Assembly. So, yes, Australia is making a big progress to global youth mental health.” 

Blog by Hachins D’Souza & Sarah Ramantanis for UN Youth Australia

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Support services can be reached 24 hours a day

Additional information and support can be found at Headspace.

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