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Teenagers use App-based tools to find help for Psychological Distress

STRESS, mental health, and body image are the most common concerns for Australia’s young people aged 15 to 19, with one in four experiencing mental health challenges, reports Mission Australia’s Youth Survey.

The psychological distress in young people in Australia fifth biennial youth mental health report: 2012-2020, co-authored with Black Dog Institute, explores the responses of 25,103 young people in a survey measuring psychological distress in 2020.

The study illustrated a considerable increase since 2012 when one in five teenagers were facing similar concerns.

Rate of psychological distress over time.

Source: The psychological distress in young people in Australia fifth biennial youth mental health report: 2012-2020,

The survey was to discover how young people think, feel and act.

The results have prompted both organisations to call on governments, schools, families, businesses and others, to prioritise increased activity and awareness on tailored, timely and accessible mental health support to combat the prevalence of mental ill-health in this age group.

Mission Australia’s CEO James Toomey explains the survey’s methodology was a combination of scale questions, asking the respondents how they rate something on a scale of 1 to 10, and asking for open text answers to questions like ‘what would you look for in a counselling service.’

“We all have a duty to safeguard young people’s wellbeing and properly support the enormous number of young people contending with mental health challenges,” Mr Toomey said.

“Every young person in Australia should have access to appropriate supports at the time they need it, regardless of their gender, location, background or any other circumstances, and most definitely under special circumstances like a global pandemic.”

The survey noted the everyday barriers young people faced when seeking help are feeling scared or anxious, embarrassed, and thinking they could deal with it independently.

Black Dog Institute’s director of research, Professor Jennie Hudson, said global research shows that over 75 per cent of mental health issues develop before the age of 25, which can have lifelong consequences.

“Early intervention in adolescence and childhood is imperative to help reduce these figures,” Professor Hudson said.

“This report shows that young people in distress will seek help directly from friends, parents and the internet.

“As such, we need to …… provide online and app-based tools that may be a key part of the solution.”

Table 4: Young people aged 15-19 and the issues they were ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ concerned about, by PD, 2020

 PD %No PD %
Coping with stress73.131.5
Mental health67.721.8
Body image59.023.7
School or study problems53.624.8
Physical health36.120.0
Family conflict31.410.1
Suicide31.16.0
Personal safety27.311.2
Bullying/emotional abuse27.17.1
Financial security26.010.2
Social media23.49.2
Discrimination21.89.0
LGBTIQA+* issues19.46.1
Domestic/family violence14.45.2
Drugs10.24.1
Alcohol7.63.1
Gambling3.52.0

Source: The psychological distress in young people in Australia fifth biennial youth mental health report: 2012-2020,

Three out of the report’s nine recommendations focus on the roll of the education sector in online access for support.

As most of the respondents spend the majority of their time at school if they want to seek help without their family or schoolmates knowing, it needs to be within school time, not after hours or weekends.

“The barriers to accessing support using an app is a very low-risk way of getting information,” Mr Toomey said.

“The ease of connecting with a school counsellor, with the ability to slip into see them at lunchtime, is so much better than someone coming into the classroom saying you have an appointment now.”

Fears about what they will ask me and what they want to know about me if someone notices me going to a psychologist are out of the way if the student is using a device.

“Minimise the barriers and make it almost incidental in engaging with the support when needed,” Mr Toomey said.

“They are invisible to others; they could just be logging onto their Instagram page and not searching for help.”

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Carol Saffer

Carol Saffer is an award-winning journalist enthusiastic about creating copy that engages audiences. She is curious by nature, possesses a growth mindset and thrives on new and unusual challenges. Carol has experience as a reporter for various regional Victorian newspapers and writing for Business Day in The Age. Her previous career was in the fashion industry, and she holds post-graduate degrees in business and journalism.

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