Technology is playing a key role in the deteriorating mental health of young Australians, according to Australia’s leading mental health task force.
Through the Connecting Your Mental Health programme launched by the National Health Council (NHC) in July, up to 1,200 Australians have participated in sharing their experiences of the national mental health and suicide prevention system.
NHC chief executive Christine Morgan said one of the key themes of the national listening tour was the growing focus on the well-being of young people.
“We young people have a much higher resting pulse in terms of anxiety and psychological distress,” she told AAP.
“When we dig into this, there’s a lot of discussion around the role of technology…it’s almost like it’s creating a new form of school playground. There are different ways to build relationships, there are different ways to communicate. And we are not ready for the new school playground.
“It has a lot of implications for our young people,” she said.
COVID-19 restrictions exacerbate loneliness
Morgan also noted that Australians were experiencing more loneliness and isolation as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown from early 2020 into 2021.
During the pandemic, she said, suicidal thoughts are on the rise, domestic violence levels are higher and emergency department visits are more severe.
The NHC chief executive added that one of the reasons Australia’s suicide prevention system was “not working” was because addressing suicide risk was “not a transactional thing” but a “relational thing”.
But Australians’ mental health is recovering since the lockdown was lifted. The Australian National University’s COVID-19 Impact Monitor for August 2022 showed that Australians were more satisfied with their lives and had lower levels of psychological distress and loneliness than at the start of 2022. Most lockdowns were lifted in September 2021.
Compared to the same period in 2021, Australians are more optimistic about the future, less stressed and more likely to believe the quality of their relationships is improving.
“Importantly, much of this improvement has occurred in young Australians, who have been hit hardest by the pandemic from a mental health and wellbeing perspective,” the report said.
“Older Australians, particularly those aged 65 and over, have seen a relative improvement in their stress levels over the past 12 months.”
Other issues explored during the NHC Connections program are the links between mental health issues and trauma, drug and alcohol abuse, and social determinants.
The national listening tour will wrap up in regional NSW next month. Australians are encouraged to contribute through the online survey.
AAP contributed to this article.