Major study reveals when young people are socially excluded their mental health suffers
Orygen and Mission Australia launch seven-point plan and call for urgent action
A groundbreaking new study by Orygen and Mission Australia has uncovered the extent to which young people in Australia are socially excluded, and the strong links between social exclusion and poor mental health outcomes such as loneliness and high psychological distress.
An alarming 60 per cent of the 18,800 people aged 15-19 surveyed in the 2022 Mission Australia Youth Survey had experienced social exclusion in the prior 12 months. These young people showed significantly poorer mental health and wellbeing scores compared to their peers who were not socially excluded.
‘Social exclusion’ refers to a lack of available resources and opportunities needed to participate in society in a meaningful way, and is divided into the domains of relational difficulties, financial hardships, housing challenges and/or edu-employment issues.
The results have prompted Orygen and Mission Australia to make a series of recommendations including school interventions, early screening through schools and services to identify young people at risk of social exclusion, investment in free programs, building the mental health workforce, a social prescribing trial and provision of more youth-specific social housing options to address social exclusion before its impacts compound and spiral into adulthood.
“Experiences such as loneliness can have lasting effects on things like academic achievement, cognitive functioning, physical health, social functioning and mental health, and the impacts can last a lifetime,” said Dr Kate Filia, a Senior Research Fellow at Orygen who co-authored the report on the Mission Australia survey findings.
“To prevent this, we need to get better at identifying and addressing social exclusion at an early stage, and the action cannot be piecemeal – it requires the full engagement of individuals, communities, educators, governments and service providers.”The survey produced several significant findings, including:
- Six in 10 young people experienced social exclusion in at least one of the domains
- 25 per cent experienced social exclusion in multiple domains
- Young people who identified as gender diverse, Indigenous, living in lower socioeconomic areas, regional or remote areas, or who reported speaking a language other than English were excluded more often across the domains
- Edu-employment issues was the domain in which social exclusion was most commonly experienced (39 per cent)
Of particular concern to researchers was that 16 per cent of respondents reported housing challenges. This meant nearly one in six young people reported having no fixed address, worried about feeling safe in their home, or had to leave their home for a period because they didn’t feel safe. The rates of social exclusion in this domain increased to 37 per cent for gender diverse people and 35 per cent for Indigenous respondents.
There were higher rates of high psychological distress and feeling lonely ‘most of the time’ in all four domains of social exclusion. That gap was particularly marked among young people who experienced social exclusion via housing challenges or relational difficulties, such as:
- 62 per cent of respondents with relational difficulties, such as struggling to ‘fit in’, reported high psychological distress, versus only 21 per cent without relational difficulties
- 57 per cent of respondents with housing challenges reported high psychological distress, versus only 24 per cent without housing challenges
- 53 per cent of respondents with relational difficulties reported feeling lonely ‘most of the time’, versus only 17 per cent without relational difficulties
- 46 per cent of respondents who reported housing challenges also reported feeling lonely ‘most of the time’ compared to 19 per cent of young people without housing challenges
Mission Australia’s Executive for Practice, Evidence and Impact, Marion Bennett, said: “This report shows clearly that when young people are socially excluded, their mental health suffers, and the more ways in which they are excluded, the worse it gets.
“It’s deeply concerning that Mission Australia’s Youth Survey 2022 found more than half of young people facing housing challenges report high levels of psychological distress – more than double the rate of their peers with stable homes. They’re also much more likely to be lonely and to feel negative about the future.
“Youth homelessness is a destabilising, isolating and often traumatic experience which can have ongoing impacts on a person’s life, their wellbeing and their future.
“While I’ve seen many young lives transformed by Mission Australia’s services, there are still too many young people whose wellbeing is deteriorating without the stability of a safe home.
“We need to see action now. Early intervention and prevention is crucial, including early screening through schools and services to identify young people at risk of homelessness and other types of social exclusion.
“The National Housing and Homelessness Plan and the next National Housing and Homelessness Agreement must identify young people as a priority cohort and pinpoint clear targets to end homelessness.
“We also need far greater investment in youth-specific social housing options that provide the right levels of support that young people need. For example, Youth Foyers provide vital housing, education and employment opportunities for young people.”
The survey results and study have prompted Orygen and Mission Australia to recommend seven key actions to address the issue:
- Invest in enhanced service connections, especially in areas of high socioeconomic disadvantage, to address the link between social exclusion and poor mental health outcomes
- Fund a trial of the F-SIM16, a social exclusion measurement tool, in key settings such as schools and mental health care
- Address financial barriers to mental health by investing in free programs and building the youth mental health workforce
- Launch a large-scale national trial of a social prescribing approach for young people experiencing mental ill-health, loneliness and social exclusion
- Develop resources to help young people experiencing social isolation access support for their mental health
- Address the impact of housing exclusion on young people, especially by identifying young people as a priority cohort in the National Housing and Homelessness Plan and the next National Housing and Homelessness Agreement, and more investment in youth-specific social housing options
- Support young people’s engagement in education to improve satisfaction with their studies, including establishing evidence-based and regularly evaluated services and programs
Read the report
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