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Lack of rural mental health services puts youth at risk

John Gass

RURAL and regional children are struggling to find the right mental health support according to an in depth Federal report into the mental wellbeing of our youth.

The Mental Health of Children and Adolescents report released by the Federal Ministry for Health revealed startling figures of young people dealing with mental illness.

A lack of access to mental health services in the Clarence Valley and other mitigating factors including cost, distance and privacy are combining to make it difficult for our kids to seek the help they need.

Mental health social worker at Greenway Cottage Jodie Johnson said the difference in government spending puts Clarence children at risk of developing serious mental health issues.

"We have a serious lack of services in the rural towns," Ms Johnson said. "I have a waiting list that is quite long because there are not many other practitioners in the Clarence Valley.

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"Our mental health services are very full due to a lack of resources. Most community health services have backlogs up to six months.

"When it comes to dealing with the mental health of children the earlier you get in the better.

"It is really critical that children are looked after from an early age because children are developing all the time and illnesses such as anxiety, depression and ADHD can seriously affect their development process."

The report also revealed that socio-economic and environmental factors played a major part in the prevalence of mental health issues in youths.

Children who were part of a blended family or a single parent family were twice as likely to be diagnosed with mental illness compared to those living with their original family.

In both of these demographics more than one in five youths were diagnosed with a mental illness and for boys in a single parent families the prevalence of mental illness climbed to one in four.

Household income is also a factor that determines the prevalence of mental illness with all of the differing illnesses doubling in prevalence for households earning less than $50,000 compared to those earning more than $130,000.

Major depressive disorders jumped from 1.8% in children in households earning more than $130,000 to 3.8% for children in households earning less than $50,000. Anxiety disorders jumped from 5% to 10.6%, ADHD jumped from 5.2% to 11.7% and conduct disorders or oppositional behaviour disorders climbed from 0.8% to an alarming 4.3% prevalence.

Ms Johnson said these statistics were extremely alarming for kids in the Clarence Valley due to the high unemployment rate in the area.

"Where you are looking at a family with one parent or blended, the rate of prevalence almost doubles which is really scary," she said. "I think it is a big issue for the Clarence Valley. I see a lot of single parent or blended families in the area.

"We also see a lot of unemployment or even underemployment in the Valley which lends itself to seeing youths getting stuck in an intergenerational poverty trap.

"The low socio-economic status of the family negatively affects the child's mental health which in turn affects their chance to learn and retain information which immediately puts them at an economic disadvantage later in life."

Ms Johnson is unsure of the first step in combating the problem which has remained the same since the last youth mental illness report in 1998.

"These rates really have not changed since 1989 which is quite scary," she said.

"Things have not improved even with the increases in funding in the years since.

"The health service in Australia is in a crisis and it is now affecting mental health funding.

"We definitely need improved funding and improved services in regional Australia to help combat the issue."

Topics:  mental health teenagers wellbeing youth



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