Hardworking, ambitious, smart, creative, innovative, politically and socially aware and active, engaged in life, resilient, supportive of others, and possessing the ability to achieve great things - these are some of the ways young people see themselves.
Research by national mental health foundation, headspace, asked young people how they viewed themselves and what issues were important to them. The results were a far cry from some of the myths and misconceptions about the attitudes and attributes of the younger generation we sometimes come across. headspace senior clinical advisor Nick Duigan said those surveyed endorsed the terms hardworking and ambitious almost twice as much as any other. "[These results are] quite different from how they believe they are seen and how they are represented," he said.
The young people of today do face many challenges, a lot of them vastly different from previous generations. Mr Duigan said his organisation had seen trends across time which showed a decrease in the amount of quality sleep, activity and nutrition of young people - physical health factors which have been increasingly empirically linked to mental health.
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"There have been major social changes over the last 10 years, the most obvious major shift is in technology like smart phones, social media use and screen time," he said. These are also primarily isolated, sedentary activities and the more time spend on devices means less time for other activities and sleep. "That's one potential contributor to stress, the other is there is a unique contribution from what is being done on those devices that is adding to distress," Mr Duigan said, referring to cyber bullying, body image issues, the need to create an idealised self, as well as pressure to maintain engagement on a platform.
Other challenges for young people today, he said, were the increased cost of living which has an impact on people's ability to be independent, high levels of unemployment particularly in regional areas, bullying, the political and environmental state of the world, drugs and alcohol, sexuality and an increase in expectations from parents, schools and other groups.
So how can young people face these many and varied challenges? Young people do need to help themselves and take responsibility for their own wellbeing, Mr Duigan said. For this he suggested young people refer to headspace's seven tips for wellbeing, which include getting enough sleep, staying active, eating well, remaining close and connected to others, finding new ways to handle tough times, reducing alcohol and other drug use, and getting involved in life.
However the support networks around young people - parents, schools, sporting, community groups - also have a responsibility to equip and uplift them. Resilience, Mr Duigan said, is only partly found in a person themselves and to a much lesser extent than people assume. What is happening around a person - in school, at home, in the wider social world - all of these factor into a person's resilience greatly. headspace plays a role by taking part in campaigns to see schools, the government and other institutions better equipped to support young people.
It's not all doom and gloom though - there are also great opportunities. "There are increased opportunities for young people to have influence over and exert themselves in the world around them, part of that is political," Mr Duigan said. An interesting dichotomy existed between the fact political action could cause potential distress, but also be an avenue for young people to continue to increase their ability to live the life they want. He cited the recent school strikes for climate change. "Young people around Australia have by themselves spawned the idea and made it happen, and they are getting significant media attention," he said. "Ten years ago, it was unfathomable something like this could be a possibility."
To make the most of the opportunities before them, young people needed to be supported to be mentally healthy, Mr Duigan said. "Part of that is on young people. But it really relies on the communities around them to provide an environment where they are able to thrive." In an ideal world that support would be available to all, but that is not the case unfortunately. However young people should feel safe to go to teachers, in many cases wellbeing co-ordinators are integrated with services like headspace. Support can be accessed via government agencies, schools, hospitals and community groups. Work needs to be done to make these more integrated, but there are services out there, Mr Duigan said.