Australian youths who experience a "probable serious mental illness" are more than three-times as likely than their peers to have left their home due to family conflict, according to a new report released on Thursday.
The alarming statistic, compiled as part of Mission Australia's annual youth survey, makes the connection between poor family functioning within the homes of young people and the risk of serious mental illness and homelessness for people aged between 15 and 19.
The findings also show that young people who are believed to experience a probable serious mental illness are also nearly twice as likely as peers to have left their family homes on six or more occasions throughout their lives.
CEO of Mission Australia, Catherine Yeomans said in a statement that youth homelessness generally starts as "couch surfing" and that the numbers highlight the need for early intervention to prevent young people entering a cycle of mental health struggles.
"Youth homelessness is closer to us than we like to think. Young people at risk often go unnoticed and don't receive the early help they need to prevent future homelessness," she said.
"The link between homelessness and mental illness among young people works in both directions, as young people who are experiencing mental illness are at increased risk of homelessness, while those who are homeless are at increased risk of mental illness.
"We must act early and address issues that lead to young people leaving home. We need to actively build strong family relationships, ensure schools are equipped to identify students who may be in need of support, as well as provide targeted support and early intervention when it's needed."
Youth Mental Health and Homelessness Report: Key Findings
- Australian young people with a "probable serious mental illness" are 3.5-times more likely to have spent time away from home than those without.
- Of the young people who experience a "probable serious mental illness", 45.6 percent have left their family home on six or more occasions.
- Of those who do not experience a "probable serious mental illness", 33.3 percent had left their family home on six or more occasions.
- 57.7 percent of young people with a "probable serious mental illness" who rated their family's functioning as "poor" had spent time away from home, compared to 37 percent of young people without a "probable serious mental illness".
- Young females with a "probable serious mental illness" were more likely than young males were more likely to not have left their family homes.
According to Yeomans, the report shows that a well-functioning home environment is an important factor in providing young people the base they need for stable mental health and to access future opportunities. Without that base, she said youths are vulnerable to entering a possible cycle of homelessness that is difficult to break.
"When a young person has a safe and secure home, this provides a firm foundation from which they can grow and thrive. It allows them to build strong social relationships, and to study, learn a trade or embark on their chosen career," she said.
"For many young people who feel they can't go back home because of family conflict, violence or for other reasons, what starts as sporadic couch surfing can unfortunately turn into more entrenched homelessness."
One aspect of the report's findings looked at the pressures young people in Australia currently experience. Youths who had spent time away from their family home were found to be most worried about family conflict and coping with stress when compared to those young people who had not.
Additionally, young people who experience a "probable serious mental illness" were mostly recorded as grappling with stress and school or study issues when compared to their peers.
Yeomans told HuffPost Australia the figures highlight the need to support Australia's young population so that they don't fall into homelessness and untreated mental health issues.
"There's clearly a lot going on for those young people and we need to support them so they don't fall into a cycle of homelessness and untreated mental health conditions," she said.
"We know that in this age group that if young people are still engaged in education it can be a very stressful time. If they're struggling with their schoolwork then this can put added stress in terms of coping with school, if they're excelling in their academic studies, there's a lot of pressure to secure those top marks so they can go onto tertiary education.
"We know that this age group in terms of mood disorders like anxiety and depression can be more susceptible and that's why we need to make sure they've got access to support."
Youth Mental Health and Homelessness Report: Main Concerns of Youths
Concerns of young people who have spent time away from home, compared to those who have not
- 'Extremely' or 'very' concerned about family conflict: 48.9 percent to 12.8 percent.
- 'Extremely' or 'very' concerned about depression: 46 percent to 15.3 percent.
- 'Extremely' or 'very' concerned about coping with stress: 58.6 percent to 35.2 percent.
- 'Extremely' or 'very' concerned about suicide: 28.8 percent to 8.1 percent
Concerns of young people with a 'probable serious mental illness', compared to those without
- 'Extremely' or 'very' concerned about depression: 55.8 percent to 10.4 percent.
- 'Extremely' or 'very' concerned about coping with stress: 73.3 percent to 29.4 percent.
- 'Extremely' or 'very' concerned about body image: 53.2 percent to 19.4 percent.
- 'Extremely' or 'very' concerned about school issues: 59.5 percent to 26.8 percent.
She also said it's important that young people who may be in situations where they feel the need to leave home or are experiencing mental health issues know there are support networks that can help.
"[Young people shouldn't] feel that they're alone and understand that there are support services there to help. Kids Helpline, Lifeline, Headspace -- these support mechanisms can be accessed by a telephone or the internet," she told HuffPost Australia.
"For parents who might be concerned about a young person if they're noticing changes in the young person -- perhaps they're not engaged in the activities that they used to be -- then don't ignore that and get alongside the young person and offer support or offer to direct that person to support, introduce them to support services if they would like to speak to someone separately.
"It's very important we have early intervention and stop people falling into long term cycles of homelessness or mental health concerns."
As Mission Australia's CEO, Yeomans is also using the report's findings to urge local, state and federal governments to reduce youth homelessness rates and invest in further mental health support networks.
"We urgently need more targeted and holistic early intervention services so we can adequately address the issues faced by young people before they become homeless, as well as increased investment in social and affordable housing and supported accommodation models for young people," she said.
"I strongly urge governments of all levels to commit to halving youth homelessness by 2020. Major investment in supporting youth mental health initiatives is of utmost importance to reduce the numbers of young people being pushed into homelessness.
"All young people deserve a safe home and we have the means to provide it. All that is needed is the political will and the commitment from us all as a community."
If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondblue on 1300 224 636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.