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WHAT MATTERS MOST?

During the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, over 20,200 young people aged 15 – 19 years have shared their most significant concerns in Mission Australia's 20th annual Youth Survey. The Youth Survey Report 2021 provides rich and compelling insights into young people's challenges, problems, experiences and barriers to achieving their goals.

Mission Australia's CEO James Toomey said:

"Young people are showing they're aware of and care about social and personal issues affecting themselves, their peers and their country. Listening to and acting on these crucial insights has always been vital and is now more pressing than ever as we round out our second year of COVID-19 pandemic challenges.

Now is a critical time to make sure young people are heard. Young people can and should create and advise on solutions that will address issues that affect them, other young people, and Australia. The Youth Survey is just one way of capturing the voices of young people, but they are telling us that they want to feel heard in political and decision-making processes."

Here are the three most important issues facing young Australians today and Mission Australia's response:

1. COVID-19

This year, young people in Australia said COVID-19 was the most pressing concern, rising from second place in 2020.

The pandemic affected every part of our community and livelihoods, and young people were not exempt from the anxiety and stress that COVID-19 brought with it. The findings revealed 45.7% of young people felt COVID-19 was the most critical issue in 2021.

Young people reported that the pandemic and associated public health responses, such as lockdowns and home-learning, negatively affected their health, wellbeing, and education.

Alarmingly, a smaller proportion of respondents were studying full-time in 2021 than in 2020. Many stated their mental health, academic ability, and COVID-19 were the main barriers between them and their work and study goals.

"Without the right supports and policy settings in place, there is a real concern the pandemic will have long-term impacts on our young people," James Toomey, Mission Australia CEO, said.

2. The Environment

Close to four in ten young people said the environment is a crucial national issue, and one quarter are 'extremely concerned' or 'very concerned' about climate change.

Younger Australians feel they will be the most affected by climate decisions made by world leaders. Their sentiments are shared by youth activists worldwide as Greta Thunberg, the 18-year-old Swedish climate activist whose passion sparked the Climate Strike movement.

Echoing existing research, James Toomey says these results combined with survey respondent comments show the psychological toll climate change is taking on young people across Australia

"No doubt concerns about the lack of action on climate change in Australia during the past several years has affected the mental health of young people. We should all be concerned about the impacts of this on young people, who are tomorrow's workers, parents and carers," James Toomey said.

3. Equity and Discrimination

A significant proportion of young people continue to identify equity and discrimination as an important national issue.

Sadly, more than one in three surveyed said they had experienced unfair treatment in the past year – higher than the 27% of young people who had experienced unfair treatment in 2021.

This treatment was most commonly due to their gender (37.3%) – with far more gender diverse young people and more young females citing this.

Mr Toomey concluded: "Our Youth Survey 2021 reveals cause for optimism in many respects, and that many young people are doing well while taking on 2021's challenges.

By my observations and experience, that regardless of a young person's background, location or experience, access to appropriate support at the right time can be life-changing and that:

Young people have the answers. It's a matter of ensuring they are genuinely listened to, included in decision-making processes, and their concerns acted upon. It's the brightest way forward for us all.

On behalf of the Counselling Team, I wish you all a safe & restful holiday season & we look forward to continuing to support better student wellbeing in 2022.

DONNA NAIRN
Director of Counselling