The COVID-19 pandemic heightened some of the challenges face by young Australians with early evidence suggesting that young people experienced higher rates of psychological distress, job loss and educational disruptions.
A new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has shown that experiences of severe psychological distress among young people aged 18–24 increased from 14 per cent in February 2017 to 22% in April 2020, and of the 592,000 Australians who lost employment in April 2020, more than 1 in 3 (38 per cent) were aged 15–24.
The report, Australia’s youth, brings together data about young people (aged 12–24) and their experiences of school and higher education, mental health and wellbeing, employment, living circumstances, and personal relationships.
AIHW spokesperson Sally Mills said while data suggest some outcomes for young people have returned to pre-COVID-19 levels, this is not always the case.
“For example, in April 2021 the average level of psychological distress among young people was below what it was in April 2020, but still higher than in February 2017. Ongoing monitoring is needed to fully understand the longer-term impact of the pandemic,” she said.
“The proportion of young people aged 15–24 not in education, employment or training rose from 8.7 per cent in May 2019 to 12 per cent in May 2020 following the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions. Since then, the proportion has fallen to 11 per cent in February 2021, a similar rate to February 2020 before the pandemic.”
Despite the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, young people are faring well in a number of areas, with most 15–24 years-olds studying or working, and almost 3 in 5 (59 per cent) young people aged 15–19 years feeling happy/very happy with their lives in 2020; similar to 2019 (61 per cent).
According to the report, in the past two decades rates of young people engaged in drinking at risky levels, daily smoking, and recent use of illicit drugs have fallen dramatically.