A recent mental health community forum in Western Australia has received pledges and donations of $42,500 for mental health research through Australian Rotary Health (ARH).

The Lift the Lid on Mental Illness: Young Minds Matter forum was held on Wednesday July 25 at the University of Western Australia (UWA) Club, attracting 151 guests who came to join in the discussion on youth mental health.

The Honourable Kim Beazley AC, Governor of Western Australia speaking at the forum.

The Honourable Kim Beazley AC, Governor of Western Australia, was one of the special guests in attendance that evening, and spoke passionately about the need to continue funding for research into Mental Health, given the high prevalence and costs of Mental Health to families and the community. He praised Rotary and Australian Rotary Health for the work that they had done and are still doing.

Attendees also had the opportunity to hear from Professor David Lawrence, a Principal Research Fellow at UWA, and lead investigator of “Young Minds Matter” – the Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health Wellbeing.

Young Minds Matter set out to study the impact mental health problems have on children and young people, and look at whether current services are meeting the needs of children and families.

Over 6,000 families from across Australia with children aged 4-17 years were surveyed. Data were collected from parents, young people aged 11 years and over, NAPLAN test results from 2008 onwards, as well as Medicare and Pharmaceutical Benefits records.

151 guests attended the mental health community forum.

Professor Lawrence explained the study’s results at the forum, presenting the harsh reality that as many as one in seven Australian school students have a mental health disorder.

Other findings included:

  • ADHD and anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concerns in primary school.
  • Major depressive disorder is more common in adolescents and is associated with a concerning rise in self-harming and suicidal behaviours.
  • More than one in 10 young people have self-harmed – 6% have self-harmed four or more times, while 8% per cent have self-harmed in the past 12 months.
  • Self-harming is more common in girls than boys, and in older than younger adolescents.
  • 7.5% of young people have seriously contemplated taking their life in the previous 12 months, 5% reported having a plan on how to do so, and 2.5% had attempted suicide in the previous 12 months.

That’s equivalent to over 40,000 students Australia wide, emphasising a strong need to do more for youth mental health. The UWA Young Lives Matter foundation is one program that has been launched to support new research into youth suicide prevention.

In addition to these harrowing figures, if mental health disorders are not effectively treated, they can impact school performance, learning, and development.

Students with mental disorders have more absences from school, have lower levels of connectedness and engagement with their school work, and have poorer academic achievement. It was also found that these students scored lower on average than their peers in every NAPLAN test domain at every Year level.

Dr Mark Boyes, Dr Jeneva Ohan and Professor David Lawrence during the Q&A panel.

Later in the evening, the audience had the chance to direct questions to a panel of mental health researchers including Professor Lawrence, and ARH Mental Health Grant recipients Dr Mark Boyes and Dr Jeneva Ohan.

Dr Mark Boyes is a Senior Research Fellow at the School of Psychology, Curtin University, and a Research Associate in the Centre for Evidence-Based Intervention, University of Oxford. His research investigates risk and protective factors associated with psychosocial and health-related outcomes for vulnerable youth. His current work focuses on children with reading difficulties and children affected by HIV/AIDS. (You can read more about Mark’s research here).

Dr Jeneva Ohan is a psychologist and Senior Lecturer at UWA. Her main area of research interest is in overcoming barriers to accessing and engaging in children’s mental health services. In particular, she is interested in the role that stigma plays in discouraging parents from seeking treatment when their child is experiencing mental health problems. (You can read more about Jeneva’s research here).

Following the panel, co-organiser Dr Colin Hughes introduced Past District Governor and ARH Western Region Director Jerry Pilcher, who thanked all the speakers and donors. Jerry also urged all present Rotary Members, partners, friends and guests to share what we are doing for those who so desperately need our support.

After the event, guests enjoyed networking at a cocktail function before braving the stormy conditions going home.

We are extremely grateful for all of the support from local WA Rotary Clubs and the Hospital Benefit Fund of WA, as well as the speakers who made a huge impact on the night.

For more information on the Young Minds Matter survey, visit the website.