Youth mental health gets boost from RACV

Living Well | Sue Hewitt | Posted on 07 October 2020

COVID-19 has taken a heavy toll on young people in regional Victoria but a new partnership between RACV and Orygen promises help.

RACV has formed a partnership with youth mental health organisation Orygen to fight the impacts of COVID-19 on young people in regional Victoria. 

Orygen’s founder Patrick McGorry, a world-renowned expert in youth mental health, says young people in regional areas are the most vulnerable to mental health issues in normal times but are now at particular risk due to isolation, remote working and learning, and job insecurity associated with COVID-19.
(More: How to support your kids' mental health during COVID-19.)

Close up of teenage girl in front of red brick wall

Economic uncertainty and high youth unemployment are leaving young people “looking down the barrel” of an uncertain future, says Orygen founder Patrick McGorry.

There has been significant disruption to the lives of young people caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, impacting the mental health and wellbeing of many young people in regional Victoria.

The three-year partnership with RACV will enable Orygen to expand services in regional Victoria to help young people with mental health issues pursue work and educational opportunities. 

A core focus will be Orygen’s Individual Placement Support program (IPS), which integrates education and employment services with mental health support to help those struggling with mental health achieve their education and employment goals.

The unique program is tailored to meet the needs of each individual wanting to re-join or stay in education or seeking a job.

Orygen’s research indicates that young people in IPS programs are three times more likely to secure a job than through other employment support programs.

With RACV’s support, Orygen will establish a Youth Individual Placement and Support Centre of Excellence at its Parkville headquarters which will drive and expand the successful program throughout regional Victoria. The first IPS regional site is due to open next year.

“RACV recognises the need for more mental health services in regional Victoria that support young people,” says Louise Steinfort, RACV’s general manager of social impact and corporate communications.

“There has been significant disruption to the lives of young people caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, impacting the mental health and wellbeing of many young people in regional Victoria. Our partnership with Orygen supports young people today and over the coming years with critical services.”

Patrick McGorry says regional Victoria is most in need of specialised education and employment services for young people experiencing mental health issues because, not only are there fewer job and educational opportunities in the regions, there are also fewer mental health services for young people.

He says the IPS program in partnership between Orygen and RACV will find vocational and employment opportunities for young people in regional Victoria who usually “fall between the cracks”, by virtue of health workers and education and employment service providers working together. 

While many Victorians are feeling the stress of isolation during the pandemic, Patrick says it is acutely felt by young people, especially those aged 16 to 25.

“Young people are dependent on social networks and building relationships outside the family as they try to become independent,” he says.

He says this age group has also been hit particularly hard by job losses, as industries such as hospitality have been affected by COVID-19. 

For those who lived through last summer’s devastating bushfires, the pandemic has come as an added blow. “There were bushfires then COVID-19; one disaster upon another which affects mental health across the community especially the more vulnerable young people,” he says.

He warns that the mental health impacts of COVID-19 on young people are likely to be felt for many years to come as economic uncertainty and high youth unemployment leave young people “looking down the barrel” of an uncertain future.

Two teenagers talking in street

Withdrawing from others, or avoiding school or work, could be a sign that a young person is experiencing mental health issues.

Mental health warning signs to watch for

Orygen flags several warning signs that a young person may be experiencing mental health issues. If these persist for more than a fortnight and affect the person’s daily life, it may indicate an underlying problem. Watch out for changes in: 

  • Mood: A change in personality or mood such as persistent irritability, sadness, anger or worry. Low self-esteem, concerns about the future or a loss of interest and pleasure in things they usually enjoy are also red flags. 
  • Daily habits: Appearing sleepy or not getting enough sleep or too much. A drop in performance at school or work, including difficulties with concentration. Changes in appetite and weight, including weight loss or gain. 
  • Socialising: Withdrawing from others – not going out as much or not going to school or work. Or difficulty connecting with others of their own age. 
  • Appearance: Looking unkempt; for example, poor hygiene or wearing dirty clothes.  
  • Unusual feelings: Reporting unusual or distressing thoughts that are impacting on their life. Expressing feelings of hopelessness or saying that life isn’t worth living. 
  • Self-harm: Any physical signs of harm either by themselves or others, including cuts and bruises. 

If you or anyone you know needs help contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.