New survey highlights the impact of 'anxiety' amongst younger Australians

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Research from Smiling Mind has revealed the extent of mental health issues amongst younger Australians, with 59 per cent of people aged 18 to 25 reporting having experienced anxiety.

The research has been launched in time for Mental Health Awareness Month (1 to 31 October).

Smiling Mind is a leading not-for-profit. It conducts an annual State of Mind survey, which is funded by nib foundation, in partnership with The University of Newcastle.

This year's survey examined attitudes and behaviours towards mental health - both in a general and COVID-19 specific context.

According to the survey, when asked to rate general wellbeing on a scale of one to 10, Australians aged between 18 to 25 years recorded a low average response of 5.8. This fell significantly below older respondents, with the highest response in the 65 years and over bracket (M = 7.1).

Younger Australians also reported higher levels of anxiety (59 per cent), stress (60.1 per cent) and depression (38.2 per cent). Those in the 18 to 25 year age group were also most likely to agree that they did not have money to spend on caring for it (41 per cent agreed or strongly agreed).

According to Dr Addie Wootten, CEO at Smiling Mind, “With employment rates in this age group flatlining, disrupted study, and social isolation throughout 2020, the State of Mind findings reinforce how susceptible young people are right now to mental health challenges.

“Assessing the barriers to good mental health and wellbeing, survey findings reinforce our unwavering belief that free, easily accessible, prevention-focused support is critical to turning the statistics around for this demographic of Australians,” added Dr Wootten.

The research also showed more than a quarter of respondents (25.7 per cent) identifying a lack of sleep as the biggest barrier to their wellbeing. Women respondents also reported higher levels of stress (53.6 per cent) than men (39.6 per cent).

“Data relating to sleep issues is aligned with our organisation’s firsthand experience of the year. Smiling Mind’s app-based sleep programs have been the most used throughout 2020, including at the pandemic’s onset in April, with 400,000 sleep meditations completed in this month alone,” said Dr Wootten.

On the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the survey found the majority of respondents said their mental health has been ‘the same’ since its onset (44.6 per cent), while nearly one third (32.6 per cent) described it as ‘a little worse’, ‘worse’, or ‘much worse’.

It also found 87.8 per cent of respondents agreed that mental and physical health are of equal importance.

“Smiling Mind has been inundated throughout the entirety of the COVID-19 pandemic, as Australians have sought out tools to help them take a proactive approach to caring for mental health and wellbeing,” said Dr Wootten.

“While we know there is a strong awareness around the importance of good mental health, there is still work to be done around educating and providing resources around preventative measures, to ensure Australians have the tools to support their own mental health during periods of heightened anxiety and stress, and to stop the onset of mental illness in its tracks. 

“This Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re calling on Australians to prioritise their mental health and take action to implement new strategies to support their mental health. Forming new healthy habits can take time but if we can set aside even 10 minutes a day we will all be one step ahead in looking after our mental health,” added Dr Wootten.

nib foundation executive officer, Amy Tribe, said, “We supported this research with Smiling Mind to build our collective understanding of how people, especially younger people, are coping, and where we can help further. This is particularly important at a time when COVID-19 has completely shifted our personal and professional lives and the way we go about our daily routines.

“It’s reassuring, however, to see that a high percentage of respondents understand that looking after your mental health is equally important as your physical health. nib foundation is always eager to support research like Smiling Mind’s State of Mind survey, understanding how vital it is to the development and delivery of impactful health prevention programs,” she said.