A SPEAKING Out Survey of 5000 of Western Australia’s year 4-12 students has highlighted mental health to be a major issue for the State’s female youth.
Conducted by the office of the Commissioner for Children and Young People WA in 2019, the survey asked students a range of questions on their wellbeing at randomly selected schools in metro, regional and remote areas showed a substantial number of year 7-12 students reported poor life satisfaction, low self-esteem, high levels of stress and the feeling they couldn’t cope with life’s challenges.
Overall, female students rated their wellbeing less favourably than male students, particularly in areas relating to mental health, self-perception, conflict, relationships, personal safety and independence.
Speaking at the Isolated Children and Parents’ Association of WA State conference last Friday, Mr Pettit said the results had been vastly different compared to a survey conducted in 2016 by the commission.
“In our 2016 survey mental health was mentioned once in 1800 kids,” Mr Pettit said.
“But in 2019, almost every young person wanted to talk about their mental health and this was before COVID even became a thing and the economy was buzzing.
“What also jumped off the page was that one in six girls in secondary school said their life was pretty crappy – whether they lived in the country, metropolitan area or lived remotely and the international average is much less than that.
“On every measure the girls fared worse than the boys, so we want to interrogate what it is that the girls are saying that the boys aren’t.”
Mr Pettit said the results of the 2019 Speak Out survey had been provided to the Mental Health Commission and was used to redesign their youth policy, released in December last year.
“We just commissioned a fairly large report on young women using not only this data but international data and that will be released at the end of April and we will be using that to do a large consultation later in the year with girls from 10- 18 years old to see what is driving these issues,” Mr Pettit said.
“Then we are going to flip it and try to get a whole range of young boys and men and say how come this is happening and how we can actually change this, because if we don’t listen to the voice of kids we won’t understand something significant that is happening in our society.”
While the survey results showed a decrease in life satisfaction scores from year 4-6 students to year 7-12 students across all regions, the percentage difference was smallest for students in remote areas, indicating that a greater proportion of year 7-12 students in remote areas were satisfied with their life, compared with students in other areas.
Students in remote areas were also somewhat less likely to be affected by some sources of stress that were significant for students in other areas.
For example, fewer students in remote areas reported being affected by school or study problems and by worries about mental health and wellbeing.
On the other hand students in remote areas were more likely to identify bullying as a source of stress.
Mr Pettit said some other “staggering results” from the survey included that nearly seven per cent of children said they didn’t have anybody in their home they could trust and about 30pc of the girls surveyed said they didn’t have someone in the home they could talk to.
“With COVID we shut the doors and sent everybody home and we didn’t think what the impact of that is on the mental health and well- being of our young people who aren’t in that position of having a supportive home,” Mr Pettit said.
“There were some contradictions for Aboriginal kids, where the results showed they felt safe in their community but less safe in their home.
“However girls in Aboriginal communities, regardless of where they were, reported feelings of higher confidence than non-indigenous girls.
“They played sport more than non-indigenous girls on average and they were more connected to each other than non-indigenous girls.”
Funded by Lotterywest, the Speaking Out Survey will be extended in 2021 to reach children outside of mainstream education, including students with special needs and those in remote communities.
The commissioner will publish the Speaking Out Survey 2021 findings later this year.