A total of 21,846 young people aged 15-19 participated in the annual Mission Australia Youth Survey.
More than 28 per cent of teenagers surveyed rated alcohol and drugs as an issue of national concern, followed by discrimination and equity (27 per cent) and mental health (20.6 per cent).
For the first time, the survey examined in detail young people’s encounters with discrimination. The report warned that discrimination can have a negative impact on the mental health of young people, increasing the likelihood of psychological distress, depression and anxiety.
Almost a quarter of respondents said they experienced discrimination or unfair treatment in the past year, with 30 per cent stating it is because of their race or cultural background. More than 57 per cent of participants also witnessed racially-motivated discrimination in public.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander respondents were twice as likely to report experiencing discrimination compared to their non-Indigenous counterparts.
Catherine Yeomans, Mission Australia CEO, said these alarming figures need to be urgently addressed.
“These levels are simply unacceptable and we must ask ourselves what we can all do to change these results,” she said.
“Political and social leadership is required to help change some of those pervasive attitudes.
“We have to challenge stereotypes and explicit discrimination when we see it. And this needs to be addressed by governments, businesses, sports and other institutions as well as in the media and at schools.”
Discrimination is not limited to race or cultural background. Approximately 39 per cent of participants reported experiencing unfair treatment based on their gender and 22 per cent because of their age.
Concerns about mental health have also doubled in the past six years. It featured as one of the top three issues nationally for the first time in the 15-year history of the survey. Stress, school and body image were listed as the main issues of personal concern for young Australians.
Ms Yeomans said the survey results indicate young people need greater access to mental health, drug and alcohol services.
“There are some great educational awareness programs working in schools but we need to make sure all young people are able to access and navigate the appropriate supports, advice and information to help them in times of need,” Ms Yeomans said.
“We also need to question how early we start providing mental health services. Some of our staff are seeing children as young as eight years old with suicidal thoughts and there is often limited access to the necessary supports.”
Despite young people’s concerns about discrimination and mental health, the majority still feel optimistic about their future. More than 58 per cent of participants say they are positive about the future and only 3 per cent feel ‘very negative’.
The survey also highlighted the activities young people are involved in, with 28 per cent of respondents participating in religious group or activities. The percentage of females involved in religious activities (31.2 per cent) is higher compared to males (25.5 per cent).
To see the full report, visit the Mission Australia website.