Surging numbers of mental health emergencies are striking young Victorian adults due to the 18-month pandemic and the state’s multiple lockdowns, confidential Andrews government data has revealed. More than 340 teenagers a week have been admitted to hospital suffering mental health issues, according to a confidential Andrews government report that reveals Victoria’s pandemic and lockdown-fuelled youth crisis is worse than previously feared. The 16-page report also reveals an average of 156 teens a week were rushed to hospital for emergency treatment after self-harming and suffering suicidal ideation, an 88 per cent increase on last year. The most serious cases, where teens required resuscitation and emergency treatment, surged to a six-weekly average of 37.3 cases to the end of May.

In addition the Victorian Agency for Health Information reveals an average 342 children, aged up to 17, presented to emergency departments each week. “These numbers are unequivocally awful,” a leading child psychiatrist said. “They show increased demand and they show no increase in services because services were already at capacity. Our units are completely over run. “This surge is even bigger than I would have guessed. To see it measured so starkly and compare that to the policy and the response from the department overall, it is pretty shocking. “It’s one thing if the right people don’t know about this stuff, but there has been a month-on-month demonstration about how much worse things have got over 18 months.”

“The number of intentional self-harm and suicidal ideation (emergency department) presentations is statistically significant,” one senior child and adolescent psychiatrist said. “Young and emerging adults as well as teenagers are under major pressure.” The Andrews government has acknowledged the mental health crisis, saying it was committing $220m in extra funding to boost frontline services. The government said it was constantly monitoring the mental health data so it could respond quickly to increased demand with additional resources, including a $2m boost for eating disorder treatments, $2.24m to deliver a headspace waiting list blitz for young people and $3.13m in support packages for community organisations.

The full extent of the youth mental health crisis linked to the pandemic and the lockdowns has been exposed in four confidential government reports tracking case numbers. The data exposing the problems among those aged 18 to 24 is particularly concerning to mental health experts as it points to a loss of hope about the future. “Last year, these young adults bunkered down for the greater cause,” one frontline mental health expert said. “But in the past six months, with these new lockdowns, they’re thinking ‘This wasn’t just last year. What’s with my future? Why would I bother looking for a job outside a government pay cheque? I’m not going to be able to travel’. “It’s dawning on them that this is not over.”

Senior child psychiatrist Paul Robertson said there had been a surge in demand for teenage mental health services across Australia. “There is a huge escalation in demand for mental health services in child and adolescent populations, nationally,” Dr Robertson said. “There’s a surge in demand around presentations to emergency departments with self-harm and suicidality in adolescents. “It is particularly evident in the Education Department presentations around suicide risk and then that flows on to the service and what it needs to do and how much it is struggling to do that. The other presentation is really the increase in eating disorders which is as large or even bigger.” Teenage eating disorders, which mainly strike young women, have continued to spike with figures covering 6 weeks to April 25, showing an average of 332 cases recorded, 14% up on 2020.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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