Our aim is for 200,000 more Victorians to be resilient and connected by 2023. A cross-sector approach is critical to reaching this goal.
For every generation, a part of their youth is dedicated to weighty, life-forming decisions over which the future looms large. However, the current generation of young Australians face unique challenges, many alien to their predecessors just a decade ago.
Today’s young people are more connected to their peers, the media and a broader globalised community than ever before. They are more aware of their many options, both beneficial and negative. They are faced with the challenge of not only forging an authentic identity but creating and managing their online identities too. Conflicting messages come in fast and relentlessly. The future is seemingly brimming with opportunity just within reach; grasping it requires a new set of life skills.
Launch of the VicHealth Mental Wellbeing Strategy
VicHealth seeks to promote the wellbeing of this generation and develop strategies to target the key issues facing young Victorians’ mental wellbeing now and into the future.
This focus was consolidated in December 2015 with the launch of the VicHealth Mental Wellbeing Strategy 2015–20191 by the Minister for Mental Health, the Hon. Martin Foley MP. The four-year strategy incorporates and builds on VicHealth’s extensive experience in promoting mental wellbeing and introduces a new focus: building resilience and social connection in young people.
The strategy is based on robust evidence, data and VicHealth’s experience in identifying and addressing key factors affecting mental health dating back to the 1990s, including: violence against women, race-based discrimination, barriers to education, employment and housing, and social isolation.
As well as conducting the landmark young Victorians’ resilience and mental wellbeing survey, VicHealth commissioned a CSIRO report, Bright Futures: Megatrends impacting the mental wellbeing of young Victorians over the coming 20 years,2 and extensive reviews of existing research by academics.
The strategy introduces research and initiatives to build and foster resilience, prevent mental illness and promote sustainable mental wellbeing in young Victorians aged 12 to 25.
Understanding mental wellbeing
Mental wellbeing can be described as a dynamic state in which the individual is able to develop to their potential, work productively and creatively, build strong and positive relationships with others and contribute to the community.3 Mental wellbeing sits alongside physical and social wellbeing in the definition of health as more than just the absence of disease.
We know a lot about mental illness because of its more publicised impact on individuals, families and the wider community, but we know significantly less about mental wellbeing – how it is formed, experienced, sustained and how it might be measured.
Launching the strategy, VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter placed emphasis on continuing to build the knowledge and evidence base in this critical area.
“Because of the extensive research done to build this strategy, VicHealth has a unique and solid evidence base to identify opportunities for effectively improving mental wellbeing in young people,” Ms Rechter said.
“Our aim is for 200,000 more Victorians to be resilient and connected by 2023. A cross-sector approach is critical to reaching this goal.”
Our new focus: resilience
Resilience is defined as the ability to achieve positive outcomes despite adverse events, circumstances, or risk factors. Resilience enhances our ability to cope with, adapt to and bounce back from any life changes or challenges.
The concept of resilience has received growing attention in the last decade, including increased research from academics, wellbeing professionals, policymakers and preventative health advocates. Evidence shows that building resilient communities fosters good health and prevents illness. Resilience in children and young people not only prepares them to deal positively with challenges, but also to build healthy communities around them. Jerril Rechter says resilience can be developed in young people through a range of means.
“Factors that promote resilience include individual skills and strengths, family support and relationships, and involvement in community clubs and organisations,” she said.
“Social connection often underpins resilience, and includes positive relationships, supportive networks and community connectedness. At VicHealth, we’re looking at all of these factors.”
Understanding the status quo
Published in November 2015, the Young Victorians’ resilience and mental wellbeing survey report highlights factors that may be associated with resilience and personal wellbeing in young adults, and provides a baseline measure that will help to interpret data collected in future studies.4 One thousand young Victorians aged between 16 and 25 participated in the telephone-based survey in May 2015. Results reveal that although most young Victorians have good mental wellbeing, there is still more that can be done to build resilience in this group. Maintaining social connection and offsetting loneliness are essential.
VicHealth commissioned CSIRO to produce the Bright Futures report; an analysis of new and emerging trends in society and their impact on the mental wellbeing of young people. This report combined expert consultation, forecasting and analysis of demographic, economic, technological and social trends to identify issues that may impact young people’s mental wellbeing over the next 10 to 20 years.
The report concludes that young people will require both advanced technical skills as well as sophisticated social and emotional skills in order to thrive in a future of unprecedented change and competition.
As well as many new challenges, there will be new opportunities for young people to grasp along the way. Collective efforts across government, industry and community organisations will help young Victorians to manage the risks and harness the benefits of the forthcoming change.
Building an evidence base
VicHealth engaged leading institutions and academics to conduct three literature reviews, with the purpose of establishing an evidence base from which to identify opportunities for further intervention.
Theories relating to resilience and young people5
Consensus exists that resilience is not a special quality with which only some children are born; it results from the interaction between the child and their environment.
Theorists agree that protective factors exist at the child, family and community level and that social relationships are the most important protective factor.
Dr Mandie Shean of Edith Cowan University says, “Resilience research provides data that has the potential to significantly improve the psychological, educational, social and emotional outcomes in young people.
A positive shift in their health affects not only their current functioning but, as adults, their future functioning in society.”
Evidence relating to resilience and young people6
Dr Michelle Tollit from the Centre for Adolescent Health, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute recommends a systematic approach to promoting individual resilience among children and young people that incorporates a broad range of factors including family relationships, service systems, school culture, socioeconomic factors, community attitudes and cultural norms.
“The findings of this review demonstrated that families, peers, schools and the community can all play a role in enhancing the resilience of children and young people. Policies and platforms that enable a cross-sector, multi-stakeholder response to child/ adolescent resilience are likely to have the greatest impact,” she said.
Interventions to build resilience among young people7
Dr Nicola Reavley from the Centre for Mental Health, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health (The University of Melbourne) conducted a literature review of interventions designed to develop resilience among children, adolescents and young adults. Many of these interventions showed beneficial effects in promoting resilience and reducing the risk of developing mental health problems.
The review assessed the nature and quality of evidence for resilience and social connection building in a variety of settings, as outlined below:7
|Level of intervention||Evidence|
|Individual (emotional and social skills)||Found|
|Family (supporting authoritative parenting)||Found|
|School (being valued, belonging, participation)||Some found|
|Community (attachment to neighbourhood, social cohesion)||Incomplete|
|Society (systems interventions)||Incomplete|
1 VicHealth 2015, VicHealth Mental Wellbeing Strategy 2015–19, Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, Melbourne.
2 VicHealth 2015, Bright Futures: megatrends impacting the mental wellbeing of young Victorians over the coming 20 years, Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, Melbourne.
3 Foresight Mental Capital and Wellbeing Project 2008, Final Project report – Executive summary, The Government Office for Science, London.
4 VicHealth 2015, Young Victorians’ resilience and mental wellbeing survey: summary and full report, Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, Melbourne.
5 VicHealth 2015, Current theories relating to resilience and young people: a literature review, Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, Melbourne.
6 VicHealth 2015, Epidemiological evidence relating to resilience and young people: a literature review, Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, Melbourne.
7 VicHealth 2015, Interventions to build resilience among young people: a literature review, Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, Melbourne.
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