COVID-19 mental health crisis to have long tail for vulnerable young Australians | Youth Insearch


Wed, 17/02/2021 - 10:27


Media Release, End Youth Suicide

Media Release


Young people at risk of self-harm or suicide will need up to 18 months or more to work through their COVID-19-related trauma, Youth Insearch CEO Stephen Lewin said today, at the launch of the organisation’s annual End Youth Suicide campaign.
Now in its third year, the Youth Insearch End Youth Suicide campaign seeks to highlight suicide as the biggest killer of Australians aged between 15-24 years and encourages young people to defy the stigma and talk openly about suicide with their friends, families, and communities.
Mr Lewin said the mental health crisis coming out of the global outbreak of COVID-19 would have a long tail extending well beyond the rollout of vaccines and the return of COVID normal international travel.
Evidence of the long tail of trauma can be found in The Beyond Bushfires: Community Resilience and Recovery study conducted by the University of Melbourne, which examined the effects of the 2009 Black Saturday and related bushfires. The six-year study involved over 1,000 participants across Victoria and found evidence of delayed impacts on individual mental health at five years post bushfires.
“Before the pandemic we supported 300 young people, some who were already dealing with the trauma of the last summer’s devastating bushfires,” Mr Lewin said
Youth Insearch is now supporting 530 young people through phone and in-person support and created 18 virtual peer support groups across New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria to manage their mental health and wellbeing throughout the crisis.
The Youth Insearch peer-to-peer program equips participants with skills and opportunities to develop their self-esteem, take control of their lives, and play a contributing role in society.
“We were getting more and more requests for mental health support and delivery of our in-person peer-to-peer weekend workshops had been up-ended due to lockdowns and restrictions. So we found a way to support our young participants online,” Mr Lewin said.
By mid-March 2020, Youth Insearch had adapted its face-to-face support program and transitioned to a virtual peer-to-peer platform to provide support and guidance to at-risk young people.
In May last year Youth Insearch opened again to new participants. Since 16 March 2020, Youth Insearch has provided:

  • 6,283 support calls totalling 32,303 minutes.
  • 1,279 attendances at 467 weekly virtual support group sessions where the young people havebeen provided a weekly peer support catch-up on Microsoft Teams.

As the virtual support groups have been so successful, Youth Insearch will continue its virtual support to current and future participants even after face-to-face weekend workshops recommence fully.
“Past participants who had disengaged from us after moving out of a Youth Insearch supported local area have now re-joined our services virtually. Other participants prefer joining online due to intense anxiety or other concerns about meeting face-to-face.
“The proven success of our hybrid program is a silver lining of a very difficult year of drought, fire, flood and COVID. I am aware of more than one time during the pandemic where our virtual program has directly averted suicide attempts.
“We need to come together now more than ever to help young people in our communities.
“If you or your loved ones are going through a tough time please reach out to support services,” Mr Lewin said.
One of the leaders at Youth Insearch is climate activist Marlie Thomas, a proud Gomeroi woman who has had to overcome many challenges in her life. At 13, Marlie lost her best friend to suicide. She did not see his death coming, which affected her deeply. Marlie would not talk or eat because she felt so numb. Three months later, Marlie was sexually assaulted by someone she trusted.
Marlie was suicidal and started seeking older people’s attention. At 14, she moved out with a 24-year-old who took all her money. On the night of her birthday, she attempted suicide.
Marlie was 14 when she attended her first weekend workshop. Since then, she has attended numerous weekend workshops and virtual support group sessions, and has completed leaders training. Since becoming a Youth Insearch leader Marlie has stopped using drugs and alcohol and has stopped self-harming. She gained employment, engaged more at school, and went on to year 11.
In 2020, Marlie started TAFE doing a Certificate IV in Community Studies.
“I’m enjoying being able to help young people like me through the Youth Insearch virtual peer-to-peer groups, but I hate not being able to hug them. I can't wait till we see each other face to face,” Marlie said.
This week politicians will be wearing blue heart badges in Parliament to raise awareness for the Youth Insearch End Youth Suicide campaign. The effort is being led by Member for Berowra Julian Leeser MP, who in his maiden speech outlined the experience of losing his father to suicide.
“I am proud that the Federal Government has prioritised improving access to mental health and combatting the tragedy of suicide.
“I’m encouraging my colleagues to wear the Blue Heart today in Parliament as part of the End Youth Suicide campaign.
“This is an important campaign for raising awareness about the help that is available for young people contemplating suicide and ending the scourge of suicide amongst our youth,” Mr Leeser said.
Youth Insearch has enlisted Triple J Hottest 100-ranking musician G Flip, influencer Cartia Mallan, YouTuber Georgia Productions, TikTok influencer Sarah Magusara and many other Australian celebrities to share social media posts about the campaign in a move designed to connect directly with young people and their support network.
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Key youth suicide statistics
• Suicide is the biggest killer of Australians aged 15 to 24 years
• People living in rural and remote Australia are up to twice as likely to die by suicide as people living in major cities
• For every suicide in this age group there are around 100 to 200 suicide attempts
• Almost one in four young people who die by suicide are Indigenous
• For each life lost to suicide, the impacts are felt by up to 135 people, including family members, work colleagues, friends and first responders at the time of death.
• In 2019, 461 young Australians died by suicide.
About Youth Insearch
Youth Insearch runs one of the most successful youth intervention programs in Australia. Prior to attending Youth Insearch, 58 per cent said they had planned to kill themselves in the past and 23 per cent had actually made a suicide attempt while 21 per cent said that they felt it was likely or very likely that they would attempt suicide in the future. Almost half of all Youth Insearch participants (47 per cent) said they had engaged in self harm in the preceding 12 months.
In 2020, 91 per cent of Youth Insearch participants no longer felt suicidal after attending the program, with all receiving ongoing follow-up support. Eighty-nine per cent had not re-attempted suicide after participating in the Youth Insearch program.
Youth Insearch is a multi-award-winning charity organisation dedicated to helping young people, aged between 14 and 20 years, through peer group support. Founded in 1985, Youth Insearch has helped nearly 32,000 at-risk youth turn their lives around, including thousands at risk of suicide.
Youth suicide is the leading cause of death in young Australians aged between 15 and 24 years of age and Youth Insearch aims to change this statistic.

Instagram: @youthinsearch
YouTube: Youth Insearch
If you need assistance, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Kids Help Line on 1800 55 1800.
About CEO Stephen Lewin
Stephen Lewin joined Youth Insearch as General Manager in December 2014. Committed to a career creating public value, Stephen previously worked with the NSW Government for nineteen years, including senior roles in accommodation and respite, community support teams and home care.
Along with his professional expertise, Stephen also brings his experience as a former Youth Insearch participant.
Stephen is an experienced public-sector manager who throughout his career has delivered services to society’s most vulnerable people. Stephen has demonstrated his ability to adapt and exceed in new environments by moving to the non-profit sector. Through extensive practice and executive education, Stephen has built a reputation of implementing lasting change, through organisational culture assessment and transformation.
Media contact
Caitlin Stevens, 
Account Executive Wells Haslem Mayhew Strategic Public Affairs 
+ 61 4 34 412 376