COVID-19 impacts youth mental health

By Jason Trethowan, headspace CEO

Source: APNA Primary Times Spring 2020 (Volume 20, Issue 2)

There’s no doubt COVID-19 has significantly changed us as a community. Almost all facets of our lives have been impacted by the work being done to slow the spread and impact of this virus.

While the precautions being undertaken have been absolutely necessary to protect the health of all Australians, it hasn’t been without some significant impacts, whether that be from job loss, physical health worries, loss of connection, and even just missing out on life events.

Aside from physical health effects, potentially one of the greatest impacts of COVID-19 has been to mental health, especially true for young people.

Recent research from headspace, the National Youth Mental Health Foundation, found 74 per cent of young people with existing mental issues felt as though their mental health had gotten worse due to COVID-19.


At headspace we’re focused on supporting the mental health of young people aged 12-25 as we know this is a critical transition period for young people.

We also know that more than 75 per cent of mental health issues develop before a person turns 25 – and if you throw in the compounding trauma from COVID-19, on top of recent natural disasters such as bushfires and floods, and the withdrawal of usual support structures and pathways to care like school and sport, it paints a pretty worrying picture.

Perhaps one of the positives of this pandemic has been this increased focus on mental health and moving this issue into the forefront of people’s minds.

It has showcased the importance of every person in the community, whether it be friends, neighbours, family, GPs, nurses and the broader allied health community’s important role in continuing to raise the topic of mental health – and checking in on one another.


"Talking about mental health can often be daunting in primary care settings, but it’s crucial to have these difficult conversations to let young people know there is support and help available and importantly, that there’s hope."


'A psychoeducational prompt we often refer to when working with or supporting young people is the ‘Notice, Inquire, Provide’ framework.

This simple structure allows for the practice nurse to identify a person who may need additional assessment.

Notice: Family/friends as well as the young person identifying changes in behaviour that might indicate a they are having a hard time coping. Including changes in eating, sleeping, withdrawing from things they usually enjoy

Inquire: Sensitively talking with young people. This may be the first time they have spoken to an adult about mental health issues and the response they receive can dictate the quality of information they give and the likelihood that they will engage with support.

Provide: provide information on options for support from accessing the GP, private providers and/or headspace services or even tertiary care. Encouraging ongoing support from family and other supports is also important. You can make it easier for the young person to seek and accept support.


The headspace website also has free, accredited, online training, clinical toolkits and a range resources which can help build on skills and discussions about how to provide the best care for young people.

headspace is an organisation with young people at our core, and while it may seem there’s a long way to go before we return to life as we knew it, we are hopeful and optimistic for the future, and know that with the right help the health sector can support young people to get back on track and live the life they choose.

Finally, we want to say thank you to primary health care nurses for the work you do in helping keep the Australian community healthy, without your efforts we might be in a very different position to the one we’re in today.

For more information on headspace, visit our website. Here you’ll find information and support for young people, family and friends. headspace has online supports available via eheadspace at with one on one sessions available with mental health professionals, and group chats running daily. We’re also operating in person where possible and local headspace centres, and via telehealth.

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