Historic reforms are happening right now across many areas of Victoria's multifaceted mental health system, following the state government's adoption of the recommendations from the Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System.
Consultations have taken place to update the Mental Health Act, which is required to enact many of the recommendations from the Royal Commission and enable reform.
These reforms include developing a new process to access mental health supports for students in public school, led by the Department of Education.
Large scale service design, integration and governance reforms across the community mental health sector, led by Mental Health Victoria, and a separate review and reform structure to the suicide follow up services Hospital Outreach Post-Suicidal Engagement (HOPE).
It's crucial that young people are included and valued in the reform process under way. Half of all lifetimes mental health disorders present by age 14 and three quarters present by age 24, so providing early intervention and prevention services will support young people's lives long-term beyond their youth.
During consultations hosted by Youth Affairs Council Victoria (YACVic) for the Royal Commission, young people told us they want a seat at the table in co-designing and rebuilding Victoria's mental health system.
We know they have much to offer in the reform process, including designing better clinical and community services and successfully integrating them in local rural communities.
Young people want to be part of the improving governance structures so that services better include and respond to their needs, and they want to be a part of designing how to better navigate the system and resolve the workforce shortages that exist especially in regional and rural areas.
At a council level, you can have your say as part of the feedback process for updating local health & wellbeing plans. YACVic encourages all young people to put forward ideas on what actions you'd like to see your council take to improve mental health and how they can involve young people in that process.
All feedback must be considered by the council, and if there's enough support for a specific action it's much more likely to be included in the planning and the budgets over the next four years and beyond.
That could be having more places for social connection, different operating hours for young people, resources for community transport, events for improving engagement and collaboration between local service providers are all suggestions which could improve mental health in our communities.
Youth work matters when it comes to youth mental health. Youth workers and youth services in local government provide crucial supports to young people seeking guidance and support from a trusted adult.
Youth services can identify issues early and provide important early intervention and prevention, addressing young people's needs and problems earlier before they escalate.
They are also role models for young people to learn respectful relationships with their peers and trusted adults. Importantly, youth services will connect young people with other like-minded young people and create pathways to get involved in community decisions and advocacy.
Any reforms on youth mental health must place young people at the centre of the reform process and include young people's ideas, suggestions, and passion for change.
VicSRC, the peak body representing school students has recently declared a mental health crisis for students but acknowledges that these challenges extend well beyond just those attending school, and it's encouraging to see students have been included in the state education reform process.
How else can we ensure young people have are involved throughout these processes?
Youth participation is all about action and there is much we can to bolster inclusion at local and state levels.
We could engage and employ young people to plan projects, reserve seats on committees and forums, and fund or support youth-led action groups.
Young people are the holders of current knowledge, and young people are experts in their own lives. Let's take advantage of the opportunity to include young people in all decision-making processes.
Recognising the role of young people in improving youth mental health, YACVic developed "Say It Loud in Your Crowd", a mental health resource designed by young people, for young people in regional communities to lead events and conversations.
The guide empowers young people to hold local conversations about their needs related to mental health. It also outlines how you can plan and deliver events to connect young people with services and share ideas.
We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity right now to reform and improve the mental health system and ensure it supports and meets the mental health needs of young people from all walks of life, including regional and rural communities.
The best way to achieve this is to centre and champion young people in our communities throughout the entire reform process.
That means giving young people not just a seat at the table, but tangible decision-making power at the table.
Derm Ryan is manager of YACVic Rural. Karen Walsh is YACVic's rural development co-ordinator for the Great South Coast, based in Warrnambool. Jen Rowan is YACVic's lead facilitator based in Camperdown.
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