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YFS - Non-systemic barriers to young people’s use of mental health services

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Why don't young people use mental health services?

This is a youth-friendly summary of Non-systemic barriers to young people’s use of mental health services report. This summary reflects the opinions of QFCC Youth Advocates. For research matters, please see for the original documentation click here.


Please be advised that the content on this page discusses mental health, which may be confronting for some readers. If you need support or resources, please reach out or visit our resources here.

So why don't young people use mental health services?

Mental health issues in young people are common but undertreated. Mental health-related stigma and lack of knowledge about mental health services can be barriers to young people seeking help from services. However, simple interventions can reduce stigma, increase knowledge, and encourage young people to seek help. We (the QFCC) advocates for a focus on reducing stigma and increasing knowledge of services to encourage young people to seek help for mental health concerns.

Incidence and importance

Mental health issues are common among young people. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2020-21, 40% of people aged 16-24 years had experienced a mental disorder in the past 12 months. According to our Growing Up in Queensland report in 2020, 33% of young people aged 13-18 years reported having an emotional or mental health condition. Mental health is considered the most important issue for young people today, with 27% of participants in the survey expressing this view.

Use of mental health services

Using mental health services is important as they can reduce symptoms and provide support. Services can help reduce depressive symptoms and anxiety, which are common mental health issues among young people. They can also assist in reducing self-harm, improving emotion regulation skills, and addressing post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety. However, despite their effectiveness, mental health services are underused. Only 65% of young people with mental health disorders have used a service in the past 12 months.

Barriers to use of mental health services

Young people face barriers when seeking mental health support. These barriers include waiting times and costs to access services. The government is taking steps to address these systemic barriers through initiatives such as Medicare-subsidized psychology appointments and the expansion of the headspace network. Other barriers relate to the individual, including a preference for self-reliance, reluctance to express emotions, and concerns about confidentiality. In this report, we focus on mental health-related stigma and lack of knowledge as common barriers to help-seeking.


Stigma refers to negative perceptions and stereotypes about people with mental illness. Stigma affects help-seeking as individuals may fear judgment or discrimination. Many young people in Australia perceive mental illness as not being accepted by society, leading to feelings of shame and reluctance to seek help. Stigma can be especially significant for certain people, such as First Nations peoples and those living in rural communities.

Interventions to reduce stigma

Interventions have been developed to reduce stigma and increase help-seeking intentions. These interventions include providing information about mental health, encouraging open discussions, increasing empathy, and showcasing relatable public figures with mental illness. Contact with individuals who have lived experiences of mental illness is particularly helpful in reducing stigma. Various resources and activities, such as posters, social media advertising, and workshops, have been used successfully in these interventions.

Lack of knowledge

Lack of knowledge about available mental health services and how to navigate the healthcare system is a common barrier to seeking help. Many young people are unaware of services in their community or online that can provide support. Even for those aware of services, the mental health care system can be confusing and intimidating, with concerns about confidentiality and parental consent.

Interventions to increase knowledge

Simple interventions and resources have proven effective in increasing young people's knowledge about mental health services. These include posters, pamphlets, advertisements, and mental health education in schools. School-based interventions have shown positive outcomes, and young people express a desire for mental health education to be delivered in schools.


To encourage young people to seek help for mental health issues, it is important to address various forms of stigma and provide information about service availability.


Mental health concerns are common in young people. Professional support can be helpful, but many young people do not seek help. Barriers to help-seeking include mental health-related stigma and lack of knowledge regarding the mental health care system. However, simple interventions can address these barriers. We are advocating for the inclusion of stigma and knowledge as targets in interventions aimed at increasing help-seeking for mental health concerns in young people

Here is a simple description on how to explain this to a child.

Mental health is about how we feel and think in our minds. Sometimes, young people have problems with their mental health, like feeling sad or worried a lot. Many young people in Australia have these issues, and it's important to get help when we need it.

There are places called mental health services that can help us feel better. They have people who can talk to us and give us support. These services can help us with different problems like feeling sad or anxious, and they can teach us skills to cope with tough emotions.

But sometimes, it can be hard for young people to get help. There are a few reasons for this.

  • some young people don’t know that there are places that can help them, 
  • sometimes we have to wait a long time or it costs a lot of money to see someone at a mental health service, and
  • some young people feel embarrassed or worried about what others might think if they ask for help. They might think that people won't understand or might treat them differently. This is called stigma, and it can stop us from getting help. But we should remember that it's okay to ask for help, and there are people who want to support us.

To make it easier for young people to ask for help, there are things we can do. We can talk more openly about mental health and let others know it's normal to have feelings and ask for support. We can also learn about mental health and the services that can help us. Sometimes, schools can teach us about mental health and where to go if we need help.

Remember, it's important to take care of our mental health just like we take care of our bodies. If we ever feel sad, worried, or have a hard time with our feelings, we can talk to a trusted adult, like a parent or teacher, who can help us find the support we need. Asking for help is a brave thing to do, and it's a step toward feeling better.

Please note that this youth friendly version is a viewpoint of a QFCC Youth Advocate. For research matters please see for the original documentation click here.