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Report finds young Australians are not seeking help for mental illnesses -

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CHRIS UHLMANN: For young Australians, finding a job and studying can be stressful, but a new report suggests a significant number of teenagers are experiencing something more severe.

Mission Australia and the Black Dog Institute have surveyed 15,000 teenagers across the country, finding that one in five are likely to have a mental illness and the report says the majority aren't comfortable seeking professional help.

A leading mental health expert has welcomed the report, but he's concerned some of the findings distort a broader problem.

Thomas Oriti reports.

THOMAS ORITI: Peter is 21 years old. For the past five years, he's struggled with depression and until recently, used illegal drugs to cope.

PETER: It was kind of screwing with my head, but I was sort of still doing it. I was trying to escape and get out of just like a difficult spiral of depression and you know, not having a really put together headspace.

THOMAS ORITI: The Sydney media studies student recently experienced a drug-induced psychosis.

As a result, he spent three months in rehabilitation on the New South Wales south coast. He says it took a lot to seek professional help.

PETER: There's a whole lot of fear, fear that, "Oh God, they'll see me as this weak human being or they'll see me as not capable of doing what others are capable of doing."

THOMAS ORITI: Peter's mother, Christine, is a mental health expert. She understands why her son didn't have the confidence to speak up when he first noticed something was wrong.

CHRISTINE: If he'd felt within himself that he could speak freely about his experiences five years ago, I think it's highly unlikely he ever would've gone through the increasingly difficult experiences he went through.

THOMAS ORITI: Peter isn't alone.

The Youth Mental Health Report released today by Mission Australia and the Black Dog Institute has found that one in five Australians aged between 15 and 19 are likely to be experiencing mental illness.

The survey of about 15,000 young people across the country also found that less than 40 per cent are comfortable asking for help.

Professor Helen Christensen is the director of the Black Dog Institute - a research and awareness group focusing on depression and bipolar disorder.

HELEN CHRISTENSEN: This is the major problem. And I don't think we know how to crack the problem, because essentially people most in need do not seek help.

THOMAS ORITI: The report recommends early intervention programs and online initiatives to improve the affordability and appeal of mental health services.

Professor of Youth Mental Health, Patrick McGorry, agrees that more needs to be done.

But he's seized on one finding in the report - that teenage girls are almost twice as likely as boys to be experiencing anxiety and depression.

PATRICK MCGORRY: The need for care is roughly similar in the two genders and it's very important we don't lose sight of that.

THOMAS ORITI: Peter was diagnosed with bipolar disorder earlier this year. He says that helped him to understand the ups and downs that took control of the last five years of his life.

And he's assured his friends and family he's now on the mend.

PETER: You can't necessarily find a way out of mental illness on your own. You know, I was using drugs as an out, and sort of escape reality, it was exactly that, it was an escape.

It wasn't building a life that was going to give me a solid job, a solid foundation to survive.

CHRIS UHLMANN: That's Peter, a Sydney student talking to our reporter, Thomas Oriti.