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Monday, 31 August 2020
Page: 6120


Ms SHARKIE (Mayo) (18:47): The pandemic has changed the way we live, work, study and connect with others. Whether it be weddings or anniversaries or 50th birthday celebrations, they are all decidedly smaller. While it's disappointing that we can't share these milestones with friends, we know that this will pass and the opportunity to do so again will return. But for the younger generation, the opportunity, once lost, is difficult to regain. Football finals, schoolies and end-of-year celebrations may be a cause for concern for parents, but they are also a rite of passage for young people. The necessary restrictions have negatively impacted every aspect of what we would consider to be the normal day-to-day activities of our young people.

Cognisant of the facts, the South Australian Commissioner for Children and Young People, Helen Connolly, embarked upon a consultation process to better understand the experiences of young people during the time of COVID. The reflections are best encapsulated in a quote from 16-year-old Brayden: 'I never expected a health crisis to affect every aspect of my life other than my health.' But while our young people may be physically healthy, the commissioner's report highlights that the pandemic has a profound impact on their mental health. In part due to a lack of connection, social ties forged through schools, part-time work, sport, and other activities have all been suspended during the pandemic. For others, their family's financial uncertainty weighs heavily on their minds, as do their own future employment prospects as they leave secondary school or university and prepare to enter a very competitive job market.

The concern is not unfounded. Analysis by the Foundation for Young Australians estimated that the real youth unemployment rate in Mayo, as of May 2020, was likely closer to 27 per cent. Our young people are reporting negative impacts on their level of stress and anxiety and feelings of isolation, and they are unsure about where to turn for support.

One of the best places to turn for support is headspace. With more than 75 per cent of mental health issues developing before a person turns 25, I've always viewed their service as an incredibly needed investment in our young people. And, since 2016, I've campaigned for a headspace presence in my community of Mayo, working with our consultative group to ensure that we not only secured a shopfront in Mount Barker but we also now have a satellite service in Victor Harbor, outreach down to Strathalbyn and all the way up to the other end of the electorate at Birdwood and of course Kangaroo Island. But, frustratingly, these services continue to be administered through the Murray Bridge headspace. We really need our own fully fledged headspace in Mount Barker.

We know that the challenges for young people are going to grow. We know that COVID has exacerbated mental health. We know that it has sent anxiety rates soaring, especially for young people, and so the demand for support, particularly in a growing region like my region, is not going to abate. And it should not be forgotten that the young people living in Kangaroo Island and Adelaide Hills have gone through bushfires as well this year, with many losing their homes.

With the official commencement of the bushfire season in just a couple of weeks, that anxiety is already creeping back into many parts of our community. I've talked at many of our high schools about this challenge. This has not been an easy year for my community, but with access to the right supports our young people will have the tools that they need to navigate these uncertain times and to identify the opportunities that lay ahead. So I will continue to advocate for more resources for headspace in Mayo so that our community can access the same kinds of services as if we were living in a metropolitan area.

I must commend this government. Actually, it was the previous member for Sturt who started headspace back in 2006, a long, long time ago, and I think it's something that former Minister Pyne is very proud of. It's a matter that perhaps we sometimes forget who were the great architects of these services. I know headspace has saved many lives in my community and I'm sure many lives of young people right across Australia. Whether it be bushfires, pandemics or recessions, our issues don't stop at the tollgate or the ferry terminal. I'm looking forward to advocating for more health services for my young people in Mayo.