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Teens with a disability twice as likely to be bullied than peers, new data shows

Young people with disability are more likely to report personal concerns relating to mental health and are twice as likely to have experienced bullying in the past year and to feel sad about their life than their peers, according to Mission Australia’s Young, Willing and Able – Youth Survey Disability Report 2019 released today.

Analysis of the Youth Survey data reveals some of the negative experiences that young people with disabilities have during their school years. Action is required to improve wellbeing and remove the physical, structural and social barriers that impact their lives.

The data about young people with disability aged between 15 and 19 comes from more than 25,000 responses to Mission Australia’s Youth Survey 2019, of which 1,623 reported a disability.

The report found young people with disability are more likely to express personal concerns that relate to mental health than their peers, indicating personal concerns about mental health (45.5% compared with 32.4%*), suicide (25.6% compared with 13.5%*) and bullying/emotional abuse (25.5% compared with 13.6%*). Young people with disability reported they are twice as likely as their counterparts to feel sad or very sad about their life as a whole (24.1% compared with 10.1%*), and feel negative or very negative about the future (26.0% compared with 11.2%*).

The findings also expose the fact that young people with disability are twice as likely to have experienced bullying in the past 12 months than their peers without disability, with two in five young people with disability reporting this (43.4% compared with 19.3%).

Mission Australia CEO, James Toomey said: “Overwhelmingly, these findings show young people with disability are more concerned about a range of issues. Young people with disability are telling us loud and clear that their experience of growing up and living with disability in Australia is impacting negatively on their lives, their mental wellbeing and their belief in their ability to achieve their goals.

“These Youth Survey findings pinpoint that young people with disability don’t have the same access to opportunities as their peers. They need more access to vital opportunities so they can better connect with their communities, friends and families and lead fulfilling lives and thrive into the future.

“We must act now to ensure a whole of community approach across all life domains, and consult with young people with disability, so we can work together to foster true inclusion and accessibility and better support young people with disability as they transition to adulthood.

“This is more important than ever as the Australian economy picks up after COVID-19 restrictions lift, to ensure that this group of young people doesn’t get left even further behind.”

Mr Toomey added, “We must not accept that young people with disability are facing such high levels of mental health concerns, bullying and a range of barriers as the norm.

“These young people are facing considerable physical, attitudinal and structural barriers that stop them from accessing services that may address their concerns. These barriers need to be addressed so that young people with disability have access to the supports that they need, when they need it.

“These findings confirm that bullying is a deeply concerning reality for too many young people with disability. This exposes an immediate need for a national campaign that de-stigmatises disability and prevents the bullying of young people with disability.”

Encouragingly, the results show the majority of young respondents with disability are engaged in education with eight in 10 studying full time (84.6%) and their top post-school plan is to go to university with half citing this plan (48.3%). Compared to young people without disability, however, more than twice the proportion of young people with disability reported they are not studying  (9.4% compared with 3.6%*) and are therefore at higher risk of educational disengagement.

More than six in 10 (63.7%) young people with disability also face a range of barriers to achieving their post-school plans such as mental health (27.7% compared with 16.0%*) and academic ability (24.5% compared with 20.0%*), with three times the proportion of respondents with disability seeing physical health as a barrier to achieving their goals after school (12.4% compared with 4.0%*).

Mr Toomey continued, “In consultation with young people with disability, there should be a National Education Strategy in place which increases awareness about the Disability Standards for Education, ensures additional support at schools and other educational settings, and increases the flexibility of education opportunities, so that young people with disability can learn and study in a way that is matched to their needs.

“Developing a National Jobs Plan with an aim to improve employment services for young people with disability as well as a national advertising campaign to promote employment of people with disability would also go a long way in improving employment opportunities and satisfaction.”

*Compared with respondents without disability

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