'Nobody really understands this generation': Layla, 16, struggles after the pandemic, and she's not alone

‘Nobody really understands this generation’: Layla, 16, struggles after the pandemic, and she’s not alone

Civil construction apprentice Blake Bishop is working hard to cover the cost of his private hire.

Having his own space is a relief for the 18-year-old who went from foster care to couch surfing and eventually landed in a homeless shelter.

“They say we live in a big country, but here I work more than 50 hours a week for minimum wage so I don’t have a home,” he said.

“At one point, I was working those hours and only bringing [$500 to] $600 in a week and then spend that money on food, fuel, everything else to get to work, and then have nothing to rent.

“I have to take an elevator to work with another guy because I can’t afford to use my car, but by paying my rent I can stay on top now.”

About one in five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teenagers aged 15 to 19, like Blake, were worried about having a safe place to stay, according to a new survey from Mission Australia.

Among the broader population of this age cohort, that number was closer to one in 10.

Environmental distress tops the list

The Christian homelessness charity surveyed 18,800 teenagers across the country for its latest Youth Snapshot.

It found that 53% of 15-19 year olds were working, 41% said they faced academic challenges and 29% reported high levels of psychological distress.

The number of teens who felt positive about the future fell from 55% in 2020 to just 50% this year.

A woman in a white blazer sitting in an office
Sharon Callister says future issues like climate change are on the minds of many young people.(ABC News: Billy Cooper)

Mission Australia chief executive Sharon Callister said more than half of teens surveyed said the environment and climate change were among their top concerns, up from 38% last year and 30% in 2020.

“They mentioned things like catastrophic flooding, other major weather events, bushfires – and all of those things really combined to make this the top priority of the issues,” Ms Callister said.

“Every state and territory ranked this as the number one issue – and it didn’t vary too much whether it was metropolitan, rural or remote.”

Mental health issues aggravated by COVID

The survey also identified equity and discrimination as a key issue, particularly discrimination based on gender, race and mental health.

More than a third said they were concerned about mental health.

Teenager Layla Hodges said school was a source of worry for her.

“After COVID and we went back to school, I was finding it really hard to stay focused,” she said.

“Nobody really understands this generation. When the pandemic hit, it was very, very difficult.”

A young woman in a park.
Layla wants schools to talk more often with students about mental health.(ABC News: Maren Preuss)

The 16-year-old Tasmanian lives with her sister after finding herself unable to live with her mother.

While 49% of respondents said they had a very good relationship with their family, just over a quarter said those relationships were fair at best.

Ms Callister said this year’s survey was different because it asked teenagers what they think could help solve the problems they are worried about.

“They talked about schools needing to increase the mental health and wellbeing discourse to make it easier to access these services that provide support and for that to be acceptable,” she said.

For Layla, finding her own space has improved her mental health and changed her life.

“I’m just a lot more relaxed and less elated,” she said.

“I’m not on the run or in the fight [mode] all the time and I’m not in survival mode,” she said.

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