Climate change, drugs and mental health — regional youth speak out about the big issues

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Policy, promises and predictions of the future usually come from experts, scientists and politicians.

But what of the generation of young adults who will likely live with the legacy of previous generations for another 80 years? Perhaps another 100 years, if increases in modern medicine are anything to go by. 

We asked six passionate young Australians what they thought were the biggest issues facing them, at the 2019 Heywire Summit in Canberra. 

Lauren Paynter: Flexible work and study options in regions

Nyah, Vic

A head shot of a smiling young woman in a blue shirt with her hair pulled back.

For more than six years, Lauren Paynter has lived away from her home and family.

The 21-year-old said moving away from home was never really a choice, but rather a necessity.

First it was for boarding school, then it was university, and later it will be to pursue a career — when she graduates.

“I would love to return to my home town of Nyah, but at this stage I don’t see the jobs being there for me in the future,” Lauren said.

She said deciding between moving away to study for a career, or remaining at home with friends and family, was a reality many young people from remote, rural and regional areas.

“For rural communities, I think the biggest issue is creating sustainable towns where young people can come back, earn an income and live there as well,” she said.

Lauren said she would like to see a future where businesses offer more flexible work options for young people.

“To be able to work and study in a regional area would be fantastic,” she said.

What young people are doing about it:

  • This year’s 2019 Heywire winners came up with an idea that would help young rural and regional Australians start their own businesses
  • Conquer Every Opportunity (CEO) provides a start-up for young entrepreneurs
  • The kit that includes vital information such as how to get a Tax File Number, register an ABN and organise a work email address
  • The kit also includes a Skype voucher, coffee satchels, a stress ball and a necktie to help budding young entrepreneurs get started

Nathan Doyle: Too many young lives lost to drugs and alcohol

Rockhampton, Queensland

A young man with short brown hair and a check shirt stands in front of a lectern.

For Nathan Doyle, he says it seems like every year that he loses more friends to drugs like ice and the devastating cycle of alcohol abuse.

“I’ve seen too many young lives go to waste, too much talent gone to waste,” he said.

“Ice is the scariest one out of them all, and it’s the one that’s the most dominating at the moment.

“I’ve had friends that have gone down that path and not many of them have been able to say they’ve come back off it.”

The struggle of addiction is something the 26-year-old knows all too well.

Only through his own descent into the dark depths of severe drug and alcohol abuse was Nathan able to recognise the true extent of the issue.

“After leaving high school, I was struggling with an addiction to marijuana and ice for seven to eight years, and for the past two to three years I’ve been in recovery,” he said.

“I ended up in a very dark stage that I never want to end up back in.

“I was all alone in a jail cell in a mental health unit for a long time.”

Nathan is one of the few who has been able to turn his life around, and has since started working on a project to help prevent young men from treading a similar path of self-destruction, through learning about culture and engaging with their communities.

The project and support is something he would like to see more of in the future.

Jackie Bayley: More mental health support services

Dubbo, New South Wales

A portrait picture of a young woman with long, wavy blonde hair in a grey jumper, smiling.

Jackie Bayley, 19, has experienced firsthand what it is like to struggle with mental health issues in a regional area.

“I have a lived experience with mental illness, including past suicide attempts — which I’ve survived — and stays in psychiatric hospitals,” she said.

Jackie said it was a traumatic experience made more difficult by the lack of services in regional areas, like hers.

“There are not as many options for treatment or different kinds of therapy, or in-patient facilities,” she said.

“Lots of people are forced to travel hours and hours away into the city to get the help they need.”

For Jackie, seeking critical help for her mental health meant travelling six hours away from her family, home, and support network.

“Travelling six hours to get the mental help that I desperately needed was crucial, but in the end I chose not to stay in that facility because it was too far away from the family and social support that I found equally important,” she said.

Jackie said there is a growing understanding around mental health, but there is still a long way to go in terms of policy and resources — particularly when it comes to people living outside of metropolitan areas.

What young people are doing about it:

  • Jackie is part of a group of 2019 Heywire winners who came up with an idea to help tackle mental health issues in rural and regional Australia
  • The initiative is called Walk and Talk and it is about getting students out of the classroom and into the Australian bush
  • By creating a relaxed and alternative environment, they hope young people will be able to open up about their mental health concerns, without the fear of judgement

Sam Watson: Taking action on climate change

Ulverstone, Tasmania

A young man with blonde hair, black glasses and a stipe shirt is smiling.

When Sam Watson pictures the future, he sees water lapping as he steps off his family home in Ulverstone, Tasmania.

He said it might sound dramatic but it is the reality according to estimates of sea-level rises caused by climate change.

“I live on the coast and my house will become a waterfront property and then sink into the ocean in the next 200 years — according to estimates — along with most coastal towns within Australia,” Sam said.

“The economic impact of that should be enough to justify going into renewables even if there is a short-term cost.”

At 18, Sam said it was an issue that has been on the political agenda for as long as he can remember.

Despite that, he said it seems there has been little action even though the effects are becoming more prevalent.

“We’re already seeing the effects,” Sam said.

“I left Tasmania a week ago and we had the worst bushfires in history.

“Three per cent of Tasmania’s land has been burnt out, including protected forests that will never rejuvenate.

“If the world, and if Australia, doesn’t take decisive action right now, I fear for my future and I fear for the future of my children or my friends’ children, and the future of humanity.”

Grace Vipen: Quality of life should not depend on where you live

Mackay, Queensland

Portrait shot of a young woman with blonde hair, glasses and a grey jumper smiling.

It was time spent visiting and volunteering for aged care centres that 19-year-old Grace Vipen first recognised a difference between the services offered in rural and regional areas compared to those in metropolitan areas.

“The biggest issue for me is closing that gap between the quality of services that are provided for remote, rural and regional areas compared to the bigger cities,” she said.

“I first noticed it when my grandad was put in aged care in a rural community.”

After volunteering in Mackay and Brisbane, Grace said she was shocked by the difference in resources compared to her grandad’s aged care centre in Mt Isa.

And she said it was an issue that was not limited to aged care, with an endless list including a nine-hour journey for braces to massive waiting lists for surgery.

“When you start with those small ideas and just ignore them, they just keep getting bigger and bigger,” Grace said.

“At what point do you say, ‘This is a massive issue’, because it’s just been accepted.”

What young people are doing about it:

  • Grace is part of a group of 2019 Heywire winners who came up with a project called Bridge
  • Bridge will connect young rural and regional Australians with professionals in urban centres to develop a greater understanding of the challenges people face outside of metropolitan areas
  • It is hoped that by fostering a greater understanding many of the issues can be addressed and solved over time

Ivan Reyes: Lack of transport in regional and rural areas

Stratford, Victoria

A portrait picture of a young man with black hair and a dark grey t-shirt, smiling.

Ivan Reyes is 17 and has a busy schedule. 

He is part of a youth council, festivals and several community events in his home town of Stratford in Victoria.

Ivan said one of the biggest challenges facing young regional Australians is the lack of suitable transport.

“The biggest issue for me, particularly in our community or town, is transportation,” he said.

“If you want to go to the shopping centre, or catch up with your friend, or even if you miss the school bus there is not much transportation around.”

Ivan said it is not uncommon to have to wait around for more than three hours between public transport schedules with the only other option to catch a taxi.

“The last bus might be around 10:00pm and then after that your only option is to catch a taxi, which is quite expensive.”