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Young girls facing greater social challenges than boys, contributing to alcohol and drug use

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Media Release
17 November 2013

First Statewide Youth Census reveals concerning gender gap and urgent need for services for young women

Melbourne, Sunday, November 17, 2013: Girls and young women are experiencing a higher rate of abuse and neglect, lack of education and employment, poor mental health and quality of life than young men, contributing to harmful drug and alcohol use, according to the Statewide Youth  Census*.

Coordinated by Youth Support and Advocacy Service (YSAS), the Census looked at the social factors that may be contributing to alcohol and other drug (AoD) use of young people in Victorian treatment services.

Young women accessing AoD services reported significantly higher levels of emotional distress and sexual abuse, physical abuse and psychological maltreatment than younger males.

The census revealed:
  • 77 per cent of girls and young women in services have been a victim of abuse, neglect or violence, in comparison to 55 per cent of boys.
  • 67 per cent of girls and young women in AOD services have current mental health problems, in comparison to 52 per cent of boys.
  • 61 per cent of young women have self-harmed, in comparison to 31 per cent of young males.
  • Young women in AOD services were also more likely to have been involved in child protection, suggesting involvement in child protection may be predictive of ongoing involvement in AOD services.
  • Young women’s drug use was more severe. 28 per cent of girls and young women have ever injected drugs, in comparison to 19 per cent of boys.

Kathryn Daley, Research and Practice Development Consultant at YSAS, who was involved in the Statewide Youth Census and also undertook the first in-depth qualitative report in the state to look at gender differences in young people’s drug use, said the research revealed an urgent need for services and the community to adapt to better meet the needs of young women.

“Young women are not using drugs for the high or recreational reasons. They are more likely to be using drugs to numb their feelings and often referred to drugs as a way to cope and stop making what they saw as worse choices, like self-harm or suicide. Boys, on the other hand, use drugs to be socially accepted in their peer circle. Drug use was often tied to their idea of what it meant to be a man.

“Many young women had experienced sexual abuse and spoke of telling a family member, like their mother, only to be abandoned. The abandonment factor was often more harmful than the sexual abuse and was critical in the connection between sexual abuse and substance abuse.

“Interestingly, almost all the women interviewed had no peer support or female friends, suggesting support groups for women could be an effective way to encourage early intervention.”

In response to the Census findings YSAS is developing recommendations for youth AOD services and State Government consideration to better meet the needs of young women.

Recommendations include:
  • Creating dedicated, female friendly spaces within services to encourage young women to seek support.Further investment in trauma-focused therapeutic interventions tailored to the needs of young women.
  • Enhance screening and assessment of young women.
  • Actively target young women earlier in their drug use to reach them prior to the point of severe use and vulnerability.

The Census indicated the primary drug of concern for young people in services was cannabis (37 per cent), followed by methamphetamine (26 per cent), alcohol (22 per cent) and heroin (4.5 per cent).

Other social factors young people reported to have experienced, which may be contributing to alcohol and drug use, included:
  • 32 per cent were currently disconnected from their family. The degree of family conflict was extremely high for all young people accessing AoD services.
  • 46 per cent reported having no meaningful daily activity such as education and employment.
  • 25 per cent have current housing problems.
  • 42 per cent have self-harmed.
  • 26 per cent have attempted suicide.
  • 62 per cent have experienced some form of neglect, abuse or violence.

Paul Bird, CEO of YSAS, said the Statewide Youth Census is a timely reminder that substance misuse and dependence are the most prevalent and potentially harmful of all complex issues facing our most vulnerable young Victorians.

“As the Census shows, substance use issues are typically symptomatic of underlying mental health problems and trauma stemming from a childhood of family violence, assault and sexual abuse.

“Although the level of use of drugs like heroin has decreased, the sharp rise in poly drug use, in particular, methamphetamine means that the demand on our services continues to increase.”

Young people supported by YSAS are assisted by funds raised from FebFast 2014, which launches today.  FebFast challenges Australians to take a 28 day break from alcohol, sugar, caffeine or digital overload, to raise funds for support services for youth addiction.

For more information visit ysas.org.au and FebFast.org.au.

ENDS

*1000 surveys were completed by youth AoD workers from 36 service providers across Victoria, estimated to be 84% of all young people in youth AOD treatment services at the time of the census.

The Statewide Youth Census report is available on request. For media interview requests and further information, please contact:

Josh Comer
Marketing Manager
TEL +61 3 8412 8522
EMAIL  jcomer@ysas.org.au

About YSAS

Youth Support + Advocacy Service (YSAS) is a leading youth health not-for-profit agency that enables highly vulnerable and high risk young people, or those at risk of becoming so, with substance dependence and misuse, mental illness and social disconnection, to take control of their health and wellbeing. Visit ysas.org.au.

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