SYDNEY, April 7 - The number of young adults living with depression, anxiety or panic attacks has reached 1.7 million, according to data from the Medibank Better Health Index.

Released on World Health Day, the data shows the number of 18- to 34-year-olds suffering from depression has increased from 738,000 in 2009-10 to more than one million.

Anxiety and panic attacks have also almost doubled during the past nine years, according to the data.

Dr Aliza Werner-Seidler, a clinical psychologist and research fellow at the Black Dog Institute, says treatment alone is not enough to reduce the burden of depression.

She says prevention is key to halting the increasing rates and schools are the ideal place to start intervention "before serious health issues emerge".

Black Dog Institute analysis of research studies from across the world "clearly" shows school-based prevention programs reduce the impact of depression and anxiety.

"Prevention really offers the potential for young people to have a much better life trajectory," Werner-Seidler said.

It is often difficult to get young people to agree to speak to a psychologist because of the stigma associated with depression.

Integrating programs into the school curriculum would help break down this barrier to treatment.

"When we go into the school environment and we deliver something to everyone they don't have a choice and that's a unique opportunity to deliver these prevention interventions," Werner-Seidler said.

The cognitive behaviour therapy programs educate students on how their thoughts influence their emotions and behaviour.

High school can be "minefield" and it is common for teens at some point to think they are useless or hopeless in a particular area, but mental health programs put this thinking to the test.

"It's really giving young people skills to reality test those beliefs," Werner-Seidler said.

"In the same way that sex education is now part of the PDHPE, we're really hoping to get schools on board to deliver these programs."

Encouraging less "screen time" and more physical activity is also vital in preventing depression.

A recent study led by Dr Asad Khan, of the school of health and rehabilitation sciences at the University of Queensland, found teenagers in Bangladesh who did less than one hour of moderate exercise and had more than two hours of screen time a day were twice as likely to report depressive symptoms than those who exercised for an hour a day.

The study, published in journal Mental Health and Physical Activity, shows the "double burden" of prolonged screen time and low physical activity, Khan says.

 

INCIDENCE OF MENTAL HEALTH CONDITIONS IN YOUNG PEOPLE

                              2007-08         2015-16

Anxiety                   11%              26%

Depression           14%              18%

Panic Attacks        5%               9%

(Source: Medibank Better Health Index)

AAP