Last updated: 10 May, 2016

Led by Dr Stefan Hajkowicz, Senior Principal Scientist, Strategy and Foresight with CSIRO, Bright Futures identifies five major themes (‘megatrends’) that will impact mental wellbeing for young people over the next 20 years.

“Megatrends are gradual yet powerful trajectories of change that have the potential to throw companies, individuals and societies into ‘freefall’,” Dr Hajkowicz said. “Moments of freefall will happen to you, your company, your society and the world. That’s assured. It’s not whether change will happen that matters, but when and how you respond.”

The report paints a picture of the challenges facing young people into the future and provides a unique opportunity to focus the building of young people’s resilience, social connection and mental wellbeing to withstand and bounce back from the stresses of these rapid changes.

“Young people’s state of mind and mental wellbeing are increasingly important in economic, social and personal terms, and the risks of disengagement and isolation are apparent,” Dr Hajkowicz said. “New stressors are emerging which as a society we need to understand and manage to ensure young people are able to maintain positive social connections and find positive life pathways that contribute to the community.”

       sad face

sad face

The rising bar

The competition for employment in the global marketplace is more cutthroat than ever. Rising skills and education levels in the emerging Indian and Chinese economies, in addition to rapidly increasing connectivity and automation, will make it harder for young Victorians to compete for limited jobs.

Automation means many of the jobs young people without qualifications or extensive experience currently hold will be redundant within the next 20 years.

Simultaneously, many new and exciting jobs are forming through technological advancements. Roles in healthcare, communications, education, tourism and multimedia specialty fields will require skilled, dedicated workers.

While the jobs of the future are difficult to predict, regardless of the technical skills required, the ability to learn, adapt and remain physically and mentally agile are crucial.

Jan Owen, CEO of the Foundation for Young Australians, recognises this trend, and said that their report The New Work Order points to a need for increased enterprise skills in young people.1

“What we know is that nearly 60 per cent of Australian students are currently studying or training for occupations where at least two-thirds of jobs will be automated and over 50 per cent of jobs will require significant digital skills and yet our young people are not learning these enterprise skills in schools,” Ms Owen said.

“Our young people are not being adequately prepared for the new innovation economy.”

Global reach

Globalisation and digital technology are changing the way workplaces and individuals operate.

These dynamics will result in increased participation in online learning courses globally; culture, people and goods flowing across national borders in greater volumes and speed; and a new breed of workers who have no fixed abode and sell their skills and knowledge to multiple employers.

The future will see entrepreneurial individuals thrive, especially those able to identify niche markets with global scale.

Matt O’Kane, Vice President, Technical Operations at said that companies are increasingly stepping outside of their traditional resourcing structures.

“More and more companies are outsourcing and crowdsourcing their work needs, globally. So what they’re looking for are people who are self-motivated, accountable and able to use technology in their favour.

“No longer is where you live the most important element of your profile. Now it’s so much more about how you manage yourself as a global resource.”

Life’s richer tapestry

In a multicultural country like Australia, it is no surprise that there is a trend toward a more diverse culture, society and consumer market where identification of mainstream is increasingly difficult.

For example, while there is a rise in the number of ‘traditional families’ where both parents are working, there is also increasing diversity in the definition of family.

Single-parents, de facto couples, same-sex families and blended families are gradually receiving greater recognition and rights.

People are staying at work for longer as they grow older, the Indigenous youth population is quickly carving out their identity, and young people increasingly have more scope to find their place in society, where in previous generations young people’s paths are more set.

Carmel Guerra, CEO of Centre for Multicultural Youth, says young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds have a unique challenge and opportunity in carving out their place in their new community.

“Alongside the challenges of growing up, refugee and migrant young people are figuring out how things are done and adjusting to unfamiliar cultural, academic and social expectations,” Ms Guerra said.

“It’s a huge challenge for them, but we often see them start thriving once they embrace their unique strengths and start bringing something completely new to their community. It’s these young people’s dual culture and diverse mindset that can really bring innovation to Australia.”

Overexposure online

Over the next 20 years, young people will face increased vulnerability to cybercrime, identity theft, privacy breaches and various forms of online victimisation like trolling, harassment, intimidation and bullying.

These are the consequences of growing rates of social media use, e-commerce and overall online communication.

Ideas of relationships will also alter with the rise of global networking, social and dating websites and mobile applications. Audio and video technology allows both global connectivity and facilitates the breakdown of the clear gender, social and physical identifiers of face-to-face relationships. Young people will also be exposed to a wide range of online content which is not as strictly regulated and filtered as conventional television, print and screen media.

Maree Crabbe, coordinator of the violence prevention project Reality & Risk, said that when it comes to pornography it’s not just about exposure and access – it’s the nature of the content young people see.

“Young people both seek out porn and come across it accidentally. It’s natural adolescent curiosity to be interested in sex and sexuality but porn’s portrayal of sexuality is unrealistic and often aggressive,” Ms Crabbe said.

“This negative portrayal reinforces gender inequality and increases the likelihood of violence against women.”

Out of the shadows

Over time, our understanding of mental health and wellbeing has dramatically improved: not only among clinicians and health professionals but also, to a lesser but important degree, across the general population.

There is increasing global awareness that factors beyond the individual – such as poverty, poor education, homelessness, and cultural background – contribute to poor mental health and mental illness.

This awareness is vital to decreasing the stigma around mental illness and improving the potential for greater research, interventions and treatment. It also encourages governments and policymakers to focus on socioeconomic factors that enhance national wellbeing and prevent the prevalence and severity of mental illness.

Assoc. Prof. Jane Burns, Founder and CEO of Young and Well CRC, said her organization is committed to using digital technologies to support young people and break down the stigma around mental illness.

“Social isolation is a key risk for mental illness. Among other areas, our research seeks to understand how young people integrate digital technologies into their everyday lives, so that we can find ways to support them through that technology,” she said. “In particular, we are focusing on rural communities and particularly Indigenous communities that have lower access to mental health resources.”

1 Foundation for Young Australians 2015, The new work order.Ensuring young Australians have skills and experience for the jobs of the future, not the past, Foundation for Young Australians, Melbourne.