AMA Youth Health Advocate - Radio ABC 666 2CN, with Chris Uhlmann

26 Jul 2001

UHLMANN: Well, if the future of the country is its nation's youth, how fit are they to take on the job? Are Australia's young people facing greater health problems than ever before and what access do they have to services? Well, scores of health professionals will try and answer those questions when they meet in Canberra today for the Australian Medical Association's National Youth Health Summit. Joanne Murray is the Association's National Youth Health Advocate and she joins us this morning. Good morning.

MURRAY: Good morning, Chris.

UHLMANN: Now, Joanne, is the notion that we are a country of fit, healthy, young Australians far from the truth?

MURRAY: Generally, young people do actually have very good health. However, there are a lot of health concerns for young people and also especially for some at-risk and disadvantaged young people.

UHLMANN: Can you outline some of those concerns for us?

MURRAY: Well definitely, of course, issues for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, migrants, young people, and young people from non-English speaking backgrounds are all highlighted areas for concern.

UHLMANN: Of course, when you look at the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, they've got problems across the board and it's really an indictment that they still do after people talking about it for such a long time. What can be done?

MURRAY: Well, they are very big questions and we'll have Julie Tongs with us this morning who is the CEO of Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service, and hopefully she can share with us some of the insights that they have reached on the health concerns for young indigenous people.

UHLMANN: Now, Joanne, a lot of older people might think that one of the key concerns for young Australians are drug and alcohol problems. Is that necessarily the case? Is that one of the key concerns for you?

MURRAY: It is definitely one of the key concerns and I think of particular concern is smoking. Smoking in young people is not decreasing despite the efforts for health promotion. So it's definitely a question that we need to look at and we'll have with us today people from the Alcohol and Drug Council of Australia and the Australian Drug Foundation and also some of the Quit organisations around Australia who will be here discussing those issues.

UHLMANN: Many might ask what more can be done? We've had these sorts of campaigns running for years now. People surely should have got the message?

MURRAY: Yes, definitely, and I think that there is a call for more research in the area of adolescent health to get a better understanding of these issues and specific health concerns that we'll be talking about this morning. And I think also there is a need for better co-ordination and collaboration between both government and non-government services to actually get the messages across.

UHLMANN: Do we need to look at another way of talking to young people about smoking? Is it just a case of adults talking to kids and perhaps we have to examine the way that we send the message?

MURRAY: Yes, I think so, and there is a big cry for young people to speak on their own behalf and we will have some young people here present at the summit today. And we'll have a young lady speaking on her experiences of the health care system and I think that young people speaking to young people is very beneficial.

UHLMANN: Do you think, though, that with young people there's always going to be a forbidden fruit factor with drugs? The more that you say don't do it, the more that they'll be keen to take some?

MURRAY: Yes, and I think that drugs do need to be looked at in a social context and so those kinds of issues will also be explored today, the social and environmental issues that affect young people's health including things like housing, employment, education.

UHLMANN: What about youth suicide, particularly among young men?

MURRAY: Well, definitely, the suicide rates in Australia are extremely high and it's alarming to hear that at least one young Australian dies from suicide each day, with more than 10,000 hospitalised each year due to intentional self-harm. They are actually really alarming statistics and it just highlights the importance of youth health issues. As well as investing in the future of young Australians that we need to also invest now in the current health concerns.

UHLMANN: And, of course, regional Australia presents particular health problems as well.

MURRAY: Most definitely, and we'll actually have joining with us this morning by tele-conference from Moree, the Young Australian of the Year, James Fitzpatrick, who is actually on an official tour of duty in regional Australia and he'll be joining us today to highlight the issues for young people in rural areas.

UHLMANN: So, Joanne Murray, what comes out of these meetings? They're talk fests but what sort of positive outcomes will we see?

MURRAY: Well, we're hoping that getting such a vast array of services and organisations together that we'll actually be able to achieve a unified position on the funding priorities and health concerns for young people which we can then present to all political parties.

UHLMANN: Joanne Murray, thank you and good luck with the meeting.

MURRAY: Thank you very much, Chris.


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