What makes a youth health Summit?

Luke Catania, the National Coordinator of the Youth Health Forum, talks about the Summit he played a key role in organising.

Q. In organising the Summit, how did you go about seeking speakers?

A. Using our existing contacts as well as the contacts of the PAC members, we approached several organisations and potential speakers who would be relevant to young people.

For the majority of speakers, we used our pre-existing connections to approach speakers who we knew could speak on the experiences of young people or who were young people. For the more senior speakers, we used our connections to them through the PAC members.

Q. What were the big themes of the Summit?

A. There were several major themes in the summit.

  • Equity
  • Person focused care
  • Sustainability
  • Inclusivity
  • Active Participation

There were three over-arching program themes of: “What issues do young people currently face”, “Building skills and capacity for young people” and “Setting the future focuses of youth health”.

In addition, we focused on ensuring that young people were at the core of any discussion or event on the day.
There was a clear theme of giving power over to the young consumers and letting them take control.

Q. Were there issues that came up that surprised you?

A. An issue that surprised me was the importance of data and how under-recorded many young people and marginalised communities are. In particular, the discussions around the census and its lack of questions on sexuality or gender and how much that impacts service distribution surprised me. The LGBTQI+ community has a clear need for tailored health services and without a question of in the census, we have limited and less reliable methods of understanding the communities’ distribution and health needs.

Q. Are there actions or policies that you would like to see come out of the Summit?

A. There are many. Our Call To Action document has five key areas with main and secondary recommendations based on the concerns and priorities of young people. These key areas are:

  • Health service navigation
  • Youth voices in governance
  • Improving economic participation
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Acting on climate change

Personally, I think improving economic participation and acting on climate change are two policy areas where I would like to see health experts and consumers have greater influence. We are calling for a national policy to respond to the health and wellbeing impacts of climate change. We are already seeing the impacts of climate change in Australia. It is only going to get worse and we need our health systems to be ready for it.

A clear plan would also go a long way to assuring young people that action is being taken and that we as a nation aren’t burying our heads in the sand. The other area that I would like to see more action on is improving economic participation and ensuring that cost is not a limiting factor in accessing healthcare. YHF joining the call to increase the base level of income support to at least $65 a day, in line with the recommendations of the raise the rate campaign. This modest increase in our safety nets will help prevent Australians from living day-to-day by meeting the increased cost of living that has led to many young people struggling to afford medications and housing.

Q. The mental health challenges facing many young people seemed to be a strong theme running through the Summit, would that be correct?

A. Mental health challenges facing young people were indeed a strong theme throughout the summit. It shouldn’t be surprising to anyone to know that many young people are currently struggling with their mental health, from the lockdowns and “loss” of the last two years to the ongoing systemic issues and inequalities in our society or even the overarching inaction on climate change. There are a lot of reasons for young people to be facing significant mental health challenges. Mental health challenges themselves can’t be solved by treatment and support alone, even with the good work the Headspace, Orgygen and the like do, young people are still struggling. Major issues that need to be addressed are the systemic issues that cause the levels of mental distress we are seeing in young people. We need to be thinking preventatively not reactively.

Q. Did the discussions at the Summit make you feel more or less optimistic about the future of health care for young Australians?

A. This is a very difficult question for me. On one hand, we heard from so many amazing young people who fill me with hope for the future. On the other, we have a government and health system that either struggles to understand, or doesn’t want to listen to young people as the experts of their own experiences.

There is also the overarching concern of the impacts of COVID on the health system in Australia but also globally. We have had to adjust and change so much in response to COVID and without the urgency of a global pandemic, I worry that necessary changes to the pre-existing health system will be delayed even further.

There is also concern about climate change and the impacts on the overall health and healthcare of Australians. Without drastic action, Australia will continue to feel the impacts of climate change. It’s the view of many young people that our health systems are not ready to face those impacts.

About the author

Portrait of the authorLuke Catania is the National Coordinator of the Youth Health Forum. He is passionate about equitable healthcare, wellbeing and lifestyle impacts on health and mental healthcare. Before this, he was working in the public good fundraising sector and student body representation and welfare as the UCSRC Welfare Officer, while finishing a bachelor’s in communications.