CONTENT WARNING: This story discusses mental health and suicide. If this story raises any issues for you, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or BeyondBlue on 1300 22 4636.

Young people who’d usually manage their mental health by hitting the gym, seeing friends and keeping themselves busy were being referred to Youth Projects with significant substance misuse issues, self-harming behaviours and even psychosis throughout 2021. 

In the past 12 months, Youth Projects has experienced an 80% increase in referrals to our youth-specialist Alcohol and Other Drug services for 18 to 25-year-olds. Over a third of these referrals were from mental health services.

Proud lesbian and Aboriginal woman, Jessie*, was one of these young people at just 19 years of age.

Last year, it was pretty normal for Jessie to have around 10 standard drinks and a few cones on an almost daily basis, plus consuming MDMA and LSD on semi-regular occasions.  

This was her way of escaping negative emotions and reached a point where it was overflowing into her daily life at school and having severe impacts on her mental health.

On top of all of this, Jessie was battling a legal issue, experiencing strained relationships at home and her self-esteem was in tatters. She was also experiencing severe side effects of pharmaceutical medications she had been prescribed that caused suicidal ideation and self-harm, landing her in the emergency department on several different occasions.

When Jessie was referred to our youth-specialist AOD services, she had little intention of changing her behaviours in the near future. So, our YNOT team began building a trusted connection with Jessie and worked hard to meet her where she was at - free of any judgement.

After reflecting on her strengths and learning about the short and long-term effects of the substances she was using, our YNOT team have been able to support Jessie in setting attainable goals and accessing the ongoing support she needs through our youth-specialist Alcohol and Other Drug services.

Jessie worked intensively with our team to set herself four main goals: 

  1. Total abstinence from cannabis and alcohol
  2. Resolve a legal issue
  3. No admissions to hospital emergency
  4. Complete (and pass) VCAL 

Not only has Jessie been accessing ongoing counselling from our YNOT team, she is also receiving support to better manage her mental health, is learning the appropriate harm minimisation and refusal strategies and has since achieved more than 6-months abstinence from cannabis consumption and 2-months for alcohol.

Jessie has achieved abstinence from cannabis and alcohol use, continues to work on her MDMA and LSD use, has passed VCAL, won 3 awards along the way, and is now working on getting her P-plates and a Certificate III in Hospitality.

She’s already abstained from cannabis and alcohol for just over 6 months, has resolved her outstanding legal issues, has much better sleeping patterns and hasn’t been admitted to an emergency departments in at least 6 months.

On top of all of that, Jessie has smashed through VCAL – passing AND receiving 3 different awards along the way. She’s most proud of the fact that she is the first person in her family to complete VCAL.

Jessie's got a newfound confidence, is getting her driving hours up to get her P-plates, and has started on vocational studies.

Her next big goals are to complete a Certificate III in Hospitality, exit from all AOD services and gain hands-on experience from industry mentors through The Little Social’s 12-month trainee program in 2022.

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*We've used a pseudo name out of respect for keeping this young person's identity private