Responses from Mission Australia's Youth Survey have revealed young people in South Australia view the COVID-19 pandemic as the most important issue facing Australia in 2021.
A total of 2255 people aged 15 to 19 took part in the survey, which showed COVID-19 (47.7 per cent), equity and discrimination (36.4 per cent) and the environment (34.8 per cent) as being the most important issues facing the nation for young people in South Australia.
The survey, now in its 20th year, was conducted between April and August, and detailed evidence of the pandemic on young people in terms of challenges, concerns, experiences and creating barriers to achieving their goals.
Almost 32 percent of young people who identified barriers to their work or study goals said COVID-19 was a barrier to academic achievement, along with mental health (51.2 per cent) and academic ability (39.2 per cent).
Mission Australia's state director Mychelle Curran said young people were showing they were aware of, and cared about, social, environmental and personal issues affecting themselves, their peers and their country.
"The findings shed light on how young people are coping with the pandemic. Listening to and acting on these detailed insights is vital as we round out our second year of COVID-19 pandemic," she said.
"Now is a critical time to make sure young people are heard. Young people can and should be actively involved in advising and designing solutions that will address issues that affect them, other young people, and Australia.
"The Youth Survey is a way of amplifying the voices of young people, and they are telling us that they want to feel heard in political and decision-making processes."
The top three areas South Australian young people identified as being negatively impacted by COVID-19 were participation in activities (65.5 per cent), education (52.3 per cent) and mental health (43.1 per cent).
Compared with males, females reported greater negative impacts of COVID-19 across all areas.
"Without the right supports and policy settings in place, there is a real concern the pandemic will have long-term impacts on young people," Ms Curran said.
Following COVID, young people said equity and discrimination, and the environment, were also key national issues, with close to a quarter (23.5 per cent) being extremely or very concerned about climate change.
Ms Curran said these figures taken together with survey respondent comments showed climate change was taking a psychological toll on young people across Australia.
"Concerns about the lack of action on climate change in Australia during the past several years has affected the mental health of young people," she said.
"We should all be concerned about the impacts of this on young people, who are tomorrow's workers, parents and carers."
She said while issues were highlighted, there was also some cause for optimism.
"On the positive side, our Youth Survey 2021 reveals cause for optimism in many respects, and that many young people are doing well while taking on 2021's challenges," Ms Curran said.
"But we know that more must be done to ensure young people have ample opportunities to access education, employment and services when they need them, particularly as we move toward pandemic recovery and a 'COVID-normal' existence.
"Regardless of a young person's background, location or experience, access to appropriate support at the right time can be life changing."
Survey results are shared with governments, non-government organisations and schools to inform the debate around the circumstances of young people in Australia and to support the development of policies, services and programs that have the needs of young people at their core.