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  • Writer's pictureWorld Half Full

BMX biking boosts youth mental health


South Australian teenagers are riding BMX bikes to improve their mental wellbeing. Adelaide charity Lighthouse Youth Projects runs weekly sessions, which include BMX coaching and life skills mentoring, to engage young people who have had a rough start in life. Some clients say the support had been a “lifesaver”.

Dylan Hayes, 14, has been in the program for a year and says it’s taught him ways to deal with his problems. Mentors in the program encouraged him to use suggested ways to calm down, rather than turning to anti-social behaviour.

“Take my bike out when I’m mad, walk away. Sometimes they [the mentors] have even come out in their own time to come and see me to help,” Dylan says. “It’s helped everyone that’s participates in it — it helped in a mental way, physical way. [I’m] more confident about my body . . . feeling more confident on a bike now.”

Another, Jacob Pine, 15, says being a part of the program had helped his school attendance. “There was a period of time when I was just not having it; my mental health was in the shitter, and I was only at home like two days a week,” he explains.

Lighthouse Youth Projects co-founder Jamie Moore says riding bikes had saved his life and he wanted more young people to get through their own problems by riding. “We just feel when you’ve had those things happen to you, the best thing you can do is ride a bike — potentially get out with people that care about you and ride a bike,” he says. “We see a huge improvement in the kids we work with regularly. When they attend these programs, their attendance is one of the biggest KPIs we can work off. They don’t miss a program.”

New research shows the mental health of young people in Australia has declined rapidly in recent years. The Melbourne Institute’s Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey revealed a sharp decline in the mental health of people aged 15–24 between 2011 and 2020.

Flinders University associate professor Dan Fassnacht says there was an even bigger deterioration reported during covid lockdowns and restrictions. “When you look into young people, around 40% are reporting mental illness in the last 12 months — that is staggering,” he notes.

To deal with the growing mental health problems facing young people, Fassnacht says solutions need to be found. “We can actually test what’s the best intervention — what’s the intervention with the most evidence — and probably change some of the things we are doing because we probably need to change our mental healthcare system,” he says. “The question is: how can we prevent suicide in young Australians.”

The mentors at Lighthouse believe a practical approach is the answer, rather than more of the usual counselling programs.

“I remember when I was young, I would never talk to them [counsellors],” says mentor Joseph Brookes. “It’s very clinical to us, and we work very practically. It's a lot easier than maybe talking to a counsellor or something . . . When you're doing something together, conversations come out easier.”

Lighthouse hopes to expand its services to help more young South Australians. Moore says there had been discussions underway but the charity needed more resources first. “Look at places like the Riverland, Kangaroo Island — places that have had natural disasters in the last few years — because that's probably the best place to start,” the co-founder believes.

Sessions are held in schools in metropolitan Adelaide, but there have been engagement days hosted in regional towns such as Port Pirie and Murray Bridge.

TOP BMX bike riders together at the BMX track in the Adelaide Parklands

ABOVE Dylan Hayes has learnt new ways to deal with anger

MIDDLE Lighthouse Youth Project mentor Joseph Brookes

BOTTOM Jacob Pine says the program is helping him get to school

PHOTOS ABC News: Shari Hams


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