The absence of a Dubbo young citizen of the year announcement at the local council's Australia Day awards earlier this year prompted the Daily Liberal to ask: is there a problem with young people engaging in our community?
In 2022, Regional Youth Taskforce member Taje Fowler was named young citizen of the year, but no-one was appointed to the post at this year's Dubbo Regional Council awards, after only one youth was nominated.
Earlier this month, the Y NSW put the call out to Dubbo youths to join the 2023 Youth Parliament - no Dubbo youths had ever been involved in the program since its inception 20 years ago.
More youths needed
When asked by the Daily Liberal, Dubbo Councillor Jessica Gough agreed youth engagement was an issue in the area.
She said she had noticed a lack of youths engaging in community activities since she had become part of Dubbo Regional Council's Youth Council in 2021.
"I would love to see a range of diverse teenagers, and young 20-year-olds, having a say in how the community is run," Cr Gough said.
At 35 years old, Cr Gough is the youngest Dubbo councillor and a spokesperson for youth issues.
"I have a daughter who's four, and I would like to think that she will have the opportunity to say how she would like to see Wellington and Dubbo in the future," Cr Gough said.
I personally would love to see more youth having a say. I know previous councils have shoo-shooed youth, but this one doesn't.- Jessica Gough
She lamented a lack of Wellington members on the Youth Council - which is made up of young adults aged 12-24 - and said it comes down to "how do we engage them?".
"I've never seen all the members [turn up]. They're young and 20-something and they're off doing a million things. [But] generally the people who are engaged with youth activities do 10 million and one things," Cr Gough said.
"I personally would love to see more youth having a say. I know previous councils have shoo-shooed youth, but this one doesn't."
Cr Gough's message to youths wanting to join the Youth Council?
"They're going to be here longer than us. Have a say. Be active. Be involved in your community. I don't know if it's not cool to be involved - do we have to do a Tiktok?" she said.
Cr Gough said she was "sure there are youths out there doing fantastic stuff but they don't want to toot their own trumpet".
Mental health a factor
He said there was still a stigma about mental health and health issues "in our little rural town" - something headspace is on a mission to change.
"There definitely could be more [youth engagement] and giving them supports and making it known that it is such a high rate thing - having mental health concerns in regional Australia - and having those conversations harvesting connections in the community," Mr Ryan told the Daily Liberal.
Mr Ryan's role is about "encouraging [young people] to access and partake in help-seeking behaviours".
But he said it wasn't just mental health issues that might be preventing young people from engaging fully in the community - there were infrastructure barriers, too.
"We don't really have great public transport, being a remote location," he said.
We have such limited supports, being so far out, as well as the stigma, being in a small town, especially from young people's peers.- Taylor Ryan
"We have such limited supports, being so far out, as well as the stigma, being in a small town, especially from young people's peers."
Mr Ryan said he thought there was a lack of awareness of the mental health support available for young people, as well as a lack of understanding that many support services are free.
"There's a lack of awareness of the cost and affordability of accessing these services and knowing they're free for young people," he said.
Mr Ryan said, in his experience, a lot of young people thought having mental health issues meant "there's something wrong with them".
He pointed to a national study by headspace that showed two-thirds of young people feel like they were left out and cut out from the rest of the world.
"A lot of young people feel it. They think they can self-manage these things but it's not something you want to self manage - it's something you want to make sure we are creating awareness of what we're going through," he said.
Headspace runs a number of programs in the community to encourage youths to engage, including a Dubbo fishing and art group. They are also involved in planning Youth Week in April.
"We are running group programs... and headspace's eighth birthday is coming up, so we're getting involved in as many events and as many things going on in town, having those conversations with young people and their family and supports as well," Mr Ryan said.
Benefits of being active
Another organisation bringing young people together in the community is PCYC Dubbo.
Club Manager Emily Ross said the benefits of being active, whether that's active recreation or active sport, "are endless."
"The sense of family, that sense of belonging or purpose they can gain from being involved in a sporting program is really beneficial," Ms Ross told the Daily Liberal.
Some of the programs Dubbo PCYC runs for young people include gymnastics and boxing classes, as well as a Nations of Origin event which has First Nations club members compete with other youths around the state.
"The age range depends on the sport. Last year we took away a group of First Nations young people in our gymnastics competition - they ranged in age from 10 to 13. This year we'll be taking away an under-14s netball side," Ms Ross said.
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They also run the PCYC Blue Star Program, which is a youth development and leadership program which involves two camps throughout the year. Ms Ross said enrolments had been "great".
"We haven't seen any changes as such coming out of COVID ... Our numbers have been steady or slowly increasing," she said.
Other PCYC programs include a safer driver program and a star-jump challenge to raise money for the youth charity.
"We're in our third year of the star-jump challenge and we're hoping to raise $5000 here in Dubbo," Ms Ross said.
- Support is available for those who may be distressed. Phone Lifeline 13 11 14; Kids Helpline 1800 551 800; beyondblue 1300 224 636.