Young Minds Matter: Use of services by young people with mental disorders

Young Minds Matter: Use of services by young people with mental disorders

22 August 2016
Young Minds Matter: Use of services by young people with mental disorders

The article describes how young people with mental disorders are accessing services, and highlights areas of unmet need.

This article was written by the Young Minds Matter research team.

The first national survey of child and adolescent mental health, conducted in 1998, found that only a quarter of young people with mental health problems had accessed help from services in the preceding 6 months. Since then, there has been a growth in government-funded initiatives aimed at increasing access to mental health services for young people, including consultations with Medicare-funded health professionals, telephone counselling, specialist headspace centres and internet-based help and information.

So what’s changed since 1998? This article outlines the findings of the most recent national survey, conducted in 2013-14, and highlights areas of unmet need.

Overall use of services by young people with mental disorders

On balance, there has been a significant increase in service use by children and adolescents with mental disorders in Australia between 1998 and 2013-14.

The 2013-14 survey found that more than half of 4-17 year-olds with mental disorders had used services for emotional and behavioural problems in the previous 12 months, with service use higher among adolescents than children.

The proportion of young people using services increased with disorder severity: 41% of those with mild disorders, 73% of those with moderate disorders and 88% of those with severe disorders had used services. The highest level of service use was among those with major depressive disorder (80%).

Primary care and schools are the main providers of services

While specialist mental health services continue to provide vital services for children with severe and challenging problems, use of specialist mental health services by young people represented a small proportion of overall service use (3.3%). Mental health problems in young people are mostly dealt with in primary care and the education system.

Young people had most commonly seen a general practitioner for their problems (35%) in the past 12 months. About one-fifth had seen a psychologist (24%), paediatrician (21%) or a counsellor or family therapist (21%).

Schools provided services to two-thirds of young people with mental disorders. The most common service was individual counselling (28%), which was used most frequently by adolescents.

What adolescents say about their use of telephone and online services

About a third of adolescents with mental disorders reported to have used any online service for help or for information about mental health problems. More females (47%) than males (22%) reported having used this type of service.

Around 5% of 13-17 year-olds with mental disorders reported to have used online services for personal support or counselling in the past 12 months. About 10% had used a telephone helpline.

What types of help do young people still need more of?

In the parent component of the survey, parents were asked about four different types of help for emotional and behavioural problems that their child may have used or needed: information; prescribed medication; counselling or some kind of talking therapy; and courses for life skills, self-esteem or motivation.

One-fifth of parents and carers of 4-17 year-olds with a mental disorder didn’t think that their child had required help in the previous 12 months. This was more the case if the parents or carers had younger children rather than adolescents.

Counselling was most commonly identified as a need by parents and carers. Of the children who accessed counselling, about one-third reported that their needs had been fully met, one-third reported that their needs had been partially met, and one-third reported that their needs had been completely unmet in the past 12 months.

Use of services has increased over time

Consistent with the first survey, the main providers of help and support are primary care and school services. A small proportion of adolescents are using new forms of service delivery, including telephone and online providers.

There still, however, remains a gap. A large number of 4-17 year-olds with mental disorders identified in the survey have not had any contact with services. While the majority of those with severe disorders have used services, more than 10% have not, and this is of particular concern. Furthermore, the low proportion of those with mild disorders accessing services may represent missed opportunities for early intervention, at a time when interventions are likely to be most effective.

Addressing the gap is not simple. It requires parents, family, the young person themselves or other significant adults in their lives to first identify the problem and seek help, and for appropriate help to be available when needed.

References and further information

A copy of the main report from the Young Minds Matter survey The Mental Health of Children and Adolescents together with a survey results query tool can be found on the Young Minds Matter website.

If you require assistance or would like to talk to a trained professional about the issues described on this page, please call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

If you are a young person aged 12-25 and are worried about your mental health, you can also use eheadspace(link is external). eheadspace is a confidential, free and secure space where young people or their family can chat, email or speak on the phone with a qualified youth mental health professional.

   

The feature image is by Daniel Foster, CC BY-NC-SA.

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