Services not geared towards needs of teens with mental health problems


YOUNG PEOPLE with mental health problems are being put off getting professional help because services are not geared towards meeting the needs of teenagers, new research indicates.

A study by Headstrong, the national centre for youth mental health, shows that young people who approach health services face obstacles such as long waiting lists, high costs and are unable to get help outside school hours.

Professionals and youth leaders also report that many teenagers are “falling through the cracks” of the health system because most services are focused on children or adults, but not adolescents.

The minority of young people who do engage with specialist services feel there is lack of choice over interventions available and an over-reliance on medication, the report says.

As one young person quoted in the report says: “There’s just nowhere to go.

“I’ve had friends who were suicidal and who went on to take their own lives. They were admitted to adult wards that sent them on a downward spiral. They felt inadequate; they were on wards with adults with chronic mental illness and disability.”

Dr Tony Bates, founding director of Headstrong, said the research showed that young people want a supportive environment appropriate to their age and needs.

“In order to design a more responsive and appropriate system of services and supports, it is critical to involve young people in planning these services,” he said.

He said a major barrier was a near-exclusive focus on specialist services rather than a broad range of community-based supports which would cater to many more young people and help provide earlier intervention.

“Fortunately, in a time of limited resources, it’s our experience that many of the resources needed to accomplish a more balanced and responsive system already exist in the community.

“These need to be identified, enhanced and integrated,” Dr Bates said.

Headstrong says a model it has piloted in Galway and the Ballymun area of Dublin could help to address many of the shortcomings in existing services if rolled out nationwide.

The project seeks to weave together supports and services in local communities to enhance the mental health and wellbeing of young people.

It is designed to promote services that are more accessible, youth-friendly, integrated and engaging for young people.

Initial findings from the Jigsaw centre in Galway indicate that it is helping to break down barriers which many young people with mental health problems face when seeking help.

Dr Bates said the Jigsaw model was developed on the basis of research and consultation with young people, service providers, families and communities throughout Ireland.

It has provided support or advice to almost 140 young people in its first nine weeks of operation.

Most of these needed relatively basic forms of help and support, while just two acute cases needed to be referred to accident and emergency units for support.

“Young people and communities have been directly involved in the planning, design and development of the model, which will differ in each community according to need,” Dr Bates said.

Launching the report yesterday, Bairbre Nic Aongusa, director of the Office of Disability and Mental Health at the Department of Health, said the State could make major changes in the way we respond to young people with mental health problems by reducing the stigma and encouraging people to seek help early.

“This report and the work of Headstrong provide genuine grounds for optimism.

“It is clear that by reconfiguring our existing resources modestly we can produce better outcomes for young people and their mental health in an environment where more adults will be willing to listen to young people’s concerns and fears and respond accordingly,” she said.

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