Greater investment in mental health services for teenagers and young adults is a 'best buy' strategy for tackling mental illness at an early stage, say mental health experts in the latest Medical Journal of Australia.
In a Journal supplement, Early Intervention in Youth Mental Health, Professor Patrick McGorry, Professor of Youth Mental Health at The University of Melbourne, and his co-authors, say improved and expanded mental health services are needed to bridge the gap between paediatric and adult care.
"One in four young people in Australia is likely to be suffering from a mental health problem," Prof McGorry says.
He says early intervention is necessary to reduce the economic and social burden resulting from untreated youth mental illness, but age-appropriate services are hard to find.
"Services for young people tend to be threadbare and split across multiple levels of Government, multiple program areas, and myriad cash-strapped service providers.
"Just when mental health services are most needed by young people and their families, they are often inaccessible.
"Numerous young people with distressing and disabling mental health difficulties struggle to find age-appropriate assistance.
"Without access to appropriate treatment, many young people present in repeated crisis to overstretched hospital emergency departments, or their parents and carers are left to pick up the pieces.
"For many of these young people, if they survive, their difficulties eventually become chronic and disabling."
Prof McGorry proposes four key areas of service delivery needed to manage youth mental illness:
· Improving community capacity to deal with youth mental health problems,
· Primary care services, including school counsellors,
· Enhance primary care services provided by GPs in collaboration with other health workers,
· Specialist youth-specific mental health services.
"As part of the current and overdue wave of reform in youth mental health some of these strategies are being actively developed," Prof McGorry says.
"The most important initiative is the establishment of Headspace: the national youth mental health initiative."
"This is a $54 million program of service reform funded by the Federal Government and it represents the initial stage of investment and reform which should result in young people, no matter where they live in Australia, being able to freely and comfortably access high quality care for emerging mental and substance use disorders.
"Substantially increased investment on a more widespread and recurrent basis will be required by the next Federal Government if this is to be achieved.
"However, growth and reform at the State-funded specialist mental health service level to mirror this community-based investment in youth mental health is a vital parallel process."
The Medical Journal of Australia is a publication of the Australian Medical Association.