Targeted primary care-based mental health services for young Australians

Elizabeth M Scott, Daniel F Hermens, Nicholas Glozier, Sharon L Naismith, Adam J Guastella and Ian B Hickie
Med J Aust 2012; 196 (2): 136-140. || doi: 10.5694/mja11.10481


Objective: To assess the extent to which youth-specific, mental health care centres engage young people (12–25 years of age) in treatment, and to report the degree of psychological distress, and the diagnostic type, stage of illness, and psychosocial and vocational impairment evident in these young people.

Design and setting: Standardised clinical and self-report assessments of consecutive presentations at two youth-specific centres from October 2007 to December 2009. Both sites are operated by the Brain and Mind Research Institute in Sydney, Australia, as part of headspace: the National Youth Mental Health Foundation mental health care service.

Results: Of 1260 young people assessed, 53% were male, and the mean (SD) age was 18.1 (3.9) years. Over 40% of the young people were self-referred, or their assessment was arranged by family or friends, or by other social agencies; 30% of young people were referred from other primary health providers. Almost 70% reported high or very high levels of psychological distress. More than 60% of subjects reported having 2 or more days “unable to function” within the past month, and clinicians rated over 50% as having at least moderate difficulty in social/occupational functioning. Importantly, 25% of subjects were receiving income support. Two-thirds of subjects were rated as being at the early stage of an illness, and almost half were diagnosed with anxiety or depressive syndromes.

Conclusions: Targeted youth-specific mental health services, based in primary care settings, are able to engage young Australians, particularly young men, in treatment. Many of these young people report established patterns of psychosocial and vocational impairment.

  • Elizabeth M Scott1
  • Daniel F Hermens1
  • Nicholas Glozier1,2
  • Sharon L Naismith1,2
  • Adam J Guastella1
  • Ian B Hickie1,2

  • 1 Clinical Research Unit, Brain and Mind Research Institute, Sydney, NSW.
  • 2 Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW.



Ian Hickie, Daniel Hermens, and Adam Guastella were supported by a National Health and Medical Research Council Australia Fellowship awarded to Ian Hickie (No. 511921). Sharon Naismith was funded by an NHMRC Clinical Research Fellowship (No. 402864). This research was further supported by an NHMRC Program Grant (No. 566529) and a Centres of Clinical Research Excellence Grant (No. 264611), as well as in-kind support from the Clinical Centre, Brain and Mind Research Institute.

Competing interests:

Ian Hickie is a director of headspace and the executive director of the Brain and Mind Research Institute. He is also a member of the Federal Minister for Mental Health and Ageing’s Mental Health Expert Working Group. Previously (2008–2011), he was a member of the Federal Health Minister's National Advisory Council on Mental Health.

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