Young People Delay Getting Mental Health Treatment, “can’t be helped”

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Half of young people wait six months before getting treatment for mental health issues, new research released by Headspace has revealed.

The study, undertaken in 2015, asked over 2,200 young Australians between the ages of 12 to 25 why they weren’t seeking help when they needed it.

Close to 50 per cent said money was an issue, while almost 45 per cent said they believed they could not be helped.

Despite efforts to break down the stigma of mental health, more than half of young people said they were worried about what others would think of them if they got professional help.

The National Health and Medical Research Council funded the research, which was undertaken in partnership between Headspace and Orygen Youth Health Research at the University of Melbourne.

Federal health minister Sussan Ley told Hack the statistics are a concern.

“Those statistics concern me, of course they do,” she said.

“What we know is the key is to intervene early and that’s what the Headspace model is based upon.

Sophie Hope, 24, waited years before she was diagnosed for her “multiple” mental health issues.

“I definitely started showing some pretty bad symptoms for about five or six years prior to that diagnosis and seeking help,” she told Hack.

“At first I just wasn’t aware that what I was experiencing was anything different to what other people were experiencing. It was distressing and I felt like I was suffering but… I wasn’t aware mental health issues were a thing.

“When I did hear things talked about it was in movies or media or among people and they would say ‘crazy’ and ‘mad’… so that was pretty off putting with all the stigma.”

Sophie, who is now a youth advocate on Headspace’s national reference group, says she didn’t have enough information about what mental health treatment involves.

“I didn’t know if (psychologists) were going to betray my confidence and tell everyone everything…or if they could actually help me. I suppose I had a lot of questions, and no answers.

Sophie says she tried several psychologists before she got the help she needed.

But despite the difficulty of finding the right help, Sophie says it is worth it to keep trying until you do.

“I do think it is really important to seek help… I understand how many barriers (people) might feel can be in the way. But once you find a good clinician or somebody who can really help you it’s absolutely worth it and it can be life changing. I feel like it saved my life in many ways.

“Keep persisting. I know that can be really exhausting as well. If you try one and it’s bad just remember there are still good ones out there, keep trying.”

How big is the problem?

Every year, a quarter of all young Australians deal with mental health problems. Every day, seven people kill themselves in this country. Suicide is the biggest killer of young people.

Before the election, Psychiatrist and former Australian of the Year Professor Patrick McGorry called on politicians on both sides to prioritise mental health spending.

“We’re spending something like seven per cent of the health burden on a problem that’s 13 per cent of the health burden” he told Hack at the time.

“But if you look at people in the prime of life it’s more like 35-40 per cent of the health burden.”

“We’re trashing whole generations by not looking after them properly.”

What is the government doing about suicide?

Last year, the government announced changes to mental health funding, following a review by the National Mental Health Commission.

There was no new money announced at the time, but $350 million of existing funds were reallocated from Canberra, to localised primary health networks (PHNs).

The PHNs are responsible for commissioning mental health services, and other health services, locally.

The Government also announced a digital gateway to services and a “stepped care” model to give people different levels of care depending on their needs. The idea was that people with severe or complex mental health issues wouldn’t be limited to 10 Medicare-subsidised counselling sessions.

Election promises

Federal health minister Sussan Ley told Hack today that youth mental health is a priority for the government.

“The additional $192 million in new money that was allocated to mental health, much of it to youth mental health, during the campaign, underlines the Turnbull government’s determination in this area,” she said.

Before the election, the Coalition committed $20 million to 10 new Headspace centres, bringing the total number to 110 by 2019.

There was also bipartisan support for implementing the National Suicide Prevention Strategy, which includes refocused efforts to prevent suicide in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, national leadership, crisis support services and a commitment to give follow up support to people who have tried to take their life or have self harmed.

Twelve suicide prevention pilot programs will trial a “systems approach” which basically means working at many levels within the community to bring the suicide rate down. This could include changes in policy, treatment, awareness campaigns and screenings of at risk groups.

One of these pilots will run in the Kimberley in Western Australia, where suicide rates are seven times the national average.

‘There’s still a long way to go’

The Chief Scientific Officer for Headspace, Professor Debra Rickwood, told Hack more funding is needed to provide adequate care to all young people who need it.

“We’ve made some great starts but there is still a long way to go. We’d like to be in a situation where every young person, no matter where they are, has access to mental health services and all sorts of appropriate supports for their mental health but that they have it quickly, that they don’t have to wait for too long to get access to services.

“When a young person is ready to seek help, if you aren’t able to provide support to them quite quickly, sometimes you miss that opportunity,” she said.

Waiting times at Headspaces around the country vary, according to Professor Rickwood.

“We do try to keep it down to under two weeks but certainly the busy centres and the areas where there’s significant demand… there is a considerable wait time,” she said.

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