Massive gaps in youth mental health services identified. Report recommends outreach approach and national network of 24/7 drop-in mental health services. Up to one third of young people in the Tallaght region experience mental health difficulties and face a major gap in accessing services – according to new research on youth mental health. The report, commissioned by the Childhood Development Initiative (CDI) and carried out by Trinity College Dublin, researched the needs of 12 to 18 year olds living in the Tallaght region.
The report found that among the 11,000 young people in the region, up to 33% (3,654) suffer from anxiety, 31% (3,434) from depression, and 20% (2,201) from stress. Among these it was reported that up to 12% experience severe anxiety, 9% severe depression and 6% severe stress. The In-Betweeners: Identifying and quantifying the unmet mental health needs of children and adolescents in Tallaght study also researched the experiences of parents and service providers. The findings showed a major shortage of services, and even after formal diagnosis, many young people were still not necessarily able to access services. This is especially the case where young people have a ‘dual diagnosis’ with more than one difficulty.
Key recommendations are for the development of outreach services including a national network of 24/7 drop-in community mental health facilities, and the integration of awareness and counselling services in schools. Addressing waiting lists is also a major recommendation and requires appropriate resourcing based on the numbers of known young people experiencing challenges. The report recommends that people should not be waiting more than two weeks to be seen. CDI CEO Marian Quinn said the research showed the scale of challenge being faced to meet current service shortages. “In the Tallaght region alone mental health services should plan for 1,500-2,000 young people. This calculation should be replicated at a national level in order to determine the quantity of services required throughout the country.”
She said that given the repeated confusion reported by both health professionals and parents in relation to accessing services that improved communications, consistency of referral processes, along with drop-in, one-stop shop, 24/7 services are needed. “People in immediate distress need a service ‘on the day’. A dedicated service could also offer expertise on referral pathways and for emerging challenges such as homelessness.” The report has also recommended mental health supports being more strongly integrated into the school system. “Greater working with schools would assist in normalising and naming the emotions and feelings for all teenagers, in reaching students who may be reluctant to seek assistance, and for providing counselling as children are already attending.”
The report was co-authored by Trinity College Dublin Research Fellow with special interest in child and family well-being Dr. Elizabeth McCarthy Quinn and Professor in Healthcare Statistics Catherine Comiskey.
Dr. McCarthy Quinn said the research in particular highlights a challenge for services in responding to ‘dual diagnosis’. “Dual diagnosis was an area of particular concern for both service providers and parents, with both expressing surprise and frustration that once there was a dual diagnosis it often resulted in no service at all. One service provider referred to this as a ‘silo’ mentality. Staff roles and services, along with criteria for treatment, need to be urgently addressed in practice rather than in theory, to decide who does what, when, and with whom, whilst maintaining flexibility.” She said the research highlighted emerging issues which affect young people’s mental health including social media, the internet, homelessness and being from an ethnic minority. “Parents mentioned technology, social media, and the internet as if they were an ‘object’ that could not be controlled, rather than boundaries having to be set by them. Service providers frequently referred to gaming as a significant issue leading to anxiety, lack of sleep, tiredness and school refusal.”
The research also found that that stigma remains a challenge: “Service providers reported that the fear of being stigmatised by others prevented young people from seeking assistance. For parents, stigma seemed to be driven by fear of a formal diagnosis, of medications, and of compromising their child’s future prospects by having a diagnosis on their health records”. Both parents and professionals spoke of a preference for counselling services and approaches which involved the family as a unit, over a medical and individualised response.
Marian Quinn added that the report also shows the importance of prevention and early intervention services for children and families in the early years. “By inference the In-Betweeners research highlights the need for an even greater investment in prevention and early intervention in the longer term. “From work which CDI has done and evaluated we know what can be achieved through early years parenting programmes, supports for early childhood speech and language and literacy, and effective communication skills such as restorative practices. Using proven prevention and early intervention approaches will prevent mental health difficulties for many people in later life,” she concluded.
The report can be viewed at: www.cdi.ie