Australian mental health services lack the capability and capacity to respond to the needs of young people affected by trauma, a new report has found.
The report, Trauma and young people: moving toward trauma-informed services and systems, co-authored by Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, and Phoenix Australia, Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health, recommends government, services and young people collaborate to develop better identification, assessment, support and treatment of trauma within mental health systems.
Dr Sarah Bendall, who leads trauma research at Orygen, said studies overseas had shown that experiences of trauma among young people were common, with up to two-thirds having been exposed to at least one traumatic event by the age of 16.
“The likelihood of having experienced trauma is much higher in young people who have been in contact with the justice system, in the care of family and human services, from refugee backgrounds, those working in our armed forces or emergency services, or young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders,” Dr Bendall said.
“Trauma can have a negative impact on all aspects of a young person’s life. Yet there are currently a number of significant barriers to providing effective treatment for trauma.”
Dr Bendall said many young people found it difficult to disclose trauma such as sexual and physical abuse to health professionals. “They often feel embarrassed by having to speak about their trauma to someone they don’t know. But when they do seek help, many health professionals fear opening a ‘Pandora’s Box’ that could re-traumatize young people.
“Currently, young people can access 10 sessions of therapy under Medicare, but 10 sessions for a young person who has experienced trauma is just not enough.” Dr Bendall said.
To address the lack of services and systems to treat young people with a history of trauma, the report recommends:
- Developing a national policy response for trauma which describes clear actions and activities for implementing effective and evidence-based trauma responses within health and human services and systems. This should involve input from sector experts and those with a lived experience of trauma;
- Increasing the number of mental health and human service professionals who are trained in understanding and responding to trauma by developing a consistent trauma-informed curriculum for relevant tertiary education courses.
- Developing and trialling a trauma-informed, youth specific method of assessing young people to identify the presence and impact of trauma
- That the Australian Government develop a targeted primary mental health care package for young people with complex trauma-related mental ill-health. This package would provide the actual number of therapy sessions needed to treat a young person with trauma, rather than the 10 sessions currently available.
Associate Professor Andrea Phelps, Deputy Director of Phoenix, said although the adoption of so-called ‘trauma-informed care’ across Australian mental health services was increasing it was not a treatment for trauma.
“Trauma-informed care takes into account the needs and sensitivities of people who've been exposed to trauma by promoting a sense of safety, trust, control and empowerment in the way services are delivered”, Associate Professor Phelps said.
“However we need a research agenda for trauma and young people funded by the Australian Government, that looks not only at trauma-informed care but at trauma treatments for young people who have been exposed to trauma.,
“Unfortunately, trauma is a part of life for many young people so our focus really needs to be on setting up service systems that provide a safe place where young people are prepared to disclose trauma, and a workforce that has the skills and capability to respond effectively and promote recovery.”