16 November 2018

Understanding the needs of young people experiencing mental illness coupled with substance use disorders

Understanding the needs of young people experiencing mental illness coupled with substance use disor

Orygen researchers have received funding from the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services to identify the needs of young people experiencing co-occurring mental ill-health and substance use disorders.

The funding was awarded to a group of researchers from Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health and Western Health led by Dr Aswin Ratheesh, Dr Gill Bedi and Professor Patrick McGorry, from Orygen. The funding will support the research team to interview more than 200 young people aged 16-25 years presenting to an emergency department in Melbourne for either methamphetamine use-related issues or general medical issues. The young people will also be screened for mental illness during the interviews.

“We know that a proportion of young people use methamphetamines. Previous research has indicated that these people also have a higher risk of other mental illnesses,” Dr Ratheesh said. “The use of methamphetamines can mask or complicate mental health problems such as depression and psychosis.”

Young people with undiagnosed severe mental ill-health may not be able to receive appropriate treatment and care for their symptoms. This may result in continuing use of methamphetamine and other substances and places individuals at increased risk of suicide attempts and disability.

“Mental illnesses can be picked up if young people have better pathways for accessing care,” Dr Ratheesh said. “Emergency departments (EDs) are a common pathway for young people to access care for mental illness, but these may not be optimal, for several reasons. We would like to understand the impact on young people of mental illness that is co-occurring with substance use, and the needs and experiences of these young people, so that we can help set up new access pathways. This is particularly relevant in the context of the newly proposed mental health hubs.”

Proposed in the 2018-2019 Victorian budget, mental health hubs located in 6 EDs across Victoria will allow people presenting with mental health crises to be assessed and treated by specialist mental health teams comprised of psychiatrists, social workers and mental health nurses.

Dr Ratheesh said it was hoped that the study would increase our understanding of the needs of young people experiencing substance use issues and that this knowledge could be used to improve access pathways and care systems for these young people.

“Improved access to care and treatment pathways could result in better education, employment and social outcomes for young people with co-occurring substance use and mental health issues,” he said.