Quality of life an important measure in assessing mental wellbeing of young people: study

Quality of life an important measure in assessing mental wellbeing of young people: study

12 September 2022

Measuring the quality of life (QoL) of young people presenting to mental health services can generate valuable insights into their care requirements that go beyond reducing psychological distress and promoting symptom recovery, an Orygen/headspace partnership study has found.

The World Health Organization defines QoL as an “individual's perception of their position in life in the context of the culture and value systems in which they live and in relation to their goals, expectations, standards and concerns.”(1)

Researchers surveyed 1107 young people aged 12 – 25 at their first appointment to one of five headspace centres across Australia. Young people were asked a range of questions that focused on the psychosocial aspects of their illness. 

Orygen’s Head of Health services and Outcomes Research, Professor Sue Cotton, said that the conventional way to measure outcomes in mental health services is to concentrate on the symptoms a young person is experiencing.

“But this is far too narrow a measurement and doesn’t give a full picture of what a young person and their family may be experiencing.

“We wanted to examine whether particular groups of young people who presented to headspace shared similar perspectives in relation to their QoL, and we wanted to identify what specific supports these groups might require”.

“By analysing questions related to QoL, for example relationships, social life, work, study and even levels of physical pain a young person might be experiencing, the research team identified four groups of young people with distinct QoL profiles,” Professor Cotton said.

Paper co-author and headspace Chief Scientific Advisor, Professor Debra Rickwood, said the study found that the QoL of one group of help-seeking young people sat within the normal range, two groups displayed moderately lower QoL, and the final group had considerably lower QoL across all facets of their life.

“The findings have important implications.”

“First, young people with mental ill-health have varied perceptions of their QoL. Second, these perceptions are associated with different demographic and clinical characteristics and highlight varying degrees of complexity and third, by only gathering information about symptoms may mean that important aspects of a young person’s life are missed – factors that can affect treatment recovery, Professor Rickwood said.

“Our study has shown that routinely measuring and analysing QoL data has the potential to offer clinicians insights into how young people are feeling about the whole of their lives,” Professor Cotton said.

“This insight in turn, could offer valuable holistic insights that have the potential to improve the targeting of primary mental health care services for young people with specific psychosocial needs.”


The study was published in Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences and was supported by a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Partnership Grant. Professor Cotton is supported by a NHMRC Senior Research Fellowship.

1. WhoQol Group (1995) The World Health Organization Quality of Life assess-ment (WHOQOL): position paper from the World Health Organization. Social Sciences and Medicine 41, 1403–1409.