The ACT Government is looking to fill one of the gaps in its mental health services by establishing a program to reach out and overcome barriers in order to connect 12-18-year-olds experiencing severe mental illnesses with needed services.
In Tuesday’s ACT Budget, funding of $2.158 million will be allocated over two years to establish the Assertive Outreach Program which is for recovery-focused and community-based services to treat 12-18-year-olds who are experiencing severe, high prevalence mental illness.
With 10-20 per cent of children and adolescents experiencing some form of mental disorder, health workers are concerned that often getting young people to connect with mental health services can be a major struggle.
Clinical Director of the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAHMS), Dr Jeff Cubis said that “current workers spend a lot of time trying to help parents get the adolescent engaged or the school to get the person to present.”
“For lots of good reasons, adolescents are reluctant and fearful or resentful of that sort of approach unless they know the person, they’ve met them and they’ve got some connection and this is really what this team is about.”
ACT Mental Health Minister Shane Rattenbury said the Assertive Outreach Program will involve connecting people who might otherwise miss out.
“It works in a number of ways but the team don’t rely on people coming to an appointment at the office,” Mr Rattenbury said.
“They will go to a family home, they may provide help with a transition from an important setting back to the family home or for young people who are in especially difficult circumstances – perhaps homeless or couch surfing with their friends – potentially tracking them down where they are to make sure that they get access to the services.”
Mr Rattenbury said that mental illness can be severe for anyone, but it can be particularly damaging for children and teenagers if left untreated.
“Adolescence is a particularly vulnerable stage where young people are going through significant neurological development, and where mental illness can have a major impact,” Mr Rattenbury said.
“The research is very clear that early intervention is critically important in reducing the impact of mental illness on a young person’s social, educational and vocational future, and there is a broader benefit for our community in reducing the personal and social burden of mental illness.
“Around one-third of Canberrans will need mental health care at some stage in their lives. As our population grows, our local services and facilities must expand to ensure that people can access the right care when they need it.
“Our intention for the program is to try to avoid hospital admission or readmission where possible, providing a clear path to recovery for young people.”
Dr Cubis said that five staff will be employed under the program, which will begin as soon as they are recruited.
The upcoming ACT Budget will also support a new Project Officer to develop a contemporary, evidence-based and recovery-focused model of care for the delivery of integrated mental health services for young adults (18-25 years old).
The funding announcements follow on from recent news that the Government will also allocate $22.8 million to establish 24-hour supported accommodation for people with complex mental health needs.
What do you think of plans for the new Assertive Outreach Program? Given the high need, what other initiatives need to be implemented to assist young people experiencing mental illness? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below?