University of Calgary

Case for teen support

UToday HomeDecember 21, 2012

By Laura Herperger

Dr. Patrick McGorry, MD, PhD, professor at the Centre for Youth Mental Health at the University of Melbourne. Photo by Laura HerpergerDr. Patrick McGorry, MD, PhD, professor at the Centre for Youth Mental Health at the University of Melbourne. Photo by Laura HerpergerDr. Patrick McGorry, the Australian psychiatrist known internationally for his work advocating early intervention and treatment of teens with mental health problems brought his message to researchers, social workers, psychiatrists and nurses at the University of Calgary on Dec. 11. McGorry was hosted by the university’s newly formed Mathison Centre for Mental Health Research & Education with support from The Rebecca Hotchkiss International Scholar Exchange Program.

“A lot of people want to dismiss the problems of young people as just teenage angst,” says McGorry. “But this age group is displaying a great need for services with no or little response by care providers.”

McGorry pointed to studies in Australia and New Zealand which show that as many as one in four young adults between the ages of 15 and 25 suffer from some degree of depression, substance dependence or anxiety disorder.

“Unless these problems are treated appropriately and effectively, these young people never reach their full potential and underachieve their entire lives.”

If treatment is provided immediately to a young person with a single psychotic episode, that person has an 85 per cent chance of returning to school or work, but left untreated, they will continue to experience episodes and suffer life-long problems, McGorry explains. He also argues that this approach makes sense for both compassionate and economic reasons by providing the best and most cost effective treatments for patients.

“Our health-care services to young people have been a massive, disorganized failure,” says McGorry. “Young people can’t find help, and when they do, they’re stuck in care organized for people with physical health problems who are in their mid-50s and above.”

“Dr. McGorry’s message highlights the need to improve youth mental health services, which at the moment are not appropriately funded and organized,” says Dr. Donald Addington, interim director of the Mathison Centre for Mental Health Research & Education. “Youth mental health is a priority within the university’s Eyes High strategic direction, and the research being conducted at the Mathison Centre has shown the benefit of this kind of improved care.”

McGorry has helped set up a program called Headspace in Australia, part of that nation’s mental health youth service. It is a comprehensive program that targets young people from age ten to 24. It consists of ultra-modern drop-in centres fronted by young people. Beyond the cool décor and space, there are offices staffed by senior care providers offering services that address issues such as bullying, sexual counseling, vocational skills, eating and personality disorders, and substance abuse.