Most young people with mental health issues are referred for treatment by themselves or their parents

The majority of young people with mental health issues are referred for initial treatment by themselves or their parents, a study in the west of Ireland has found. This is more than what doctors or schools prescribe.

The study, which focused on people between the ages of 12 and 25, also found that fewer than one in five needed greater psychological help outside of community-based early intervention services, which suggests that the latter is a model that could ease pressure on oversubscribed HSE care.

Gary Donohoe, professor of psychology at the University of Galway, who led the research, said it was unclear why 78 percent of all referrals were from those who needed help or their parents.

In my experience, GPs are very good at being sensitive to the needs of young people and their families so I don’t think the problem is there, he said.

The evidence we need to obtain suggests that when young people and their families experience adversity. . . it is very difficult for people to know where to turn.

The study used a sample of 1,184 participants who attended the HSE-funded Mindspace Mayo, a youth service similar in approach to national youth mental health organization Jigsaw, which places great emphasis on signposting options.

Parents get 40 percent of referrals and youth self-referrals are at 38 percent. Other less common ways include schools and teachers, guidance counselors and GPs.

Almost one in five (17 percent of the sample) needed more specialized care usually provided by the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (Camhs).

In a recent interview, HSE chief executive Bernard Gloster said Camhs was under huge pressure. Earlier this year, there were 4,450 people on its waiting list.

The study, published in the Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, said the most frequent reasons for referral were issues related to mood and anxiety.

Most of the problems of young people are the normally understood difficulties experienced in coping with life; the things that make you anxious, the things that worry you, says Prof Donohoe.

One in five go on to Camhs, they generally have the types of problems that require more specialist care. These include psychosis, eating and mood disorders.

You should only go to the second stage of a Camhs or an adult mental health system [Amhs] when you need it because of the severity or complexity of the problem.

We’ve been kind of working in a vacuum up until these [early intervention] services began to be invested by the Irish Government. If you talk to colleagues at Camhs and Amhs, they will say there are too many people coming into the service and you are trying to triage the people who really need to be there from the people who don’t.

Women were more likely to self-refer than men (42 per cent versus 32 per cent), while GP referral was slightly more common among men than women (6.3 per cent and 4.8 per cent). Participants received an average of six sessions of therapeutic support.

According to the World Health Organization, psychiatric disorders are the leading cause of disability for young people between the ages of 10 and 24.

In Ireland, the study notes, 18.5 percent of the population was recorded as having a mental health disorder in 2016.

Donohoe says early treatment for issues like anxiety is especially important to prevent it from escalating.

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