Towards a new paradigm of care: the International Declaration on Youth Mental Health.
A recent and growing body of evidence on young people's mental health has pointed to the need for an international response to the increasing and concerning rates of mental ill-health among young people.[1, 2] The periods of adolescence and emerging adulthood are considered the peak periods for the onset of mental ill-health with 75% of all adult diagnoses of mental ill-health having had an onset before the age of 25 years. In an era when the physical health of young people has never been better, their psychological and mental health has never been worse. This leaves young people vulnerable to developing potentially intractable and enduring mental health difficulties with the inevitable personal, familial, social and vocational consequences that accompany the experience of mental ill-health.[4, 8]
In spite of growing concerns about young people's mental health, service provision for young people remains largely inadequate and unsuited to their needs. A number of systemic factors can be implicated in insufficient and unsuitable mental health service provision for young people. Internationally, there has been an endemic failure to invest in mental health across the lifespan with an average global spend on mental health of less than $US3 per capita per year. This global underinvestment brings with it particular challenges in relation to the level of priority afforded to youth mental health and the concurrent commitment needed to respond to the scale of young people's mental health needs.
Even in developed countries where mental health services exist, there are widespread problems with services targeting young people. Primary care and other front line community agencies can struggle to respond to high levels of need, often with little support from specialist mental health services. Specialist mental health services have traditionally followed a paediatric-adult split, with child and adolescent services offering intervention until the largely arbitrary ages of 16 or 18 years and adult services taking all young people 18 years and older. In many instances, there have been gaps in service provision between the ages of 16 and 18 years. This has resulted in many young people being unable to access specialist mental health support during these critical years along with high rates of attrition and dissatisfaction by young people during this transitional period.[11, 12] With a recognition that, in many sociocultural contexts, the transition from adolescence to adulthood is a variable one that spans a period from the mid-teens to the mid- to late-20s, both young people and youth mental health advocates have called for a reorganization of mental health services to mirror this extended developmental period for young people.
Not surprisingly, there has been a trend of poor help seeking and engagement by young people in mental health services.[14, 15] A key challenge remains in supporting young people to reach out for help when they need it and early evidence suggests that factors such as ease of access, the physical environment, location, atmosphere, branding and peer influence can promote help seeking among young people. It must be noted, however, that even when services are youth friendly and appropriate to their needs, individual and psychological factors strongly influence help-seeking behaviour among young people experiencing emotional or psychological distress.[16, 17]
From both an economic and a human impact perspective, there is a strong rationale to invest in efforts to tackle the reality of mental ill-health among the youth population. Efforts to establish a new youth mental health paradigm have already begun and are gaining momentum internationally, reflected most recently in the establishment of a new International Association for Youth Mental Health (http://www.iaymh.org). The first International Youth Mental Health Conference was held in Melbourne, Australia, in 2010 and the second is being held in 2013 in Brighton, the UK (http://www.iaymh2013.com).
Those involved in the youth mental health movement recognize that positively impacting on young people's mental health trajectories requires transformative change. Along with a need for early promotion, detection and intervention, stemming the tide of mental ill-health among young people requires a fundamental change in how we think about young people and their mental health. It demands that we challenge traditional approaches to service development and delivery and replace them with approaches that are inclusive and empowering for young people and their families. Young people and their families need to be involved in designing and implementing more creative, responsive, accessible and youth-friendly mental health services that have the capacity to meet their needs.