Young people seeking help for mental health issues at Victorian emergency departments has risen dramatically, a study has found.
The Murdoch Children’s Research Institute found mental health presentations tripled for children between 10 to 14 and 15 to 19 between 2008 and 2015.
A Shepparton child and adolescent psychiatrist was not surprised by the figures and said it was ‘‘a huge social issue’’ that needed to be addressed.
‘‘There are a limited number of clinicians and services that work with this age group, but the demand is very high,’’ Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service clinical director Vibhay Raykar said.
‘‘Emergency departments are probably not the best place to access services. When the demands are not met by the community services, these young people present to emergency departments in crises.’’
Dr Raykar manages a multi-disciplinary team at Goulburn Valley Health, dealing with children and adolescents at the most severe and complex end of the spectrum.
‘‘When everything has been tried and they’re very unwell they come to us,’’ he said.
Unlike Melbourne, there are only a handful of options for children and young people facing mental health issues in Shepparton with Dr Raykar admitting there was ‘‘a huge gap in this region’’.
‘‘I’m really passionate about this issue and we have developed an early intervention service that works with children under the age of six,’’ he said.
‘‘These problems don’t suddenly start in adolescence, they usually have their origins in early childhood.’’
Dr Raykar said children growing up in an environment of adversity, including family violence, parents with alcohol or mental health issues, potentially expose them to trauma and neglect.
He said this had a tremendous impact on the developing brain of a child under the age of five, leading to difficulties in emotional regulation and coping with stress, anger and aggression.
‘‘Global evidence suggests up to 20 per cent of children from 0 to 5 years of age suffer mental health disorders,’’ Dr Raykar said.
‘‘But less than one per cent of them are receiving mental health services. Young children’s needs are significantly underserviced and these little kids aren’t being seen or heard.’’
He said the added challenge was children did not typically present as someone who was stressed or anxious.
‘‘Their symptoms can present as tummy aches or headaches,’’ Dr Raykar said.
‘‘We have children who are refusing to go to school because they’re anxious, but they don’t say they’re anxious, they might say they are feeling unwell.’’
Dr Raykar said there was no quick fix solution, but early intervention like parenting programs, which help parents help their children, should happen before symptoms escalated.
‘‘It would be good if there were more resources in prevention,’’ he said.
He also suggested better and increased co-ordination between general practitioners, psychologists, paediatricians and CAMHS.
‘‘If we want to address this we need to capture things early on,’’ Dr Raykar said.
‘‘Here (at GV Health) we deal with really complex children and young people and sometimes we think it’s too late. Intervening in the first six years of life will get the biggest benefit.’’
Growth in local youths seeking help
headspace Shepparton’s general manager Caroline French said her centre had continued to see growing numbers of young people seeking help.
‘‘If I look at the first three months of this year compared to the same time last year , there is a 31 per cent increase in the numbers of young people we have seen,’’ Mrs French said.
‘‘We are a very in demand service which testifies that the need for early intervention services in youth mental health locally is great.’’
Mrs French said depressive and anxiety symptoms, anger issues and situational stresses like difficulty with personal relationships were some of the most common issues — for young people aged 12 to 25 presenting to headspace.
‘‘Adolescence and the young adult years has a lot going on and young people are often reluctant to talk to their family and friends when they are struggling,’’ she said.
‘‘It is important for family and friends to get good information about adolescent development, how to start some of those difficult conversations and what to look out for in regards to early signs of mental health issues.’’