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Two thirds of young people with signs of mental ill-health are falling through the cracks

Two thirds of young people with signs mental ill-h
Photo: Two thirds of young people with signs of mental ill-health are falling through t....
Around one in five young people aged between 11 and 17 will experience a mental health challenge, throughout their youth.

In 2019, there were 461 deaths by suicide among young people aged between 15 and 24.

But new research shows Australia’s mental health care services are ill-prepared to support youth with complex mental health needs.

Two in three young people with emerging mental health issues did not experience meaningful improvement during two years of early intervention, according to new research from the University of Sydney.

Qualified mental health nurses are uniquely placed to help, but lack of access to Medicare Benefits Schedule items is continuing to hold them back.

“It is disappointing to see that young people experiencing mental ill-health continue to suffer poor outcomes, when help could be more readily available,” Australian College of Mental Health Nurses (ACMHN) Vice-President Professor John
Hurley said.

The study suggested Australia needed more multidisciplinary, team-based care to treat the long-term needs of young people.

In a recent interview with ABC’s Health Report 2021 Australian Mental Health Prize winner and co-author of the research Professor Ian Hickie said medical personnel, such as GPs, psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, and occupational therapists needed to work in teams with employment and education support workers and mental health nurses (MHNs) to achieve the best outcomes for consumers.

“We strongly support the idea that qualified MHNs form a core part of those multidisciplinary teams,” Professor Hurley said.

“They bring in-depth experience in caring for those with complex needs, and have a unique understanding of mental and physical health and how they interact.”

Unfortunately, the Medicare system doesn’t provide for the type of care that qualified MHNs are ready to supply, he said.

“Credentialed Mental Health Nurses have extremely limited access to MBS item numbers, which effectively locks them out of providing the care that young people with complex needs so desperately require,” Professor Hurley said.

“If government is serious about addressing this issue, they should consider broadening access to MBS item numbers. Young people deserve the best care that qualified MHNs are ready to provide.”

But the ACMHN said it welcomed the final report by the Australian House of Representatives Select Committee on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, and strongly endorsed the recommendation to appoint a chief mental health nurse. 

“The Select Committee’s final report has highlighted a system in peril and in desperate need of reform.,” said ACMHN President Conjoint Professor Mike Hazelton.

“The report brought forward 44 recommendations to help Australia chart a way forward to tackle the mental health, suicidality, and social and emotional wellbeing crisis exacerbated by natural disasters and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”

Conjoint Professor Hazelton said the College felt encouraged by the recognition that both climate change and the pandemic have had an ongoing impact on Australians’ mental wellbeing, and that mental health services had been buckling under
the pressure for a long time.

The report also highlighted the need for appointing a chief mental health nurse to work alongside the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Mental Health, and encouraged states and territories to adopt an equivalent position.

“We’re delighted to hear that the Select Committee recognises the incredible work of mental health nurses (MHNs) as reflected by this recommendation,” Conjoint Professor Hazelton said.

“We hope that establishing the role of a federal chief mental health nurse would continue to highlight MHNs key role in helping those struggling with their mental health, and will pave the way for more policy change that enables MHNs to provide
the full range of their skills in the future.”

The report also recommended adding Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) items to support case conferencing in the treatment of mental illness for health professional attendance, including MHNs.

“We always welcome the expansion of MBS items to qualified MHNs. However, we do believe that broader access, similar to the Mental Health Nurse Incentive Program, would be substantially more effective,” Conjoint Professor Hazelton said.


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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications ( and a children's author.