Dr Sarah Russell, Ms Erica Evans
beyondblue Victorian Centre of Excellence
Project completion year
This research project invited 23 people with substance use and mental health issues to speak about their experiences of youth alcohol and other drugs (AOD) and mental health services, and to share their ideas about how to make these services more effective. Participants were also asked to describe their methods of staying well and what strategies they employed in difficult periods.
To allow a more accessible and less intimidating interview approach, a young person with personal experience in the subject interviewed other young people with substance use and mental health issues. A co-researcher was present to assist where necessary.
A positive and ongoing relationship with staff at a health service is a major contributor to whether young people have a “good” experience. Other important factors include whether services are easily accessible and the types of treatment and support provided. In addition, young people benefit from holistic and empathic care. To be effective, services must be flexible and client-centred.
Participants described differences between the types of treatment and support provided by AOD and mental health services. These were found to be complementary; mental health professionals prescribed medication and provided “talking therapies” while AOD services focused on social and support activities.
Discussions from the group interview suggest, however, that available services remain segregated, thus resulting in a fragmented model of care. Participants noted having many different types of workers: AOD, mental health, housing, employment, GPs and Department of Human Services. They listed problems relating to high staff changeovers, different workers, having to repeat their stories, and being offered different advice and conflicting views. They also described a lack of connection between services and having to go back and forth between services. Most participants supported integrated care.
When asked to explain strategies they employed at difficult periods, participants indicated they sought professional treatment and support, sought support from family and friends, spent time alone, and turned to alcohol and other drugs.
Most participants indicated they had not yet reflected on strategies to help them stay well. However, some described activities that kept them occupied and busy as helping them stay well.
Implications for policy, practice and further research
Participants suggested a need for exit plans from youth services. Other suggestions for improving services included holistic client-centred care, making services more accessible (including free mobile-phone calls to services), education and training for workers, and peer support.
The participants appreciated the research method promoted access and made involvement less intimidating than it may have been.