Young Australian leaders call for youth-focused health services

A national Youth Health Forum has issued a call to action, pressing for more effective services focused on the specific needs of young Australians, particularly in mental health.

In a statement released today, 15 November, the Youth Health Forum has proposed immediate steps to strengthen the voice of youth in Australian healthcare.

The forum’s recommendations include: a school survey to ascertain students’ health needs, support for more peer-supported youth-friendly mental health services, transition measures to bridge the gap between paediatric and adult health services, and focused mental health training for emergency staff.

The forum’s call to action declares that long-term changes to the health system must begin with priorities that are determined by young people.

“Our health system is not keeping up with the needs of an increasingly sick and aging population. Rates of preventable disease are rising. Young people are increasingly time poor and face unprecedented living pressures. This is something that we, as future leaders and healthcare users, worry about.”

Forum participant, Kathleen Wedderburn, a nurse in Indigenous youth health, says the call to action highlighted the diversity of health and healthcare backgrounds that were brought together and the final proposals showed only a tiny proportion of the ideas that came out at the forum.

 “It was excellent to be surrounded by other young people to talk about the health of young people. I know we all feel the ‘generation gap’ keenly when engaging in the healthcare systems as consumers and employees; hopefully dedicating time to expressing and listening to the concerns of young people will go some way to bridging that gap,” Ms Wedderburn said.

Another participant, Harry Iles-Mann, a patient-consumer advocate, said: "Providing a space for young leaders in health to share ideas and develop an even stronger sense of empowerment and value within our health ecosystem is crucially important. The Forum, I believe, has filled a key gap in Australia’s national health strategy and vision.

"So often young people are ‘spoken for’, so the value of a forum in which 50 young leaders in health are able to contribute to the direction of healthcare in this country from a balanced perspective of lived and professional experience cannot be understated.

"The passion and enthusiasm for real change in health policy and strategy that I felt when attending the Youth Health Forum was nothing short of staggering. The call to action is a significant step towards re-engaging young Australians and ensuring that an often vulnerable population don’t fall between the gaps in our health system,” Mr Iles-Mann said.

The Youth Health Forum in September was organised by the Consumers Health Forum with sponsor support from Orygen, Headspace, the Australian Department of Health, Medibank Better Health Foundation, Australian Digital Health Agency, National Mental Health Commission, Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education and the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care.

“The health challenges confronting young Australians highlight an urgent need to rethink health services in order to tailor them to meet contemporary needs and circumstances of young Australians,” the CEO of the Consumers Health Forum, Leanne Wells, said.

“There is a ‘missing middle’ in Australia’s health system.  While we have strong services for children and older Australians, young people whose health needs can frequently be acute and complex, too frequently go without the services they desperately need.

“Care for young people must be a central element of any plans for an inquiry into mental health, such as the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Mental Health already announced by the Government.

“When we consider that youth suicide impacts on Australian families so often, with 350 deaths a year in those aged 15 – 24, it is well past time for us to take more account of what young people themselves feel they need in the way of support services.  This is particularly so when we consider the pressing need for access to services experienced by young indigenous Australians.

“The  poor and often challenging experiences of health care that many young people live with is portrayed in the latest issue of our e-journal Health Voices, which focuses on youth health issues.

“But there is much we can achieve by taking notice of young people as shown in this edition, titled Vision of youth for a healthier future.

“The 50 young people who gathered for the forum brought energy and fresh thinking to the topic of what’s needed to make health care more effective for young Australians.

“As this edition of Health Voices conveys, it is not unusual for young people to experience profound and intimidating health challenges.  Yet so many have come through their experience of pain and uncertainty to emerge with fresh thinking about how to improve the services for those who follow them.

“Their discussions culminated in a number of ‘Big Ideas’ concerning education standards, the importance of lived experience participation in mental health, smooth, patient-centred transitions from childhood to adult services and compulsory mental health services for emergency services,” Ms Wells said.

The Call to Action will be put to political leaders in Canberra early in the 2019 parliamentary sittings.

The proposals include:

  • Funding for the Youth Health Forum to design and conduct a survey of what Year 7 students want from health education in collaboration with a research organisation such as the Centre of Research Excellence in Adolescent Health
  • Youth Health Forum to partner with headspace to develop mental health peer support
  • A national review of current local transition initiatives to identify areas that need support and funding to provide better transition services for health care of young people
  • A commitment to fund mental health first aid training for emergency department staff to provide a sensitive response while safely connecting people to a service

See attached links to: 

Youth Health Forum’s Call to Action  

Health Voices - Vision of youth for a healthier future



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Mark Metherell
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