Improving primary health care services for young people experiencing psychological distress and mental health problems: a personal reflection on lessons learnt from Australia and England

Prim Health Care Res Dev. 2012 Oct;13(4):318-26. doi: 10.1017/S1463423611000582.


Background: Australia and England show high rates of psychological distress and mental health problems in young people. Both are high-income countries and have stated their intention to improve the delivery of health care to young people in primary care settings. Australia has an international reputation for improving care through innovative services and educational initiatives. England has taken a different direction and has concentrated more on developing policy and making recommendations to improve access for young people.

Aim: To describe a Churchill Fellowship visit to Australia to observe initiatives in primary care based youth-friendly mental health care and to reflect upon the observations, comparing and contrasting with the English model.

Methods: The observations and reflections presented draw on field notes from site visits and meeting with key players, accessing web resources and referring to the literature, both grey and published.

Findings: Australia offers plurality in health care delivery and innovative responses to addressing youth mental health. There are two key approaches. The first is the development of services specializing in youth mental health. The second approach is to build capacity of existing primary care services to recognize the particular bio-psychosocial needs of adolescents (and their families). In contrast, England has tended to focus primarily on policy development and improving youth access.

Conclusions: The paper draws attention to a number of political, clinical and educational developments in both Australia and England. Both countries demonstrate different strategies in response to the high levels of psychological distress in young people. Learning from colleagues in other settings can inform our own practice. Ultimately responding to young people's mental health needs is best served by youth-friendly policy which prepares clinicians for effective practice, informed by applied research and supported by adequate resources. Investment in young people's health must be a priority for us all.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Australia
  • Child
  • Clinical Competence*
  • Educational Status
  • England
  • Fellowships and Scholarships
  • Female
  • General Practitioners
  • Health Promotion / methods*
  • Humans
  • Leadership
  • Male
  • Mental Health Services*
  • Mental Health*
  • Primary Health Care / methods*
  • Stress, Psychological*
  • Young Adult