Demographic and clinical characteristics of young people seeking help at youth mental health services: baseline findings of the Transitions Study

Early Interv Psychiatry. 2015 Dec;9(6):487-97. doi: 10.1111/eip.12133. Epub 2014 Mar 28.


Aim: The Transitions Study was designed to establish a cohort of young people (12-25 years) seeking help for mental health problems, in order to longitudinally explore and refine a clinical staging model of the development and progression of mental disorders. This paper presents the baseline demographic and clinical characteristics of the cohort, particularly the nature and severity of psychopathology.

Method: All eligible young people attending one of four headspace clinical services were invited to participate, and completed a battery of self-report and interviewer-administered measures of psychopathology and functional impairment at baseline, which will be repeated at the annual follow up.

Results: Of 1615 eligible clients, 802 young people (66% women; mean age = 18.3 years) consented to participate and completed baseline assessments (participation rate = 50%). The severity of mental health problems varied, with 51% meeting the criteria for probable caseness related to generalized anxiety, 45% presenting with moderate to severe depressive symptoms and over a third experiencing subthreshold psychotic symptomatology. Disordered eating (32%) and problematic tobacco (56%), cannabis (30%) and alcohol (38%) use also affected a significant proportion. Overall, 39% of the cohort were classed as being functionally impaired at baseline.

Conclusion: The Transitions Study recruited a heterogeneous cohort at baseline in relation to the nature and severity of mental health problems and levels of functional impairment. The variation in clinical presentations within the cohort, from mild, through moderate to severe levels of psychopathology and impairment, increases the likelihood of the Transitions Study ultimately being able to achieve its aims of empirically testing a clinical staging model for mental disorders.

Keywords: anxiety; clinical staging; depression; early psychosis; youth mental health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Demography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Mental Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Occupations
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology*
  • Quality of Life
  • Social Skills
  • Young Adult