Canberra teenagers can soon see a mental health specialist on their own turf
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Canberra teenagers can soon see a mental health specialist on their own turf

Teenagers suffering from mental illnesses will soon be able to receive help at home, as part of a new program to stop young people reaching crisis point.

Around $2.1 million will be set aside in next Tuesday's ACT budget over the next two years to create an "assertive" outreach program for child and adolescent mental health community-based services, targeted at 12-18 year olds.

Teenagers with mental health conditions can soon be helped outside clinical settings.

Teenagers with mental health conditions can soon be helped outside clinical settings. Credit:Dave Tease

It is similar to ACT Health's Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team, which provides acute mental health assessment and treatment outside clinical settings.

ACT Mental Health Minister Shane Rattenbury said the program would support people with mental health conditions in places they felt most comfortable.

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"This is about targeting people who don’t access these services normally and making it easier for them. We go to the people who need the service, not wait for them to come to us. That’s what this is really about, making sure we don’t sit and wait, that title of being an assertive outreach program describes it exactly, they will assert themselves in a way to make sure people do access our services," Mr Rattenbury said.

ACT Health's Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service clinical director Dr Jeff Cubis said recruitment for the program's five staff would begin soon.

He said the program would help connect teenagers to existing services, and overcome barriers that stop them from continuing treatment.

“Getting young people into services can be a major struggle in terms of they may be reluctant to present to an outpatient appointment or the family may struggle to get them there," Dr Cubis said.

"Some adolescents are homeless and in very difficult, estranged situations from their families. Even in that situation you often need to work with the family and encourage the adolescent to really connect with services which they know."

The funding will also create a project officer position to develop an updated model of care for those aged 18 to 25 suffering from mental health problems.

The Youth Coalition of the ACT had called for more investment in early interventions youth mental health services in their pre-budget submission, and its executive director Dr Justin Barker said the program could help with the "bottlenecks" for clinical mental health services.

"It's a real problem because people want help when issues are manifesting and if you're told to come back in two months it's a slap in the face. The next time you see them it may be an acute presentation," he said.

"Outreach programs mean you can see young people in their environment, which also means you can see their other stressors.

"Mental health in young people can be adversely impacted by conflict in the family, poverty, study stress and housing insecurity, and in turn can make it harder to maintain employment and deal with study stress, so it can be a causal factor as well as something that results in other issues."

Mental Health Community Coalition ACT also called on the government to improve in-community support for mental health.

Executive officer Simon Viereck said young people were self-reporting mental health problems at unprecedented levels.

"It's a very complicated world to be young in today, and I think there are a range social factors involved, more obviously around social media and a pressure to perform in all sorts of ways that young people are faced with today, but I think also we know the generation of  young people growing up today are the first perhaps to live with the expectation they will be less well off than their parents in the long run," he said.

"The levels of inequality in society really impact young people as they think about future opportunities in life. It's important we focus on how to better support young people and push services upstream to get the best possible outcomes in the long term."

News of the program follows last week's announcement of a new $22.8 million 24-hour supported accommodation unit for people with complex mental health needs.

The facility will be able to accommodate up to 15 people suffering from complex, severe and persistent mental illness with significant functional impairment and complex needs.

The money will also be used to build a new step-up-step-down facility on the southside for people leaving care and refurbishing the 10-bed extended care unit at the Brian Hennessey Rehabilitation Centre.

Katie Burgess is a reporter for the Canberra Times, covering ACT politics.

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