Australian Family Physician
Australian Family Physician


Volume 40, Issue 3, March 2011

Is this normal? Assessing mental health in young people

Patrick D McGorry Sherilyn Goldstone
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Mental ill-health is a key health issue facing young Australians today. While the physical health of young people has improved in recent decades, their mental health appears to have worsened. Mental health and substance use disorders now account for over 50% of the burden of disease in the 15–25 years age group, and 75% of mental health disorders that will affect people across the lifespan will have emerged for the first time by the age of 25 years.
This article provides the general practitioner with key factors in assessing the young person with a mental illness: when to worry and what the early stages of mental illness look like; and provides guidance and tips for effective treatment.
Mental ill-health in young people is all too often accepted as a ‘normal’ feature of adolescence. However, the short and long term consequences of mental illness include impaired social functioning, poor educational achievement, substance abuse, self harm, suicide and violence. Distinguishing between what represents transitory and normative changes in behaviour and disturbances that may represent the early signs of the onset of a potentially serious mental illness is difficult, particularly in young people, where emotional disturbance and distress is such a common experience. The primary goal of initial assessment is not to make a definitive diagnosis but rather to assess risk and the need for clinical care. The GP has an important role to play in longitudinal assessment and ongoing review, and facilitating access to treatment and mobilising support networks.

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