Research identifies unique needs of youth in the mental health treatment process

The importance of youth-focused mental health programs in our communities has come sharply into focus over the last several months after the recent cluster of youth suicides in Woodstock, Ontario.

Researchers from Western University and Lawson Health Research Institute recognize that adolescents with emerging mental health concerns require a different treatment framework than adults. A new study published in the journal Community Mental Health examined the unique experiences of youth attending London’s innovative First Episode Mood and Anxiety Program (FEMAP) at London Health Sciences Centre.

FEMAP is a first of its kind in Canada, featuring an open door model inviting young adults affected by mood and anxiety concerns to self-refer. The program ensures that young adults receive the care they need, without having to be referred by a doctor.

A team of researchers led by Dr. Elizabeth Osuch, Associate Professor in the department of Psychiatry at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and a Lawson Researcher, looked at what youth find most helpful and what they find most challenging about the treatment process with the aim of using this information to help further tailor the program to address these unique needs.

“Understanding where these youth are coming from, what helps them through the process, and what they need to know going into it is really paramount,” said the study’s first author, Carolyn Summerhurst, a Social Worker at FEMAP and Lawson Researcher. “When you are developing programs for youth, you need to be asking them what they want and what helps them get better.”

The study found that youth identified talking/therapy and medication as the most beneficial to their recovery, but also identified both of these as being challenging aspects of the treatment process as well. “That’s a very rich finding; that the exact thing that is most difficult is also the most helpful,” said Osuch. “It cuts both ways. It is a challenge, but it is also where your power is.” Osuch suggests that this finding demonstrates FEMAP’s success in providing a program with combined psychotherapy and prescribed medication.

Interestingly, they also found a significant difference in the language young females and males used to describe the treatment process. Females in the study identified “talking” as the most helpful for them in their recovery, while males identified “therapy” as most helpful. Osuch suggests this information may aid clinicians in choosing appropriate language when speaking to youth about their treatment. “If you are speaking to a young male patient, you might not want to say ‘we are going to talk’ you might want to say ‘we are going to engage in therapy.’”

The study also found that the youth identified “personal accountability” as one of the most challenging aspects of their recovery. “This is an important finding because it can help clinicians prepare young people before they enter treatment to help them understand that they have to take an active role in their own recovery instead of thinking that it is something that is passively done to them,” said Summerhurst. “They play a big role in their own recovery.”

Western University delivers an academic experience second to none. Since 1878, The Western Experience has combined academic excellence with life-long opportunities for intellectual, social and cultural growth in order to better serve our communities. Our research excellence expands knowledge and drives discovery with real-world application. Western attracts individuals with a broad worldview, seeking to study, influence and lead in the international community.

The Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University is one of Canada’s preeminent medical and dental schools. Established in 1881, it was one of the founding schools of Western University and is known for being the birthplace of family medicine in Canada. For more than 130 years, the School has demonstrated a commitment to academic excellence and a passion for scientific discovery.

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As the research institute of London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s Health Care London, and working in partnership with Western University, Lawson Health Research Institute is committed to furthering scientific knowledge to advance health care around the world.

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Laura Goncalves
Communications & External Relations
Lawson Health Research Institute
T: 519-685-8500 ext. 64059
C: 226-448-1525