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“He engages young people in the development of treatment programmes”

“He engages young people in the development of treatment programmes”

Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts/Simone Golob

Therese van Amelsvoort inspired by Pat McGorry

In the world of mental healthcare, everyone knows what the name Pat McGorry stands for: innovation. The Australian psychiatrist transformed the mental healthcare system for young people in his own country, and was one of the first proponents of the phase system – breaking the illness down into different stages. For this reason, he is an inspiration for Therese van Amelsvoort, endowed professor of Transitional Psychiatry.

People around the age of eighteen are psychologically vulnerable, according to Van Amelsvoort. “Three quarters of all mental disorders develop before the age of 25. They have to finish school, leave home, be financially independent for the first time, and all this at a time when their brains are still developing.” Exactly the age, that is, at which they are required to switch care providers as they transition from the youth to the adult healthcare system.

McGorry brought about changes in this area in Australia by reforming mental healthcare for young people. “Like me, his background is in psychosis research. He’d already built up a reputation in that area, but decided to use his clinical experience to propose an overhaul of the youth health care system.”

McGorry managed not only to enhance continuity by increasing the transition year from 18 to 25, but also to lower the threshold for receiving care. “Young people often avoid seeking help; they feel ashamed of their problems”, explains Van Amelsvoort. “There are youth centres in Australia where you can drop in and don’t have to worry about being medicated right off the bat. You just pop in for a cup of coffee and a chat. McGorry also engages young people in the development of treatment programmes. They’re able to make their own wishes clear; for example, having short consultations via an iPad rather than interminable counselling sessions.”

This low threshold has another advantage too: it means problems can be addressed before they get out of hand. “Early intervention helps to prevent long-term harm. McGorry thinks in terms of a phase model, whereby mental illnesses can be divided into different stages. That was already the norm for diseases like cancer, but in psychiatry it was a new approach. The treatment provided in the early stages can be less intensive than at a later stage. This makes the method more financially effective, which holds obvious appeal for policymakers.”

McGorry’s ideas about youth mental healthcare are gradually spreading around the world. “I’m trying to bring people around to this point of view in the Netherlands. I strongly believe in the continuity of care around the age of eighteen”, says Van Amelsvoort. “Together with the health ministry we’ll be organising a symposium on this theme in February in Maastricht. There’ll be a special day for policymakers and a day for health care professionals. McGorry will be coming to speak at both.”

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