‘They don't treat you like a virus’: youth-friendly lessons from the Australian National Youth Mental Health Foundation

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Young people experience high rates of mental health problems, but very few access professional mental health support. To address the barriers young people face in accessing mental health services, there is growing recognition of the importance of ensuring services are youth-friendly. Indeed, almost a decade ago, the World Health Organisation developed a youth-friendly framework for services to apply. Yet, this framework has rarely been evaluated against health initiatives for young people. This article begins to address this gap. Using 168 semi-structured, qualitative interviews with young service users, this paper explores the extent to which the Australian National Youth Mental Health Foundation, also called headspace, applied the WHO's youth-friendly framework which emphasises accessibility, acceptability and appropriateness (AAA). It argues that headspace was largely successful in implementing an AAA youth-friendly service and provides evidence of the importance of tailoring services to ensure they are accessible, acceptable and appropriate for young people. However, it also raises questions about what youth-friendly service provision means for different young people at different times. The findings suggest that youth friendliness should be applied across different stages of interaction (at initial engagement and in the ongoing relationship between patient and clinician) and at different levels (the environment the care is provided in, within policies and procedures and within and between relationships from receptionists to clinicians).

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