Developing an integrated substance use and mental health service in the specialised setting of a youth detention centre

Stephen L Stathis, Paul Letters, Ivan Doolan, David Whittingham
Drug and Alcohol Review 2006, 25 (2): 149-55
This article describes the frequency of co-morbid substance use and mental health problems of young people within the youth justice system and demonstrates that mental health and drug and alcohol services can be integrated and work effectively. The establishment of an integrated Mental Health Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drugs Service (MHATODS) to juveniles in detention represents a shift away from the traditional paradigm of separate services frequently found throughout Australia. The development of referral procedures and adolescent-focused treatment programmes that are tailored to the specific needs of this disadvantaged population are discussed. A wide-ranging literature review illustrates the consequences of the high prevalence of co-morbid substance use and mental health problems in juveniles within the youth justice system. A retrospective and descriptive account is given of the expansion of the MHATODS, including the recruitment of an Indigenous health worker, the incorporation of an automatic referral process for young people with substance use problems and the development of a brief four-session drug and alcohol counselling programme and a group relapse prevention programme. The proportion of Indigenous clients referred to MHATODS is now equitable to referrals of non-Indigenous youth. The introduction of an automatic voluntary referral process resulted in an increase in referrals for drug and alcohol assessment and counselling from 17% to 64% of total referrals. Of those young people commencing the drug and alcohol programme, 32% completed all sessions. While young people reportedly enjoyed the group programme, feedback from participants indicated that they felt vulnerable in a group setting. MHATODS recognises the limitations of the prevailing paradigm of separate service delivery for mental health and drug and alcohol treatment, and has developed an integrated treatment service for juveniles in detention. The service has expanded its referral base for substance use problems by employing an Indigenous health worker, and initiating an automatic referral process for young people admitted into detention who have a history of significant substance use. Early evidence indicates increased utilisation of drug and alcohol services by young people in detention.

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