WH&Y authors: Doctor Patricia Cullen


The health system in Australia, dauntingly complex for most of us, is especially challenging for young people. Often, teenagers are required to use health services that fail to meet their specific and diverse needs, particularly those who need support for mental health disorders.

Young people are increasingly presenting to Emergency Departments in crisis and in urgent need of mental health care, including care after injury due to self-harm, intentional poisoning or overdose. This indicates that mental health needs are not being met in primary health or community mental health care settings. Additionally, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teenagers, particularly those in out of home care, may face additional barriers accessing services that are culturally safe and free from racism.

We need to ensure that all young people have easy and timely access to quality healthcare that supports not only their physical health, but also their mental health and psychosocial wellbeing.

The Injury and Mental Health In Emergency Departments project is collecting the evidence, establishing the partnerships, and developing the solutions that will transform health service pathways for teenagers in need of mental-health care.


In the first phase of this project, we are looking at what’s driving the increased demand for crisis care among teenagers by investigating patterns of emergency service use among young people with mental health-related presentations. This will contribute to a deeper understanding of what goes on for teenagers ‘before-during-and-after’ their experience in the Emergency Department by giving us insights into why so many teenagers begin with a call to emergency services. Later, we will expand that ‘before-during-and-after’ view by finding out more about the experiences of young people in Emergency Departments, and what happens to them once they leave or are discharged. We will also investigate the experiences and challenges of clinicians, hospitals, primary care and mental health services, gaining insights into how treatment and referral pathways for teenagers can be strengthened.

In the second phase, we will work with young people and clinicians to develop innovative and cost-effective models of health services that really work for teenagers with injury and mental health concerns. We will determine the role of gender-sensitive, trauma-informed and culturally safe mental-health care. And we will explore how digital health solutions can be used to strengthen care systems and promote better health among young people and their families.


About The Authors


Patricia Cullen is an NHMRC Early Career Fellow in the School of Public Health at UNSW where she co-...