Adolescent health, or youth health, is the range of approaches to preventing, detecting or treating young people’s health and well being (WHO, 2001). The term adolescent and young people are often used interchangeably, as are the terms Adolescent Health and Youth Health.
Young people's health is often complex and requires a comprehensive, biopsychosocial approach (NSW Dept of Health, 2010).
Key health services for young people
Youth Health includes adolescent medicine as a speciality, along with other primary and tertiary care services.
Key health services for young people:
- Adolescent medicine
- Child protection
- Drug and Alcohol services and Youth Drug courts
- General practitioners
- Justice Health
- Mental Health services
- School health services
- Sexual health services
- Social work
- Transition care
- Youth health nursing
- Youth health services
- Youth work and youth development services
- Web based supports such as Reach Out!
Capacity building organisations support the Youth Health sector by providing access to information and resources, conducting research and providing training.
Youth health services ('one-stop-shops' for young people) are specialist services providing multi-disciplinary, primary health care to young people. Focusing on engaging disadvantaged young people, they deliver flexible and unique services to young people in relaxed and comfortable youth-friendly environments. Youth health services work in partnership with other government and non-government services. Youth health services provide a range of entry-points and non-threatening services (such as creative arts, basic services such as showers and laundries, a drop in service, sports and recreational facilities), which encourage young people to connect with the service on their own terms. They also provide informal links to other support services and sectors including education, housing, financial support and legal services, offering support to young people who are dealing with complex issues. Youth health services understand the need to respond immediately to young people’s requests for support and assistance and they share a common operating philosophy, which values social justice, equity, and a holistic view of young people’s health and well being.
Key youth health problems
Some young people engage in risky behaviours that affect their health and therefore the majority of health problems are psychosocial. Many young people experience multiple problems. These behaviours are established as a young person and go on to become the lifestyles of adults leading to chronic health problems. Social, cultural and environmental factors are all important (Chown et al. 2004). Young people have specific health problems and developmental needs that differ from those of children or adults: The causes of ill-health in adolescents are mostly psychosocial rather biological. Young people often engage in health risk behaviours that reflect the processes of adolescent development: experimentation and exploration, including using drugs and alcohol, sexual behaviour, and other risk taking that affect their physical and mental health (AIHW, 2007). The leading health related problems in the age group 12 – 24 years are (AIHW, 2007):
- Accidents and injuries both unintentional and self-injury
- Mental health problems including depression and suicide
- Behavioural problems including substance abuse
- Sexual health / Infectious diseases
- Nutrition and physical activity
- Chronic illness
- Physical and Sexual Assault
- Youth homelessness
Young people often lack awareness of the harm associated with risk behaviours, and the skills to protect themselves as well as the lack knowledge about how and where to seek help for their health concerns (Chown et al., 2004). By intervening at this early life stage, many chronic conditions later in life can be prevented. Factors Influencing Health and Wellbeing according to the Australian National Youth Information Framework (AIHW, 2007) include:
- Environmental factors
- Socio-economic factors
- Community capacity
- Health behaviours
- Person related factors
Key principles in youth health
- Collaborative approaches
- Evidence-based practice
- Harm reduction
- Health promotion
- Social justice
- Youth development
- Youth empowerment
- Youth participation
- Youth rights
- Youth voice
Young peoples access to health care
Studies have identified major barriers to young peoples’ access to appropriate health care are (Booth et al., 2002) including concerns about confidentiality, practitioners attitudes and communication style, environment, availability of services, cost and the developmental characteristics of young people.
Overcoming young peoples barriers to accessing health care
Principles for overcoming the barriers to young peoples’ access to appropriate health care (Kang et al., 2005, NSW CAAH, 2006) include:
1. Access facilitation
2. Evidence-based practice
3. Youth participation
5. Professional development
Youth health polices also recognise the need active participation with young people so that services are appropriate and have an understanding of their needs (NSW Dept of Health, 2010). Taking Participation Seriously is a resource for organisations who want practical advice about how to involve children and young people in activities, events and decision-making about issues that affect their lives (NSW Commission for Children and Young People, 2002).