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Report: Many thresholds prevent young people from receiving mental health and substance abuse services

Government analysis, assessment and research activitiesMinistry of Social Affairs and HealthPrime Minister's Office
Publication date 3.3.2023 9.18
News item

What prevents young people from receiving timely and effective support for mental health and substance abuse problems? How could social welfare services better support young people dealing with these problems? A Policy Brief published as part of the Government’s analysis, assessment and research activities on 3 March examines the thresholds young people face when seeking mental health and substance abuse services and explores ways to lower these thresholds and encounter young people more successfully and comprehensively in mental health and substance abuse work.

The report is based on a study carried out by researchers from the Finnish Youth Research Society, the A-Clinic Foundation, MIELI Mental Health Finland and the Youth Shelters of the Finnish Red Cross. According to the study, particular attention should be paid to understanding the low-threshold principle more broadly and to ensuring successful and comprehensive encounters with young people.

Low-threshold principle helps to examine thresholds preventing young people from accessing services from their perspective

In its simplest form, the idea of the low-threshold principle is to make it easier to access services. This means, for example, making services available without appointments or referrals. According to the Policy Brief, however, the idea of lowering the threshold for mental health and substance abuse services for young people should be understood more broadly.

In addition to actually seeking services, young people can face thresholds related to accessing and attending services, benefiting from services, changing which services they use, and returning to services. This means that it is not enough for a young person to get over the threshold for services just once. Instead, the low-threshold principle should apply to the entire service process.

The thresholds for accessing services could be lowered, for instance, by establishing direct lines of contact between healthcare and social welfare and by coordinating network cooperation more clearly. The availability of low-threshold digital services should also be increased so that young people can get the support they need through one contact.

Encounters with young people at the heart of all work

Successful encounters where young people feel they have been heard and understood are at the heart of all mental health and substance abuse work with young people.

“When you ask young people how they got help, they don’t really name specific kinds of professionals or service sectors, but rather human encounters with a safe adult who has been there alongside them. Successful encounters and being there for young people over the long term help to motivate young people and keep them committed to the services,” says Helena Huhta from the Finnish Youth Research Network.

There are a number of best practices for encountering young people in social welfare, but the study finds that they are used rather randomly and inconsistently. The researchers therefore recommend coordinating the selection, adoption and maintenance of suitable methods at the national level.

“Encounters with young people should be comprehensive. Multidisciplinary cooperation would make it possible to take the overall situation of young people into account more comprehensively and help them address interlinked problems. Social welfare services can be very effective in helping young people with mental health and substance abuse problems, and it is important to develop them further,” says Jouni Tourunen from the A-Clinic Foundation.

Inquiries: Helena Huhta, [email protected], tel. +358 40 7666 890, Tuuli Pitkänen, Research Manager, Finnish Youth Research Society, tel. +358 41 517 8678, [email protected] and Jouni Tourunen, Research Manager, A-Clinic Foundation, tel. +358 40 136 8058, [email protected]

Policy Brief is a series of articles for government analysis, assessment and research. It gives perspectives into topical issues in society and ways to support political decision-making. The producers of the information are responsible for its content and it does not necessarily represent the views of the Government.