SCIE review of the evidence on mental health service transitions for young people

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This briefing looks at recent research literature (since 2000) on the move from child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) to adults’ services for young people with psychological, emotional or behavioural problems, referred to as ‘mental health service transitions’.

Young people may move to adult mental health services (AMHS) or need alternative support in young adulthood. Despite evidence of some promising and innovative practice, this is an issue of longstanding concern to young people, their families, practitioners and policy-makers, both in the UK and abroad.

This briefing asks:

  • What do professionals, young people, parents, carers and families think about mental health service transitions and what has their experience been?
  • What evidence is there for good practice and service models in supporting successful service transitions?

Key messages

  1. Moving from child and adolescent mental health services to adult services is difficult for many young people, their parents and carers.
  2. Recurrent problems include limited participation of young people, high eligibility thresholds for entry into adult mental health services and inconsistent support during transition. This leads to some young people ceasing to use services until a crisis occurs.
  3. Service transition is a process, and needs to take account of the wider context of young people’s lives, including education, employment, housing and overall health needs.
  4. Young people, their families and carers want their views to be taken seriously and to participate actively in the process of transition. They value good information, consistent support from a key worker and flexible, non-stigmatising community-based services appropriate for their age group.
  5. Good practice also involves collaborative flexible working between agencies, clear protocols and transparent planning meetings.
  6. There are limited adults’ services for specific groups of young people, including those with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism spectrum disorders.
  7. Many practice developments and service models for improving transitions are at an early stage of development, and there are few robust effectiveness studies currently available. No research studies were found on costs or cost-effectiveness.
  8. Implications for service improvement are set out towards the end of this briefing. These include young people needing transitional support from CAMHS and voluntary sector agencies to help them adapt to the different culture of adults’ services.

SCIE Research briefing 37: Mental health service transitions for young people.  Isabelle Brodie, Rebecca Goldman and Janet ClaptonPublished: May 2011.

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Andre Tomlin

André Tomlin is an Information Scientist with 20 years experience working in evidence-based healthcare. He's worked in the NHS, for Oxford University and since 2002 as Managing Director of Minervation Ltd, a consultancy company who do clever digital stuff for charities, universities and the public sector. Most recently André has been the driving force behind the Mental Elf and the National Elf Service; an innovative digital platform that helps professionals keep up to date with simple, clear and engaging summaries of evidence-based research. André is a Trustee at the Centre for Mental Health and an Honorary Research Fellow at University College London Division of Psychiatry. He lives in Bristol, surrounded by dogs, elflings and lots of woodland!

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