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Importance of Young People’s Involvement in Healthcare Decision Making – by Martin Vu, public health student

The Health Industry

Meaningful collaboration with young people in healthcare decision making results in a more responsive healthcare system.

The definition of young people generally refers to persons aged between 12 and 25. In Australia, there are about 3 million young people representing an eighth of all Australian residents. However, there is a service gap in the Australian healthcare system where young people are considered the ‘missing middle’ with prioritisation and funding placed on the needs of families and children, those with chronic conditions and older Australians.

Mental health is a prominent concern facing young people and statistically, one in four young people experiences a mental health issue in Australia. Yet, the healthcare system is not fully addressing the needs of young people, and young people experiencing mental health issues often do not seek help.

Part of the issue with access to mental healthcare is that sometimes, healthcare service providers think they know the complexities of a young person with lived experiences, or that they know what is best for young people without considering their world and how that might impede their own health.

The solution to increase the access to services for young people is to provide “youth-friendly” services – to get healthcare professionals to create something that “appeals” to young people and therefore improving their health outcomes.

Research suggests that a really efficacious program needs considerable consultation with its target audience or demographic. Therefore, without engaging young people, the nuances to the barriers, challenges and issues for young people to access mental healthcare become lost. Different social and cultural determinants influences health, many of which only young people truly understand.

This is when we begin to fail young people and calls for a commitment to include them in the healthcare decision making process. While consulting young people is great, engaging and collaborating to facilitate positive social changes in the policies and structures that addresses their health needs is even better. Consulting with young people recognises that they are consumers of the health system in this demand-driven model to health. You can begin to identify the needs of young people and address it accordingly. However, collaborating with young people acknowledges that they are the best advocates in shaping youth health and related policies, which results in a more responsive healthcare system.

What constitutes to meaningful collaboration with young people?

Firstly, create the opportunities to leverage the potential and strength of young people and to involve their perspectives in policy and program design. Secondly, there must be ongoing or continued collaboration if the system is to be responsive to adapting needs and priorities. Finally, support young people during this process without creating a situation where it is the experienced versus the inexperienced.

There is certainly no lack of young health advocates who are poised to make a difference in Australia’s mental healthcare system. However, it is about giving young people the tools and autonomy to support and contribute to their health system to have an impact on their own health.

Martin Vu is a public health student at the University of Melbourne with a special interest in Health Economics and Health Policies. He is a strong advocate for young people’s health. He was the former president of the Melbourne Population Health Student Association. Currently, he volunteers for many different sexual health and mental health NGOs in Melbourne gaining experience in areas such as health promotion and research.

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