Demographic and clinical characteristics of young people seeking help at youth mental health services: Baseline findings of the Transitions Study

Rosemary Purcell, Anthony F. Jorm, Ian B. Hickie, Alison R. Yung, Christos Pantelis, G. Paul Amminger, Nick Glozier, Eoin Killackey, Lisa J. Phillips, Stephen J. Wood, Susy Harrigan, Andrew Mackinnon, Elizabeth Scott, Daniel F. Hermens, Adam J. Guastella, Amanda Kenyon, Laura Mundy, Alissa Nichles, Antoinette Scaffidi, Daniela SpiliotacopoulosLara Taylor, Janet P.Y. Tong, Suzanne Wiltink, Natalia Zmicerevska, Patrick D. Mcgorry

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Aim: The Transitions Study was designed to establish a cohort of young people (12-25 years) seeking help for mental health problems, in order to longitudinally explore and refine a clinical staging model of the development and progression of mental disorders. This paper presents the baseline demographic and clinical characteristics of the cohort, particularly the nature and severity of psychopathology. Method: All eligible young people attending one of four headspace clinical services were invited to participate, and completed a battery of self-report and interviewer-administered measures of psychopathology and functional impairment at baseline, which will be repeated at the annual follow up. Results: Of 1615 eligible clients, 802 young people (66% women; mean age=18.3 years) consented to participate and completed baseline assessments (participation rate=50%). The severity of mental health problems varied, with 51% meeting the criteria for probable caseness related to generalized anxiety, 45% presenting with moderate to severe depressive symptoms and over a third experiencing subthreshold psychotic symptomatology. Disordered eating (32%) and problematic tobacco (56%), cannabis (30%) and alcohol (38%) use also affected a significant proportion. Overall, 39% of the cohort were classed as being functionally impaired at baseline. Conclusion: The Transitions Study recruited a heterogeneous cohort at baseline in relation to the nature and severity of mental health problems and levels of functional impairment. The variation in clinical presentations within the cohort, from mild, through moderate to severe levels of psychopathology and impairment, increases the likelihood of the Transitions Study ultimately being able to achieve its aims of empirically testing a clinical staging model for mental disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)487-497
Number of pages11
JournalEarly Intervention in Psychiatry
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Anxiety
  • Clinical staging
  • Depression
  • Early psychosis
  • Youth mental health

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