Young people missing health appointments can’t be lured by text

Many young people regularly miss their mental health appointments —and not even a telephone call or text message reminder can prompt them to attend, according to new research to be presented at the 46th Australian Psychological Society Annual Conference in Canberra (4-8 October) tomorrow.

Mental health care is most needed among adolescents and young adults, yet they have the lowest level of service use, with research showing one in four young people that make an appointment with a mental health service or professional fail to keep it.

Psychologist Professor Debra Rickwood said, “Research shows appointment reminders are very effective for adults but our study showed this wasn’t so for young people.   Telephone reminders and reminders by text didn’t increase the likelihood of a young person keeping an appointment, which surprised us.”

In a series of four studies, Professor Rickwood and her team of researchers from the University of Canberra investigated the factors influencing whether young people would seek help for a mental health issue, including how they could be encouraged to keep appointments.

The attendance study, involving 279 people aged between 12 and 25, randomly assigned into three groups, tested the effect of an SMS text reminder, telephone call reminder or no reminder.  Data on appointment reminders, readiness level, age and referral pathways were obtained.

“Young people were more likely to keep an appointment if they or one of their family members made it, and if they had attended the service before.  We also found that age was a factor, with the younger respondents (12-15) being more likely to attend,” Professor Rickwood said. 

She said the research showed that adult patterns don’t necessarily apply to young people and that the reasons young people did or didn’t seek help were very complex.

“It is important that young people are able to identify when they need help and to understand that help is available and that it will work,” Professor Rickwood said.   “It is not about pathologising them, labeling them with a diagnosis, but about providing them with strategies that will help them cope and see them through the tough times in their lives.”

“When we talk to young people about mental health issues we need to frame our conversations around coping and assure them they will learn useful skills to carry them through life’s ups and downs,” she said.

Key findings from the other studies include:

  • That young people lack knowledge and understanding of what psychological therapy will entail
  • They  are resistant to any practices or interventions that they feel are childish, including role-playing or relaxation exercises
  • They don’t want homework associated with their mental health care
  • They are more likely to seek help for something tangible like bullying than other conditions or situations that are more difficult to name or explain
  • That young people access help through informal pathways such as friends, family, teachers or sport coaches, if they feel they have mental health issue

The 46th Australian Psychological Society Annual Conference – From theory, through evidence, to practice — is being held at the National Convention Centre in Canberra (4-8 October).


Professor Rickwood will chair a symposium covering four research papers: Facilitating young people’s access to psychological therapies and mental health care on Wednesday 5th October 2011 at 2.30pm.

For more information, or to arrange an interview, please contact: Karen Coghlan on 0435 896 444, Judith Heywood on 03 8662 3301 or Rebecca Matthews on 03 8662 3358