Risk-taking in young a major concern

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Dr Delia McGuinness tells the Irish Medical Times that GPs can play an important role in addressing the needs of young people in rural areas

Increasing suicide rates and fatal road-traffic accidents involving young people are key issues of concern for rural GPs.

Dr Delia McGuinness, Consultant in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University College Hospital Galway told Irish Medical Times that GPs were concerned about the consequences of risk-taking by rural youths. “GPs regularly confront the aftermath of risk-taking behaviour such as drug and alcohol misuse, unprotected sex and dangerous driving. They’re also aware that such advice can go unheeded.

“Family doctors must discuss what preventive strategies can be useful in reducing the levels of death and morbidity in young people in relation to these risk-taking behaviours,” she said.

Research on young people in the west of Ireland has shown they often feel unvalued and excluded within their communities, and that they do not have a lot to offer to their local areas, Dr McGuinness said. “GPs must focus on how local communities can have heightened awareness about the stress that young people endure and how to provide support facilities and opportunities for young people as close to home as possible,” she added.

Based on the needs of young people in rural Ireland, Dr McGuinness said that the Jigsaw project was a good model of an accessible and non-stigmatising supportive environment for young people, who often have a sense of invincibility when involved in some element of risk-taking behaviour.   Jigsaw’s primary purpose is to integrate services and empower young people and communities.

Hubs have been established in towns and cities around the country to act as a base of operations and to provide some direct services (screening, crisis intervention, triage) to young people and families in distress.

“A central purpose of the hubs is to ensure that when young people with significant needs seek help, they get an immediate response from someone who listens to them, determines what level of assistance might be required and ensures that they get that help,” said Dr McGuinness.

“The basic premise is that whatever their level of need, young people should be able to access quality support, when they need it, in settings where they feel safe, comfortable and respected. It’s about meeting young people where they are,” she said.

Jigsaw has been developed by Headstrong, the independent NGO committed to working with communities to ensure that young people are better supported to achieve good mental health and wellbeing. It offers services in Galway, Ballymun, Kerry, Meath and Roscommon. Dr McGuinness was involved with the Jigsaw Galway Project Planning Team.

Speaking to IMT ahead of the Rural, Island & Dispensing Doctors of Ireland annual conference on 1 October, the Consultant Psychiatrist said, “One of the biggest risk factors for young people is the high level of drug and alcohol misuse – particularly around weekends, when a system of binge-drinking occurs.”

Dr McGuinness said drug abuse had become a very topical issue in recent months, with “an explosion” in the presence of head shops in the last year. “These shops allowed for an ease of access to certain substances for young people, which on their own or combined with alcohol can disinhibit young people emotionally and give rise to behaviours that may not be in character with them under normal circumstances,” she said.

Young people who engage in risk-taking behaviour may do so because of unrelieved aggression, which is often associated with emotional and relationship difficulties in their lives. “For example, problems can arise at home for young people who leave school early, for those with relationship difficulties, for those whose parents’ relationships have broken down or for those with emerging sexuality or sexual orientation concerns – which are not the easiest to deal with in rural Ireland.

“Most of the groups that support young people with these issues are based in larger towns and cities and general practitioners are naturally concerned about aggression and stigma in young people in rural Ireland. We only have to look at the recent tragic car accidents in Donegal and Kerry to see how vulnerable young people in rural Ireland really are,” the psychiatrist said.

Source: The Irish Medical Times, 05/10/10
Journalist: Aoife Connors