The role of the occupational therapist in adolescent mental health: A critical review of the literature

Abstract

There are substantial bodies of literature focusing on mental health and the mental health of young people. There is also a growing body of knowledge relating to the professional role of the occupational therapists in mental health. However, there is a marked gap that brings these areas together.

Adolescence is a time of heightened stress, with as many as one in four young people experiencing a mental health problem; appropriate care is required to reduce the impact of mental illness on their transition into adulthood and subsequent adult life. Whilst the effectiveness of the multidisciplinary team in providing interventions has been well demonstrated in this client group, the roles and impact of the individual health professionals are less well understood.

A review of the literature was conducted to better understand the current and potential role for occupational therapists working with young people with mental health issues.

Authors

Laura Hardaker
Sydney South West Centre for Applied Nursing Research (Sydney South West Area Health Service and School of Nursing, University of Western Sydney), Liverpool, NSW


Rhonda Griffiths
Sydney South West Centre for Applied Nursing Research (Sydney South West Area Health Service and School of Nursing, University of Western Sydney), Liverpool NSW

Natalie Bolzan
School of Social Sciences, University of Western Sydney, Bankstown, NSW

Karen Arblaster
Sydney West Area Health Service, Nepean Hospital, Penrith, NSW

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Keywords

adolescents, youth, mental health, occupational therapy, multidisciplinary, professional identity, role

Meta

PP: 194 - 203

Introduction

The mental health and well being of Australians has become an increasingly important area of health (Mental Health Council of Australia, 2006); it is estimated that 20 percent of the Australian population will experience mental illness. This has a profound effect on the entire community (Mathers, Vos & Stevenson, 1999), and mental illness is a key factor in social exclusion, leading to unemployment, poor housing, poor health and family breakdown (Mental Health Council of Australia, 2006). Two-thirds of people with a mental illness do not receive any treatment in any twelve month period (McLennan, 1998).

Young people, between the ages of 12 and 24 years, are faced with physical, emotional, cognitive, social and spiritual changes that may impact on their mental health and wellbeing (Arnett, 1997). With more specific attention being given to the mental health and well being of young people, and research focused on the impact of mental health on an individual's ability to function, exploration into factors that may facilitate and improve the mental health of young people is required.

Occupational therapists have historically worked in mental health (Kleinman, 1992). Their role in this setting includes assisting individuals to gain and maintain independent living, manage in community settings and engage in productive, meaningful and enjoyable activities (Lloyd, King & Bassett, 2005). This paper aims to critically review the published literature regarding the professional practice of occupational therapists working in youth mental health.

The primary purpose of this review was to investigate:

  • the extent to which the mental health literature describes the actual or potential role and scope of practice of the occupational therapist as a member of the multidisciplinary mental health team; and
  • the extent to which the occupational therapy literature identifies and describes interventions for adolescents with mental health problems.

It was anticipated that this process would identify gaps in the current literature, thus highlighting future research directions.

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