2014 Alan Owen Lecture

2014 Professor Alan Owen Lecture

21 November 2014, 4:30pm
Leon Kane-McGuire Lecture Theatre
AIIM Building, Innovation Campus, Wollongong University 

Youth Mental Health: A Best Buy for Mental Health Reform




About the speaker - Professor Patrick McGorry AO

Professor Patrick McGorry is a leading international researcher, clinician and advocate for the youth mental health reform agenda. He is Professor of Youth Mental Health at The University of Melbourne and Executive Director of Orygen Youth Health (OYH) a world-renowned mental health organisation for young people that put Australia at the forefront of  innovation in the prevention and treatment of mental illness. 

Patrick D McGorry

In addition to his significant contributions to the field of early psychosis and schizophrenia research, Professor McGorry has conducted important research in several other areas of psychiatry including the mental health needs of the homeless, health needs and treatments for refugees and torture survivors, and in recent years, the broader youth mental health field, including youth suicide, youth substance use, and the treatment of emerging personality disorder. 

In 2010 Professor McGorry was selected as Australian of the Year and was awarded Officer of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list. In 2012 he was awarded the Dublin Prize from the University of Melbourne. In 2013 Professor McGorry was honoured with the National Alliance on Mental Illness Scientific Research Award, the first time the award has been bestowed upon a researcher outside of the United States.


Mental and substance use disorders are among the leading health and social issues facing society, and now represent the greatest threat from non-communicable diseases (NCD) to prosperity, predicted by the World Economic Forum to reduce global GDP by over $16 trillion by 2030. This is not only due to their prevalence but critically to their timing in the life cycle. They are by far the key health issue for young people in the teenage years and early twenties, and if they persist, they constrain, distress and disable for decades. Epidemiological data indicate that 75% of people suffering from an adult-type psychiatric disorder have an age of onset by 24 years of age, with the onset for most of these disorders – notably psychotic, mood, personality, eating and substance use disorders– mainly falling into a relatively discrete time band from the early teens up until the mid 20s, reaching a peak in the early twenties. While we have been preoccupied with health spending at the other end of the lifespan, young people who are on the threshold of the peak productive years of life, have the greatest capacity to benefit from stepwise evidence-based treatments and better health care delivery. A substantial proportion of young people are being neglected and consigned to the “NEET” scrapheap with disastrous human and economic consequences. 

In recent years, a worldwide focus on the early stages of schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders has improved the prospects for understanding these complex illnesses and improving their short term and longer term outcomes.  This reform paradigm has also illustrated how a clinical staging model may assist in interpreting and utilising biological data and refining diagnosis and treatment selection. There are crucial lessons for research and treatment, particularly in the fields of mood and substance use disorders.  Furthermore, the critical developmental needs of adolescents and emerging adults are poorly met by existing conceptual approaches and service models.  The paediatric-adult structure of general health care, adopted with little reflection by psychiatry, turns out to be a poor fit for mental health care since the age pattern of morbidity of the latter is the inverse of the former.  Youth culture demands that young people are offered a different style and content of service provision in order to engage with and benefit from interventions.  The need for international structural reform and an innovative research agenda represents one of our greatest opportunities and challenges in the field of psychiatry.  Fortunately this is being explored in a number of countries and has the potential to spread across the world as a dynamic health reform front. 


Professor Alan Owen (1952—2012) 

Campaigner For Better Health Care - A Life Devoted to Better Outcomes for Patients

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Last reviewed: 30 July, 2018


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