Timely and effective support for substance misuse and mental health: A case example in Lancashire


By Colin Hughes, Young Addaction Manager, Lancashire

Young Addaction Lancashire started ten years ago and we continue to see young people who need support for co-current substance misuse and mental health problems. 

Last year alone, a fifth of the young people who entered structured treatment with us in Lancs for their drug or alcohol use also had a mental health issue. Research by Weave (2003) suggests that if you include all age groups then these numbers are much higher, with between 70 to 80 per cent of people in drug and alcohol services also having mental health problems - mainly anxiety, depression and trauma.

Previously, we had referred young people who are identified as needing mental health support into local mental health services. However, our service staff had consistently fed back that young people struggled to access a tier two or three mental health service due to their substance misuse, lack of available services or lengthy waiting times.

Additionally, in consultations with young people in our service, they told us they were reluctant to be referred onto mental health services. Some young people told us that because their substance use was linked to their mental health, they did not want to ‘tell their story to different services’.

 At Young Addaction Lancashire, we want to make sure the young people we support get the help they need – regardless of whether it’s for drug or alcohol use, mental health or both.

In 2016, we formed a partnership with the East Lancashire Child and Adolescent Service (ELCAS) and joined phase six of the Children and Young People improving access to physiological services (CYP IAPT) collaboration.  This meant our staff could be trained to deliver evidence-based interventions for some mental health problems. Within six months, eight staff were trained to identify young people in the service who may have symptoms of depression, low mood, anxiety, worry and phobia and complete an assessment with them to determine their level of need.  For the young people who wanted to address their mental health and substance use, they could choose to have a worker for each part of the problem, or else focus on the issue they felt was dominant and most important.

Despite the positive outcomes we’ve seen, we know more needs to be done. At Young Addaction Lancashire, we will soon see our second cohort of staff commencing training and we will continue to strengthen our offer for young people who have problems with both their substance use and mental health.

On a national level, we hope by focussing on mental health and substance misuse problems in this year’s focus week, we can shine a spotlight on this issue and ensure young people have the right to access the support they need.

“This time last year I was having panic attacks up to 4 times a week and now I have just completed two days of GCSE mock exams with no panic attacks.  I managed to control my nerves and couldn’t have done it without the help you gave me, just wanted to say thank you.” Service user, aged 15

“The service provided by Addaction helped me a lot as I was able to get help straight away without having to wait for very long. It also helped as it is not something I had to consult with my parents about as they are not very understanding about mental health issues and would not like the idea of me getting help. As a result I would have had to carry on dealing with my anxiety and panic attacks without help.” aged 15

“What I have found most helpful about support through Addaction is how the sessions are specific for one issue that you are having and that issue is explored thoroughly whilst doing practical and logical things to help you with the issue during the sessions as well as at home.” Service user, aged 15.