One in 10 teenagers with mental health issues drinks, smokes cigarettes and uses cannabis on a weekly basis, a study published in British Medical Journal Open (BMJ Open) has revealed.
It would be “helpful” to merge mental health, drug and alcohol services, the Australian researchers suggested in the online version of the BMJ.
Paul Jenkins, CEO of mental health charity Rethink, agreed health professionals should take a “more proactive approach” to the physical health of their mental health patients.
An “early start” of substance misuse increases the likelihood of mental ill health and vice versa, the study seems to show. “These patterns of substance use are likely to contribute to increased risk of poor physical and mental health outcomes,” write the authors.
Patterns found among 12 to 17 year olds were “particularly notable,” they added.
The findings were based on more than 2,000 12 to 30 year olds who were part of a national Australian mental health programme.
Information on weekly alcohol, tobacco and cannabis consumption was provided by those seeking help for a wide range of mental health issues.
One in eight teenagers between 12 and 17 drank alcohol at least once a week, as did close to 40% of those aged 18 or 19.
Younger teenagers with mental health problems were twice as likely to say they had drank alcohol in the past week than their peers in the general population.
“Alcohol can leave children emotionally, physically and sexually vulnerable,” said Siobhan McCann, alcohol education charity Drinkaware’s head of campaigns.
“It’s important that children feel confident enough to say no to alcohol, and are armed with the facts,” McCann added.
The study from the Clinical Research Unit at the University of Sydney showed that half of the participants who fell into the “risky” drinking category suffer from bipolar disorder.
On average, 13% of 12 to 30 year olds used cannabis at least once a week.
Those aged under 17 were more likely to smoke cannabis every day than they were to drink alcohol.
“We know that smoking cannabis, especially at a young age, significantly increases your chances of developing psychosis,” said Rethink CEO Jenkins.
He added: “We also see people turning to cannabis to try and relieve their symptoms, so it can become a cycle.
Jenkins, who welcomed the study, said the government should “do more” to educate young people about the “links” between cannabis and psychosis.
One in four young teens admitted to smoking cigarettes daily, as did one in three older teens and 40% of those ages 20 to 30.