Objective: To assess the extent to which youth-specific, mental health care centres engage young people (12-25 years of age) in treatment, and to report the degree of psychological distress, and the diagnostic type, stage of illness, and psychosocial and vocational impairment evident in these young people. Design and setting: Standardised clinical and self-report assessments of consecutive presentations at two youth-specific centres from October 2007 to December 2009. Both sites are operated by the Brain and Mind Research Institute in Sydney, Australia, as part of headspace: the National Youth Mental Health Foundation mental health care service. Results: Of 1260 young people assessed, 53% were male, and the mean (SD) age was 18.1 (3.9) years. Over 40% of the young people were self-referred, or their assessment was arranged by family or friends, or by other social agencies; 30% of young people were referred from other primary health providers. Almost 70% reported high or very high levels of psychological distress. More than 60% of subjects reported having 2 or more days "unable to function" within the past month, and clinicians rated over 50% as having at least moderate difficulty in social/occupational functioning. Importantly, 25% of subjects were receiving income support. Two-thirds of subjects were rated as being at the early stage of an illness, and almost half were diagnosed with anxiety or depressive syndromes. Conclusions: Targeted youth-specific mental health services, based in primary care settings, are able to engage young Australians, particularly young men, in treatment. Many of these young people report established patterns of psychosocial and vocational impairment.