14 May 2018

Helping hand for rural youth

| Maryann Weston
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Headspace Goulburn manager Gail Davies. Photos: Supplied.

With recent data showing a dramatic rise in youth mental health cases presenting to emergency departments in NSW, Headspace in Goulburn is working through a waiting list of young people needing its services.

Headspace is the Australian Government’s youth mental health service and opened in Goulburn a year ago following active lobbying from the local community. With a vision of providing youth-friendly services in a youth-friendly space, and integrating allied and medical services under one roof, the Goulburn office has a waiting list of up to 3 weeks for counselling and up to 5 weeks for psychological services.

“We have had good engagement through local referrals and have been working with the local high schools,” Headspace Youth Mental Health Services Manager Jenny Valdivia said.

Headspace provides a focus on early intervention and offers services to young people who have mild to moderate mental health problems, including drug and alcohol issues.

“We deliver services in a way that appeal to young people and our objective is to prevent problems worsening. The local community in Goulburn was a strong advocate for the establishment of Headspace at a time when formal mental health services for young people were limited,” Jenny said.

Headspace provides services including mental health clinicians, General Practitioners, counselling, education and job training, and support for families and carers of young people with mental health problems.

“We are a youth-friendly environment and we don’t impose that clinical environment on young people. That leads to better engagement with our services,” Jenny said.

Headspace Goulburn services the local area including Crookwell, however also provides services to Yass and surrounding regions. It’s becoming more recognised as a specialised youth service and, consequently, referrals are increasing.

“We now have a high demand for our services as people get to know us,” Headspace Goulburn Manager Gail Davies said.

Establishing rural mental health services for young people, including in Goulburn, has been a step towards addressing the lack of specialised services in country areas compared to metropolitan areas.

“There are less choice and flexibility in country areas and young people are sometimes reluctant to come forward because everyone knows everyone and it’s more of a challenge to step out,” Gail said.

“The strength of Headspace is that it is a well-trusted brand, and the stigma surrounding mental illness is slowly lifting. Young people are recognising it’s okay to seek help. Five years ago it was difficult for them to put their hands up and say ‘I need help’.”

Unfortunately, there has been a rise in self-harm alongside anxiety and depression in young people.

“A lot of kids are self-harming to ease emotional pain and as a cry for help,” Gail said.

“One of the things we see is a lack of resilience in young people to handle what is coming at them. Bullying is still a huge issue and young people are presenting with the issues frequently associated with that…they may have few friends and don’t want to go to school.”

Headspace was established in Goulburn following strong lobbying from the local community for its services.

While inroads have been made in society’s awareness and acceptance of mental health issues, “there is still a long way to go,” Jenny said.

Online connectivity is another issue impacting on youth today.

“Connectivity is open to young people 24 hours a day. If there is an issue at school which isn’t positive, then it’s ongoing after school,” Jenny said.

Headspace Goulburn is also aiming to strengthen its engagement with families and friends of young people with mental health problems.

“The onset of problems can sometimes be insidious in that young people don’t notice there’s something wrong but family and friends do. They play an important role in that young person getting help,” Jenny said.

No one is ever turned away at Headspace, and if they present in crisis they are connected with the help that is needed.

“We work closely with the local mental health team and make sure young people in crisis are assessed,” Gail said.

Grand Pacific Health administers Headspace across the South Eastern Region of NSW. It has recently been successful in securing new funding to establish a Headspace office in Bega.

“We are aiming for 120 sites by 2020 and are well over 100 centres now,” Jenny said.

“If young people need someone to talk to, Headspace is a safe place where they can expect to find the right service. No young person will leave Headspace without support.”

You can find out more about Headspace Goulburn including how to donate to the not for profit service, here: https://headspace.org.au/headspace-centres/goulburn/

If you are experiencing a personal crisis or need to talk to a counsellor urgently, you can also call Lifeline on 131114 which offers 24-hour crisis support.

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