Annabeth Bateman is Community Awareness Officer at headspace Fremantle. At 17, she sat on the National Youth Reference Group, and has been connected with headspace since it was founded in 2007. headspace Fremantle turns 10 this year. Pelican sat down with Annabeth to discuss headspace and mental healthcare.

What is headspace, what does headspace do?

headspace is the national youth mental health foundation, which is led by youth and targeted at youth. It was established by the Federal Government in 2007, in response to research showing that a quarter of people aged 12-25 are affected by mental ill health. Only a quarter of those affected sought professional help, with the most common conditions being anxiety and depression. There are 4 core streams which are mental health, physical and sexual health, drug and alcohol issues, and employment and vocational services. When things go wrong, it’s rarely just one thing, and can often have a flow on effect. We try to be a one stop shop, so clients aren’t bounced around multiple locations and so that the people clients work with can communicate and work together. This means clients don’t have to repeat their story all the time. In my role, I make sure people are aware of what we do and know what mental health is and isn’t. It’s important that the wider community knows about mental health issues are and how treatable they are. It’s nearly impossible for you to not know someone who has been affected by mental ill health- it could be a friend, a family member or even yourself. It’s important that we speak about mental health so people are aware and can get help when they need it.

What does it mean to be mentally healthy?

Mental health is about all your emotional, psychological, and social health and wellbeing. It’s important to be aware of your mental health and have a good handle on it. I think of it like physical health- how do you maintain and improve it? Mental health is not just about illness, it’s about how you feel about yourself and the world around you. Are you engaged in in something fulfilling? When we are mentally healthy, we feel good about ourselves and can cope with normal life stresses.

Headspace Fremantle turns 10 this year. What have you observed over that time?

I joined the headspace Youth National Reference Group first. Then, when Fremantle opened in 2008, I joined their Youth Reference Group (YRG). headspace has always been a youth led service, and that’s stayed the same. Our youth led focus lets us take something and ask, ‘what could be done better?’, and use that to create a better experience. You can see this both nationally, and at the service level. It’s why every centre has a YRG. For me, I was 17 and had a lived experience with mental health issues. Now I’m working in my dream job at the same centre, so a lot has changed for me. I was on the YRG, then took a job at Freo in administration, I then left headspace and worked in journalism. Now I’m back at headspace in my current role. It’s my experiences, and being allowed to attend management meetings, have my voice heard and learning from my experiences on the YRG that got me here. I wouldn’t be able to share my passion and knowledge if I hadn’t been involved as a teenager.

What’s changed?

The team at Fremantle has completely changed from when we first opened 10 years ago. We’re moved to our fourth and hopefully final location on Pakenham Street. We’ve grown, we’ve changed, we’ve reflected and tried new things to see what works and fits in our community. We have a lead agency, 360 Health + Community, which we share with headspace Rockingham and Mandurah, which just opened. This means that anyone living in the southern corridor can go to any centre and go through the same process. With 360, we have a really strong and cohesive team and we know exactly what we’re aiming for. Every centre has a lead agency; some have multiple centres, like 360 does, and some only operate one. It’s good that we all work together, we learn from each other and it makes sure we’re not reinventing the wheel. So a lot has changed and a lot is still the same.

How does headspace ensure best practice?

We have young people involved at every level of service delivery. Every centre including national office has a YRG. At Fremantle we have 13 members currently aged 16-25, with different experiences and passions. They’re all local champions and my ‘brains trust’. I’m not 12-25 anymore and don’t live in Fremantle, so they have a much better idea than I do. When management asks if we should do something, I always consult the YRG. They direct policy and procedures, they help hire our staff, and they attend and speak at meetings of management and clinical staff. They’re at the core of what we do. You can’t deliver services to young people without having them engaged like we do. They all share the goal of improving services for young people, and working together with them is how ensure best practice.

How does headspace support students transition to University?

When we make transitions, there’s an increased risk of anxiety. We see higher rates of anxiety and distress in young people as they go into high school or university. Change is tricky, particularly for university. You have people living out of home or working for the first time, or both. There’s also the challenges of drinking culture and meeting new people. headspace Fremantle has many services to assist with this transition; we have a drug and alcohol councillors, psychologists, and people who can link them in with Centrelink. The system is easier and gives clients a safe place. In my role, I speak about mental health and normalising that experience. Saying that it’s a tough time, it’s okay and normal to feel stressed. If it’s impacting your daily life maybe you should seek that extra support, that’s where we come in.

What are the most serious issues facing the mental healthcare sector right now?

People are falling through the gaps. We’re seeing more people, with greater acuity and complexity. In some ways it’s a positive that people are aware of their mental health and seeking support, but that’s also more people experiencing mental ill health. The problem is that if there’s more people, but if the services aren’t there then people are going to disengage. The longer people go without seeking help the worse outcomes are. It takes so much confidence to seek help; if it goes badly, the chance they’ll reach out again decreases. We encourage awareness and early intervention, making the service smooth and more accessible. Having a good experience straight away means they’ll likely trust the system later.

How does the funding of mental health services affect outcomes for young people and the community? 

As I said, we’re seeing more people with greater complexity with no increase in funding. headspace centre funding hasn’t increase in four years. This is despite increased cost for rent, staff and facilities. We’re doing more work with less. This means we’re less flexible. It relates to people falling through the gaps. We must prioritise; we either work outside our prescribed scope or tighten up and only focus on core clients. In my role, we focus more on client service delivery, and less on innovative work, like group, community and engagement programs. There’s less money and time for them. These problems are essential for resilience and knowledge building. It also risks people falling through the gaps, and we need to respect and reward the courage they show in seeking support. Tightening the service makes it harder to navigate, and the system is scary enough. With less funding it makes it harder to deliver our service and the system harder to access. It’s in the best interest of everyone for us to be working together and making sure the service meets the communities needs and flows smoothly.

How important is youth led mental healthcare in reducing stigma around mental health?

Vital. 75% of the one in four that experience mental ill health don’t seek professional support. But, they will probably speak to their friends. Our awareness campaigns are put together by young people, so others are more likely to engage. Because of this, when a young person says they’re not doing well, their friend will be able to recognise what’s going on and recommend support. They’ll know what support there is and how it can be accessed. It’s also obvious to young people when something has been thrown together by adults that don’t know what young people care about or want. It’s a waste of time and money and it’s disrespectful. You need young people at the forefront who know what the young people in the community want. They’re a valuable resource and you’re wasting their talent if you ignore them. The YRG are our best advocates- they’re involved in diverse groups and they talk. The conversation is organic and sincere, bringing support and a change of culture, helping break down the stigma.

How can people get involved and support headspace?

Find your nearest centre, if not for you, for your friends. Fremantle’s main engagement with young people is the YRG. We have a waiting list at the moment but get in contact and we’ll add you to the list. Come to events- it’s a great way to stay healthy and meet new people, and it also justifies why we run these events. Be aware of what the community offers and give it a go. You can also donate to your local centre, there are links on our website or you can call your local centre for more details.

Mike Anderson