Winning approval for a headspace centre to help young people with mental health has been a coup for the Border community. The big task now, if the service is to achieve maximum results, is to design a comprehensive program that protects the privacy of those using the service, according to the organisation’s chief Dr Chris Tanti,
KEEPING it quiet is crucial for headspace.
If a young person’s confidentiality is breached, the stigma can make their mental health problem even worse.
That’s the strongly held view of the organisation’s boss, Chris Tanti.
“Young people don’t want their confidentiality breached,” he says.
“You actually do more harm. The risk is that people don’t come and we know the consequences of that can be fairly extreme.”
Albury-Wodonga found out last June that it would get one of the federally funded centres for 12 to 25-year-olds after a 10-month community campaign.
This followed The Border Mail’s Ending the Silence campaign, which aimed to create a greater awareness of youth mental health and to remove the stigma associated with suicide.
Dr Tanti says it is not suicide that holds this stigma — for many young people, admitting they have mental issues carries the same feelings of shame.
This is one of the major challenges facing the organisation as it works towards opening the Border’s headspace centre in Wodonga’s High Street by October.
As head of the organisation since its inception in 2006, Dr Tanti has overseen the opening of headspace centres right across Australia.
That led him to Albury on Wednesday to talk about headspace and wider mental health issues with a group of Albury secondary students.
“For me on a day-to-day basis, my work plan is very well laid out and involves government and my own staff and other committees. But often it’s not groups of young people who I’m talking to. I just love the opportunity to hear what they have to say.”
His audience was the youth advisory council of the member for Farrer, Sussan Ley, who described his discussion as a way for young people to provide meaningful input on just what type of headspace the Border gets.
“We want to keep kids healthy from different perspectives,” she says.
Ms Ley says the students — whose opinions “I am confident will reflect the views of young people generally” — got a lot out of Dr Tanti’s visit.
“To begin with, they thought the visit was about their advice being sought on where the headspace site should be and how it should work,” she says.
“But then they also talked about their feelings, their emotional response to the challenges they faced, the situation of their friends who might be doing it tough.”
Learning how to deal with and getting support for this pain, she says, is just as important as the terrible outcome in some cases of suicide.
One of the key challenges faced on the Border was shared by many regional communities.
Dr Tanti says that to put it simply, it is about how young people can maintain their privacy while also trying to get some support.
“It’s a much more closely knit community in the country,” he says.
“In one of our remote communities, young people will say to us they don’t want to go to the indigenous service because they think that their relatives are more likely to be connected to people who are working there.”
Those sorts of pressures are just as ever-present in regional centres such as Albury-Wodonga.
“Someone might be on reception and the young person walks through — and then turns around because they don’t want to be recognised,” Dr Tanti says
As a result, a lot of work will be done over the coming months in establishing protocols before the Wodonga headspace opens — all with an eye on preventing young people having to face such a situation.
Headspace will be doing that in close partnership with its own youth reference group for the project.
“We talk about a community consultation occurring for something that’s opened but, unless you’ve got that ongoing communication, you can lose sight of what it is you’re trying to do,” he said.
“For me on a day-to-day basis, my work plan is very well laid out and involves government and my own staff and other committees.
“But often it’s not groups of young people who I’m talking to. I just love the opportunity to hear what they have to say.”
A lot of what the youth advisory committee spoke to Dr Tanti about at Albury High School on Wednesday focused on the stigma of mental illness.
“We talked about how young people feel about walking through the doors of a headspace centre and what that might be like and how difficult that can be. We talked about online solutions that we currently offer, as well as the school support program.”
A major issue for the Border headspace centre will be public transport, about how Albury young people will be able to get to the Wodonga site.
If it’s not cheap and accessible, Dr Tanti accepts young people won’t use the service.
“That’s because they don’t have the disposable income to splurge on mental health,” he says.
“And given the stigma associated with it, it’s just an additional barrier you don’t want. You might as well not set it up.”