Australian and Danish young people connect over mental health

By · 13 August, 2014 · Features

Mental health is the single biggest health issue facing young Australians, so the theme Mental Health Matters for this year’s International Youth Day is an incredibly important one.

Youth mental health is an issue across the globe, so it’s not surprising that the headspace model has received interest from a number of other countries. Denmark has been quick to adopt the model, opening six headspace centres and developing their own Youth Reference Group. To celebrate International Youth Day, hY NRG met up with their Danish counterparts over a Google hangout to share, and learn from each other’s experiences.

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Three of us in Melbourne, one in Sydney and one in Mackay, had a virtual meeting with Anne, Rasmus and Mille, three young people from headspace in Denmark. Jatin, an Australian who works at headspace over there, but happened to be in Australia, also joined us!

The conversation started around headspace’s Youth Reference Groups. As headspace is relatively new in Denmark, their reference group is smaller with two volunteers from each centre joining to form a group of 12. They have only met once so far, but have plans to expand and were interested to hear how our national and centre youth reference groups are structured and how regularly they meet. We also spoke about why we are involved, with one member saying that ‘headspace listens to what I have to say and make me feel good about contributing my ideas’.

What really stood out to us was the strong volunteer culture in Denmark, which Karin explained was a culture throughout the country, not just headspace. Each centre there has three full time staff, and a number of volunteers who keep things running smoothly. This is in contrast to centres in Australia that are predominantly staffed by paid employees.

While there were differences, what we shared in common far outweighed them. The main services offered in Denmark are supporting young people to find accommodation, helping with mental health issues, connecting them with other mental health organisations and providing assistance if they are struggling with their studies. These services are offered in Australian centres too.

The Danish then went through the main problems young people come to their centres with. The issues were so similar; it could have been anyone from a headspace centre here talking. They listed depression, family problems, loss of a family member, anxiety, eating disorders, relationship break ups, body image and eating disorders. They followed this up by saying- no issue is too big or small for someone to bring to a centre, an approach headspace in Australia takes as well.

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We also exchanged ideas and strategies for raising awareness of the organisation, community engagement and social media. Our counterparts said that a lot of people don’t know about their services and wanted to know how we promote ourselves.

The similarities between what young people are struggling with from one side of the world to the other, were amazing and it really helped to reinforce that what headspace is doing is important, and that we are on the right track.

It was a really valuable experience, and we all agreed that it would be great to talk again in the near future. By forming these relationships, we hope to improve headspace in Australia and Denmark, and one day even wider. headspace CEO Chris Tanti has a vision for the future which includes an international network of headspace centres so that all young people, wherever they live, no matter their social, economic, ethnic or religious backgrounds have the ability to receive help, and realise their full potential. We would love to see that vision become a reality.

headspace is the National Youth Mental Health Foundation and its role is to help people 12-25 who are going through a tough time. 75 per cent of mental health problems emerge before the age of 25, but by catching problems early, headspace can help prevent them from becoming more serious and longer lasting.

Young people can access support from headspace in the areas of mental health, general health, education and employment services, and alcohol and other drug services. They can get this help either through one of the 67 headspace centres across the country, or eheadspace, an online platform, where young people can chat, email or speak with qualified youth mental health professionals.

headspace values the voices of young people. headspace understands that by listening to and working with young people the organisation will gain a better understanding of their needs and opinions, which will result in a more effective service.

The headspace Youth National Reference Group (hY NRG) work with headspace to help strengthen and develop the service. The model focuses on utilising existing members of headspace centre/program youth reference groups to form hY NRG. There are 24 national youth representatives (aged 16 – 25), ensuring representation from all over Australia. hY NRG are able to feed information back to the centre youth reference groups and vice versa – this enables hY NRG to hear the voice of a large number of young people from around Australia.

Written by representatives of headspace Youth National Reference Group (hY NRG)

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