Headspace Lithgow is a testament to the strength of a community in some of the darkest times. The organisation known for specialising in youth mental health (12-25) opened its doors in Lithgow three months ago.
This was welcome news to a grieving community. “It was something the community fought for. It went to parliament and National headspace set up a satellite centre” said Bonnie Bassett, Youth Care Coordinator and Provisional Psychologist at headspace Lithgow.
The community of Lithgow rallied for the service following a tragic case of multiple youth suicides in a short time period. “It rocked the community and devastated the families, as you can imagine.”
“It was a multi-pronged approach by many members of the community. Politicians, Councillors and Headspace national [to get a local service],” said Jason Eggins, Youth Care Coordinator at headspace Lithgow.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Wellness, 14 per cent of young people aged 12–17 had a mental health disorder in the last 12 months. Headspace provides a safe haven for youth to receive support and assistance for their mental and physical health and wellbeing, , drug and alcohol issues, as well as vocational support.
The community has responded well to the service. “We’ve seen about 100 young people in the three months that we have been opened,” said Bonnie.
The services are based on an initial assessment to ensure that the needs of the individual can be met. “We tailor the services to help the individual. If they have drug and alcohol and mental health issues, they may see two counsellors.”
“It’s all about collaborating with the client and who they’ve got in their life – family, partners; also what their goals are, what they want,” said Bonnie.
Young people do not require parental permission to attend headspace; the door is open for anybody wishing to speak with a youth carer.
“Young people don’t need a referral to access some of the services, but for some like psychology, we work under MBS (Medicare Benefits Schedule) through Medicare, so they will need to be engaged with their GP (general practitioner) to get a referral to come here,” Bonnie said.
It can be daunting trying to seek assistance when it is required. The door itself can pose a bigger mental barrier than a physical one.
"Some people are anxious about coming in to talk about themselves to a stranger, but once they have the courage to come in, we usually have the conversation with them… (explaining that) feelings of anxiety mean you usually are going to do something really brave. When they do come in, it’s not what they are expecting, it’s youth friendly. The rooms are beautiful and the staff are friendly."Bonnie Bassett
Prior to headspace Lithgow opening, young people seeking age-relevant support were required to travel to the Bathurst centre. The other alternative was the hospital system. Both travel and waiting times in emergency rooms were deterrents for local youth.
“A lot of families don’t just have one child. That involves having to pick up multiple children from school; parents work. Trying to come up with time to go to Bathurst, which is almost an hour to drive out for an hour appointment… you’ve lost a quarter of the day right there,” said Bonnie.
The Lithgow centre has been very adaptive to the needs of the community by promptly changing their opening hours to meet the demand for after-school appointments.
Each headspace centre is tailored to meet the needs of the community around them. This means different centres have different services that can be accessed. “It is about empowering the young person, taking away any barriers that they may have experienced recently, perhaps with other treatment or other clinical settings they have been in.”
“We find that some of our young people have had not very helpful experiences previously and so it’s a unique experience once they come in.”
Seeking help can be challenging for youth who live in the outskirts of communities. Public transport isn’t always a reliable option due to timetable and financial constraints. Headspace have valuable resources to ensure that young people living in these areas have access to assistance when they require it.
Help is just an internet connection away.
“Our telehealth service provides access to a psychologist,” said Bonnie. There is also access to an online after-hours service called eheadspace. Eheadspace is available outside of operating hours and can be accessed from 9am-1am.
The future is bright for this much needed to community asset. The centre is still in its early days and has many plans for the future. “We are having a planning day next month (November) for the next six months. We will be seeing what the needs of the community are; hiring more staff and getting volunteers through,” said Bonnie.
We are also working to form a youth reference group. The group assists with keeping headspace relevant to youth of today… (covering topics like) what makes it difficult to go to headspace, what headspace is missing etc.,” she said.
Headspace Lithgow is fortunate to have passionate and dedicated staff who are approachable and greet you with a friendly smile when you walk in the door.“I am really passionate about youth mental health. I’m doing my internship for my psychology degree now to become registered. So I’ve invested a lot of my time into it. It’s really rewarding working with young people,” explained Bonnie.
“I think it’s a profession where we never stop learning. We come in, we learn from each other, we learn from the clients and from all these other resources. No day is ever the same. I’ve always had a passion for working with people.” Said Bonnie.
Jason also expressed his passion for his work. “I was a chef for many years, and in my part time (it sounds like I had so much free time!) I did a psychology degree because I always knew I wanted to work in the community sector, but specifically with younger people,” he said.
“I’m invested in this town in that both my sons went all the way through Lithgow High, I have my parents who live in Lithgow. There’s a strong connection. It’s a cliché, but I wanted to do something different, rewarding and hopefully helpful.”