This month I mark my first anniversary as chief executive at Samaritans and also as a resident of the Hunter. In this 12-month period, I’ve been in the fortunate position to observe and be involved in this community, which is exceedingly generous, welcoming and kind.
I’ve witnessed the way in which Hunter locals come together to support all who need it – particularly those who have experienced trauma, isolation or loneliness.
As we look to the first week back at school for many students, I reflect on a cause that I am passionate about, and which I consider to be a key priority for the region in the next 12 months: youth mental health.
Samaritans supports thousands of young people each year across a number of services, and I have noticed first-hand the energy and enthusiasm that young people have to contribute to our community. I am a huge advocate for realising and encouraging this potential and providing relevant and exciting opportunities for them to engage more fully in society, where it can be often difficult to ‘get a break’. It is important that we as a community support their development in a progressive, helpful and nurturing way.
It is critical to continue to provide opportunities for young people to deal with the many and varied challenges, demands and pressures they face in a way that works towards reducing stigmas associated with mental health.
Samaritans has the privilege of running the Hunter headspace service in Maitland; a commendable model that offers youth-friendly venues and supports to meet the changing and growing needs of people aged between 12 and 25. In the past financial year, occasions of service grew by 19 per cent on the previous year.
Through a comprehensive consultation program with a youth reference group, headspace continues to exceed national averages in terms of service delivery outcomes. Suicidal ideation and self-harm is significantly reduced through attendance at headspace, with the support of specialist allied health professionals.
According to a mental health report released by the University of NSW at the end of 2016, substantially more young people using headspace services nationally get significantly better (22.7 per cent) than those who get worse (9.4 per cent) when measured against national benchmarks of psychological distress compared with the broader youth population
At headspace Maitland the representation of young people visiting headspace who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander (17.5 per cent), LGBTQIA+ (15 per cent) and culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) is double that of their representation in the general population, which demonstrates our commitment to respectful and welcoming service delivery for all.
The government has made a commitment to the growth of headspace services across the country. This is a welcome investment.
I look forward to expanding my involvement in the Hunter and hope that in another 12 months, I can report on continuing positive outcomes for our young people.
I wish all who are returning to school and studies a smooth and happy transition and encourage those who might need extra support to reach out. There are many organisations, including Samaritans, that want to help in whatever way they can.