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headspace Forum 2018

On Wednesday 21 March 2018, the headspace forum ended just as it began: with the high-energy moves of hip-hop dancers from L2R and the high hopes of 850 headspace, lead agency and Primary Health Network staff, who gathered for two days to share the latest science, technological solutions and creative initiatives to tackle youth mental health issues in Australia.

‘Possibilities’ was the theme for this year’s forum, which was our third and biggest to date, but it could just as easily have been ‘Yes, and’.

On the opening morning of the forum, MCs Ally, Phoebe, Sina, Liam and Sharene led the entire audience through the ‘Yes, and’ game. To play, forum attendees partnered up and built a narrative together by starting with a sentence and then using “yes, and” to join another sentence to it, and then another and then another.

But the game was not just a model for how to play at the forum and stay open to the people and possibilities in store; it also encapsulated some of the forum’s key take-homes and the collective capacity building of our organisation.

We have helped over 380,000 young people since our doors opened and we’re doing amazing things across the network. Yes, and how can we be more creative, coordinated, connected, inclusive, innovative and evidence-based to achieve greater success with our young people?

We are experts in helping young people tackle mental health issues in Australia. Yes, and how can we amplify our results by integrating easy-to-apply lifestyle interventions like diet and exercise?

Our people face daily challenges and this work sometimes gets us down. Yes, and our shared stories and self-care become the bedrock that enables us to get back up and back out there.

Our organisation has faced recent changes and challenges. Yes, and we are moving forward with a strategy that will clarify our role in Australian youth mental health and our relationship with others in the network.

These discussions took place across a number of breakout sessions, keynotes and plenary addresses.

In his national address, headspace CEO Jason Trethowan talked about the organisation’s next steps and the importance of value. “I want to shift the language of headspace from volume back to value,” Jason said.

A panel of keynote speakers explored lifestyle interventions and the power of headspace to implement these interventions among young people.

“You are the lucky people with the network structure to draw the young people you are trying to serve to you. You have incredible opportunity to work at that interface. Each interaction you have with each person you meet is where something excellent could result,” said Gabriele Kelly, Director of the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute.

The Federal Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, and the Shadow Minister for Aging and Mental Health, Julie Collins, echoed this recognition of our role and relationship with Australia’s young people.  

“The headspace model is looked at around the world as, I think, the leading model for dealing with youth mental health challenges. It is not the solution to everything, but in our view it is the foundation for almost everything we do in youth mental health within Australia,” Mr Hunt said on day one.

The Shadow Minster also acknowledged the pressures on the organisation and its staff. “What we are seeing is a failure of other health services, meaning that headspace centres are dealing with more severe mental ill health and they don’t have the resources do that,” Ms Collins said.

Such work challenges and personal struggles were the stuff of stories throughout the conference, with MCs, speakers and audiences members sharing their lived experiences – some upbeat and inspirational and others that made voices shake.

It was the charismatic MC Sina, 17, who touched a cord when he momentarily veered off script to talk about the importance of these shared stories. 

“Up until this morning, I honestly didn’t see the point of sharing my lived experience. My lived experience isn’t personal; it’s not emotional. Until a friend from the forum crew told me, ‘each person brings their own story to the table, and you bring your passion for diversity to the table and your story is just as valuable as ours’,” Sina said.

“That got me thinking: because no matter how small your story is or no matter what your story is, it’s still your story and your story is still valued in headspace and in any discussion across Australia.”

And after two full days of stimulating and sometimes surprising ideas at the forum, those discussions, stories and exchange of ideas will continue.

“I had an awareness of the impact of food on mood but to hear the statistics and the specific details about that was really surprising and really enlightening,” said Emily, a family therapist from headspace Orange, who is also looking forward to implementing what she learned about single session family consultation.

Peter from Marathon Health, the lead agency for Bathurst, Dubbo and Orange, was also surprised about the food and mood connection and has already hit the ground running after the forum ended.

“The focus on nutrition wasn’t something that I was aware of or familiar with, so before we have even left the venue we have already started making plans about how we can apply that,” he said.

Tai, the community engagement officer at headspace Chatswood in Sydney, found the Yourspace session really useful for managing demand for services.  “It will also give the community more of a sense of what we’re about,” he said.

Tay, a YRG member from headspace Taringa in Brisbane, said she was surprised at how big it really is and the amazing work that it does. “I now know that this is exactly what I want to do with my life, helping other people, so the forum really helped me personally.”

But such inspirations and learnings were just the tip of the iceberg. As Danielle Brown, from a headspace centre in Queensland, put it: “Holy crap! What are you not going to take away from this?”

The headspace Forum was held on 20-21 March. Further information about the sessions, keynotes and plenary will be available in summary format within the next month.