workforce strategy must build sustainable pipeline of mental health professionals

headspace welcomes the release of the National Mental Health Workforce Strategy 2022-2032 that outlines the need for significant and sustained mental health workforce reform. 

headspace CEO Jason Trethowan said more mental health professionals would mean better mental health outcomes for young people and families.

“With two in five young people reporting a mental disorder in the past 12 months, mental health is a priority concern for future generations of Australians.

“That’s why Australia needs strategic, long-term investment in the mental health sector and its workforce.

“As it stands, there is not currently a sustainable pipeline of youth mental health professionals in Australia, including at headspace.

“Like all organisations in our sector, headspace faces challenges to attract and retain staff, especially in regional and remote parts of the country.

“It can take a lot of courage for a young person to reach out for help, and when a service is unable to respond in a timely way, this has a detrimental impact on a young person’s immediate wellbeing and future help seeking.

“Our staff do an outstanding job of supporting young people to navigate tough times. More mental health professionals mean more young people supported earlier. This can prevent their mental health from deteriorating, keeping them out of already overcrowded hospitals and emergency departments.

“The federally funded headspace Early Career Program is an effective workforce development model that is already bolstering the capacity of headspace centres across Australia.”

In its first 18 months, the Early Career Program has 102 newly qualified graduates into 48 headspace centres across Victoria, Tasmania, Queensland and Western Australia. Another 402 student clinicians have performed supervised work towards their qualifying degrees. Together they’ve already delivered 24,000 occasions of service to more than 11,000 young people, all under the guidance of a dedicated team of clinical educators. Nearly half of these services were to young people in regional rural and remote locations.

The Program is already responding to key priorities in the National Strategy, including:

  • Placing students and graduates from priority professions including psychology and other allied health professions in supported clinical environments;
  • Strengthening relationships with universities to establish training opportunities and pathways;
  • Creating training and placement opportunities in regional, rural or remote settings;
  • Training dedicated clinical educators to provide scaffolded education, supervision and support to students and graduates;
  • Supporting early career professionals to develop their practice within multidisciplinary teams, and
  • Providing positive supported pre-registration and postgraduate placement experiences.

Following their ECP experience, 89 per cent of students and 95 per cent of graduates said they were likely or very likely to continue working in youth mental health.

headspace Warrnambool allied health worker India Saunders was one of the first graduates selected for the Early Career Program.

“I wanted to be part of the Early Career Program as I knew I could begin a career helping young people while still getting on-the-job training and support,” Ms Saunders said.

“During university, one of my placements was with headspace. I really enjoyed the experience and found the staff to be supportive and understanding.

“I can’t speak highly enough of the headspace team. My clinical lead and the senior employees have offered me invaluable leadership and guidance at the start of my career.

“One thing I would say to people in the mental health field who are considering a move to a rural or regional town is: do it. You learn so much and it’s a great opportunity for growth.”