The need for mental health care among youth is rising dramatically, but current care is difficult to access and frustrating to experience. Rates of depression and suicide are growing rapidly in the United States, especially among adolescent females. Yet despite the growing rates of depression and suicide, youth are not getting adequate access to mental health services because of stigma, lack of awareness and unavailability of services, inconvenient access, and high cost of mental health services. Depression among college freshmen has increased 44% in the past 5 years and 57% among females in 4-year private institutions,1 70% of California adolescents aged 12-17 with Major Depressive Episode did not receive treatment,1 and 50% more child psychiatrists are required to address current U.S. needs.3
A recent study of youth in San Mateo County, Adolescent Report 2014-15, found that mental health challenges facing adolescents are staggering.1 The report concluded that nearly 70% of the public school students sampled reported being depressed, anxious, or emotionally stressed. Thirty-eight percent of females and 23% of males reported having suicidal thoughts.2
An Australian national youth mental health program called “headspace” has achieved worldwide recognition for achieving high levels of access and satisfaction. headspace is is a youth mental health initiative established by the Australian government in 2006 to help youth aged 12 to 25 years old on a range of issues including depression, anxiety, stress, alcohol and drug use, sexuality, sexual health, personal or family relationship issues and bullying. Young people can get in-person support at a headspacecenter as well as online support from eheadspace. headspace has 100 centers across Australia which can be accessed for free or at low cost. Over the past decade, headspace has provided over a million occasions of service to more than 250,000 young adults with satisfaction scores averaging greater than 4 out of 5 and 60% of clients showing significant improvement. According to Dr. Steven Adelsheim, the Director of Stanford University’s Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing, headspace| Australia “has been a huge national success” and presents the U.S. with “a unique opportunity to capitalize on a tried and sup 6tested approach.”5 Other countries including Israel, Denmark, and Canada have successfully imported the headspace model.
SafeSpace Youth Mental Health Services is a non-profit organization founded by Stacy Drazan and Susan Bird. Stacy and Susan are parents in the San Francisco Bay Area who have experienced first-hand the suffering that comes when a family is deeply impacted by mental health disease. In 2015, Stacy and Susan began searching the world for the leading experts and organizations focused on youth mental health. A visit to Australia to meet headspace CEO Chris Tanti resulted in a friendship and agreement that Mr. Tanti would join Stacy and Susan on the SafeSpace Board of Directors. Mr. Tanti adds unparalleled experience, knowledge, and insight into the design and operation of the headspace model in Australia as well as the successful translation of this model to countries such as Israel, Denmark, and Canada. SafeSpace is dedicated to importing the headspace model to the United States, focusing first on the Bay Area.
Like headspace in Israel, Denmark, Ireland and Canada, SafeSpace will enjoy full access to the look and feel, educational content, and care model of headspace Australia. Perhaps the most important benefit of importing the headspace Australia model is that SafeSpace will begin on day one with an organizational model, marketing system, educational content, and care model that has been developed and validated for more than a decade in Australia and has been successfully imported to other countries outside of the United States.
The key elements that will make SafeSpace so effective in addressing early stage mental health issues for youth are:
A major obstacle to the early detection and treatment of mental health issues among youth is the lack of awareness and the inconvenience associated with finding and initially contacting a care provider. We believe that the only effective means of addressing early stage youth mental health is to be present where youth are -- at school. According to the Child Mind Institute 2016 Children Mental Health report, “One of the most important components of early intervention for behavioral and emotional health concerns is early identification. School is the ideal place for this.” School-based awareness and peer referral are key elements of the SafeSpace marketing strategy. For that reason, identifying and nurturing highly supportive schools will be a major focus of our efforts. SafeSpace will partner with local high schools who are intensely supportive of this effort.
Students will lead the promotion of the service and provide feedback on the design of the service. Broad involvement and sense of ownership among youth in served communities has had a major impact on the awareness and utilization of services in headspace Australia and Israel, in particular. SafeSpace plans to mirror the proven student-involvement model used by these successful programs.
Like headspace, SafeSpace will create a Youth Advisory board that will provide local student clubs with a student club “playbook” that includes suggested charters, organizational structure, leadership roles, membership, meeting agendas, awareness and educational programs, fundraising, and financial management. Two student representatives from each local school will be invited to participate in the advisory board.
We believe that peers are often the first to notice changes in a friend beginning to suffer from mental health issues, and we plan to design our awareness and interaction model to facilitate peer-based referrals. This will include educational materials that help peers identify the signs that a friend is struggling and a website and clinical engagement model that encourages and supports peers who contact SafeSpace in order to help a friend.
In order to generate support among parents, SafeSpace plans to work with each school to create awareness at parent forums and in school-related communications with parents.
Starting with a program launch in August of 2017 and delivering care over the course of two academic years ending in June of 2019, our initial program aims to achieve:
For further reading visit headspace.org.au.
1 Higher Education Research Institute, 2015
2 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2015
3 Child Mind Institute, 2016
4 The SpaceSpace business model recognizes that a U.S. implementation of the headspace model will almost certainly not enjoy the government funding that supports headspace Australia.
5 Adelsheim, S. “A National Opportunity: Improving the Mental Health and Wellbeing of Adolescents and Young Adults,” January 2016
6 SafeSpace intends to measure and benchmark clinical efficacy based on the same instruments and protocols used by headspace Australia