Telling the headspace story

While headspace was officially launched in 2006, its genesis stretches back to the early 1990s, beginning with efforts to treat troubled young people in age-appropriate settings, away from the alienating institutions that had dominated the mental health system for decades.

In 1992, Professor Patrick McGorry and key colleagues opened EPPIC (Early Psychosis Prevention and Intervention Centre) in Melbourne’s Parkville. It was a unique specialist service delivering early intervention care for young people experiencing their first episode of psychosis.

It was a new way of thinking that placed evidence-based intervention at the forefront of treatment for early psychosis in young people. Inevitably, it led to discussions around applying this approach to the treatment of other forms of mental ill-health.

So, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, EPPIC progressively evolved into Orygen Youth Health; establishing a range of streams of care to respond to other young people dealing with significant mental illness, such as Personality and Mood Disorders.

At the same time it was also becoming a laboratory for developing and testing new ideas about how to better engage young people in their treatment: give them a say in the services through an innovative youth participation model; make the physical environment warm and welcoming; and staff it with workers who had a passion for young people.

Importantly, it also utilised cutting-edge treatments that took into account psychosocial and biological factors that can contribute to a young person’s mental ill-health. These interventions were evaluated and shared across Australia and around the world.

Orygen may have been surging ahead, but its success was also highlighting an uncomfortable truth: youth mental health services were in desperate need of broader and deeper investment by government.

“The hard thing for us was having to turn away large numbers of young people with significant mental health problems from the service because there was nowhere else for them to go,” says McGorry.

“So it was very obvious to us from early on that we needed a high-volume, lower-intensity platform as well, to work in sync with this more specialised model.”

There was already overwhelming evidence that intervening early with young people when they were experiencing issues like depression, anxiety and alcohol and other drug problems was one of the best investments a government could make, with mental health problems accounting for up 50 per cent of the burden of disease. And the data was telling the experts that 75 per cent of people experiencing an adult-type psychiatric disorder had felt its onset by the age of 24.

What if a new nation-wide service, that was partly built on lessons learned at Orygen, could be a fork in the road for a young person experiencing difficulties – helping them on a path to a happier, more productive life?

The advocacy began in earnest in 2003 and into 2004, led by McGorry and his Orygen colleagues John Moran and Matthew Hamilton. It was also supported by John Mendoza at the Mental Health Council of Australia and other leading mental health campaigners, such as Professor Ian Hickie. The case was well received, with both sides of politics making substantial youth mental health commitments during the 2004 election.

In 2005 the Coalition Government allocated $54 million to establish the National Youth Mental Health Foundation (later to be named headspace), with then Health Minister Tony Abbott and Parliamentary Secretary for Mental Health Christopher Pyne designing a competitive tender process to find the Foundation’s national operators.

In response, a coalition of leading organisations came together, led by the Orygen Research Centre, and made up of the Australian Psychological Society (APS), Australian General Practice Network (AGPN) and the Brain and Mind Research Institute (BMRI) at the University of Sydney.

This consortium was successful, with the work of establishing the new organisation overseen by a Foundation Executive Committee (FEC), headed up by McGorry, and including Professor Lyn Littlefield from the APN, Kate Carnell (AGPN), Ian Hickie (BMRI) and John Moran (Orygen). Experienced clinician and health executive Chris Tanti was recruited as the founding CEO and immediately began the implementation process.

The FEC’s task was complemented by a National Advisory Board, made up of leading figures from across the philanthropic, community and social services sectors and led by media executive Ryan Stokes.

“The principle aim is to establish a highly-accessible, more specialised, multidisciplinary model of care to target the core health needs of young people,” wrote McGorry at the time.

Chris Tanti put it a little more simply: “Our brief is to make sure services are available at the earliest possible point when problems emerge. The criteria to get help is pretty simple – you must be 12 – 25. That’s it.”

The model developed was as innovative as it was simple: bring together consortia of existing health and other welfare organisations in identified communities, who bid for the chance to run a health and welfare one stop shop – a centre that offers mental health, general health, drug and alcohol services, as well as other support around the vocational and educational needs of young people.

Together these ‘four pillars’ aimed to address the health and wellbeing concerns of young people by providing a holistic platform of care. This would give teenagers and young adults comfort that their support will be co-ordinated and integrated across primary and specialist care, and not just focus on the ‘illness’ but also social inclusion and recovery.

Under the model, the centres would be supported by a Centre of Excellence, conducting research into best practice in youth mental health. They would also have access to an unrivalled, centralised education and training program.

With a head office established in Melbourne, headspace kicked off 2007 by announcing that 10 centres would soon open. By the start of the following year, 20 new centre locations were announced.

As the service grew, so the governance arrangements were enhanced by the Rudd Government to reflect the fact headspace was moving out of an establishment phase and into a period of significant growth. headspace became its own entity overseen by an independent Board of directors which was partly drawn from the ranks of the FEC and former Advisory Board and headed by eminent Australian Wendy McCarthy AO.

These arrangements meant that headspace was ideally placed to move quickly when, in May 2011, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that as part of a $2.2 billion mental health package, headspace would be funded to triple the number of centres to 90 by 2015.

Today the rollout of these new centres continues apace, with 85 centres either established or committed.

In six short years, headspace has become the leading youth mental health organisation in Australia. In the year to June 2013, its centres helped 32,133 young Australians who were seeking help for problems like depression, anxiety, support for drug and alcohol and other drug issues and bullying.

And it’s not just about centres any more. The full establishment of the eheadspace service in 2011 means headspace is now available to young people online and over the telephone, irrespective of geography. To date more than 100,000 young people have walked into a headspace centre or sought support online.

The headspace School Support program launched in 2012 is helping hundreds of schools deal with the often-devastating aftermath of suicide.

“Now that we offer (young people) an opportunity to come in person to a centre, talk on eheadspace and to make a contact through schools, we’re beginning to get to a place where we’ll fulfil our strategy which is to reach as many young people in Australia who need this service as we can,” Wendy McCarthy, who remains the Chair of the headspace Board, said in 2012.

In 2013, the headspace story came full circle, with the Commonwealth announcing headspace would be given the key responsibility of rolling out early intervention psychosis services, based on the EPPIC model, across the country.

The decision will see nine services set up in every state and territory and represents a significant expansion of organisation’s remit into supporting young people with more complex mental health issues.

Yet despite this rapid scaling-up and continuous learning and change, headspace retains a strong sense of the vision that those mental health leaders developed and espoused more than a decade ago: to be a place where young people feel welcome and supported.

Online support goes live

Today finding a young person who doesn’t regularly use the Internet may be getting more difficult than locating the proverbial needle in a haystack. In fact, recent figures show 99 per cent of Australians aged 18-24 get online on a regular basis.

Clearly, it’s a generation that is doing more and more of its communicating online – whether that’s on a personal computer, smartphone or other device. So it makes sense that mental health services such as headspace should harness this rapid change by offering online support for young people.

eheadspace is exactly that: Australia’s only online and telephone youth mental health support service staffed exclusively by clinical professionals. After only a few years in operation, eheadspace is already fulfilling its goal by providing services to anyone with an internet connection, no matter where they live in Australia, free of charge.

The service began its life as part of a pilot of drought reform measures announced by the Western Australian Government in 2010. eheadspace was extensively promoted to young people in the drought region and tailored to rural youth – but anyone in the country could access it.

In its first year of operation, 1141 young people from across the country used eheadspace to seek advice and support – either online or via telephone.

“When I first came online, I found it really easy to be able to talk to someone,” said one eheadspace user, Amber*, in 2011. “I felt welcome and felt like I could talk about anything. I have been talking to a counsellor on eheadspace now for six or seven months. During this time I have made quite a bit of progress with a lot of things.”

This success saw eheadspace expand to become a truly national service and it was officially launched in October that year, with more clinicians on board and longer operating hours. Since then it has rapidly become an important resource for young Australians across the country – especially those who do not live in close proximity to a headspace centre.

“We know there are more and more headspace centres being established in local communities every year but everyone accepts that no matter how extensive that network is, there will never be 100 per cent coverage,” says eheadspace Manager Vikki Ryall.

“eheadspace is there for all young Australians but it can be particularly valuable for those that live outside of a centre catchment.

“I know of a young person whose parents were making the six-hour round trip to a centre every couple of weeks so she could receive help. eheadspace meant she could get the same support from her home.”

This kind of story has been repeated across the country, leading to rapid growth in the service. eheadspace has bedded down its opening hours (9am-1am for online and telephone support and email support around the clock) and now employs more than 50 clinicians, including an expert in vocational support and an online adviser for parents.

Between 2012 and 2013 there was a 69 per cent increase in the number of young people who received a service from eheadspace, with the service experiencing an average monthly growth of 9 per cent in the number of young people contacting it over the previous 18 months.

“This is the way young people are communicating in all facets of their lives,” says Vikki Ryall.

“So it’s not surprising that they’re showing that they’re increasingly willing to seek help online through eheadspace.

“And, with so much discussion about how dangerous the online environment can be, I’m proud to be part of a service that is making the internet a positive, valuable place for young people to improve their wellbeing.”

Supporting schools affected by suicide

Every week in Australia, two to three people of high school age will die by suicide – around 130 people every year. In the aftermaths of these tragic events, family and friends are left struggling to make sense of the death of their loved one.

The suicide of a young person can also have a devastating impact on a school. It will affect teachers, students and the broader school community, often taking years to recover.

In recognition of this sad reality, the Commonwealth Government in 2010 allocated $18.7 million as part of its Taking Action to Tackle Suicide package to the development of a program to provide a support to school communities affected by the suicide of a student.

As an organisation already providing extensive mental health support to young Australians across the country, headspace was asked to develop and roll-out the program to Australian schools.

In developing the program, headspace consulted mental health and education experts, who told the project team schools needed a program that was highly flexible, tailored to meet the unique needs of and circumstances of an individual school community.

They said the service should be collaborative, working with government departments, youth health agencies and education peak bodies to facilitate a co-ordinated approach to suicide.

And they said it should incorporate an early intervention approach, helping a school identify young people at higher risk of suicide, before an attempt takes place.

headspace listened and School Support was born in January 2012, initially offering resources for schools before being scaled up to a network of clinical teams in all states and the Northern Territory, able to give on-the-ground support to schools.

“As well as building the capacity of schools themselves, the headspace School Support workers will help strengthen the relationships between schools and their local networks, ensuring effective support and referral pathways are available for students at risk,” Federal Mental Health Minister Mark Butler said at the launch of the full program in September last year.

Today, any secondary school across the country can access headspace School Support services, through their closest state-based team. These services include:

  • National 1800 number and email support.
  • Response co-ordination following a suicide or suicide attempt.
  • Staff and parent information sessions.
  • Information resources, including a range of fact sheets.
  • Postvention toolkit – a practical guide to assist schools in their response following a suicide.
  • Education and training related to suicide – for staff and parents.
  • Media liaison and advice.
  • Assistance in developing a school suicide response plan.

Since the initial roll-out, headspace School Support has provided information, guidance and direct support to hundreds of secondary schools across all sectors nationally, many of which have just experienced a completed suicide. In the first half of 2013, the program serviced over 402 secondary schools around the country.

Importantly, it also brings headspace even closer to the young people who need them the most, with School Support clinicians able to access the full range of centre resources and other services provided by the organisation.

headspace will go wherever young people are and, for many teenagers, school is where they spend more time than anywhere else besides their home,” says CEO Chris Tanti.

“Being in schools now significantly increases the ability and scope of headspace to help young Australians right across the education system and across the country.”

New headspace centres opened


Edinburgh North
Coffs Harbour


Alice Springs
Hervey Bay
Murray Bridge
Mt Druitt
Wagga Wagga


Osborne Park


Port Macquarie
Port Augusta


St George/Canterbury
Sydney Northern Beaches
Moreton Bay East
Mt Isa
Brisbane – city
Adelaide West

Telling the headspace story

Founded in 2006 to help struggling young people find someone
else to talk to, headspace
has, in seven short years grown from
idea to become a vital support for 100,000 12 to 25 year olds.

Read More

Scroll down to see first-hand how headspace became a world-leader
in efforts to help our young Australians become happier and healthier.

“Our brief is to make sure services are available at
the earliest possible point when problems emerge.”

Chris Tanti

You are here:

“Putting young people in traditional adult settings
was really bad for them. That was obvious. But
creating the right environment really required their
partnership, and also many years of learning how
to do it.”

Professor Patrick McGorry AO

An epic story begins

Nestled in parkland in Melbourne’s inner north/west, a small youth mental
health clinic called EPPIC opens its doors. It would grow to become a
laboratory for ideas about developing services that welcome and empower
young people – ideas that would later be employed at headspace.

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“An essential part of the answer was
missing. Have to start at the start. Have
to capture young people when they are
really in trouble for the first time.”

Professor Ian Hickie AM

Making the case
for change

Buoyed by policy developments and a
community demanding better mental
health services for young people,
sector leaders lobby an increasingly
willing political establishment for
change. The effort pays off with both
major political parties going to polls
promising reform.

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headspace will be a lasting monument to good
public policy that actually affects people’s lives who
need a voice and who need proper services that
save them from a lifetime of misery.”

Christopher Pyne

Turning plans into action

The Coalition wins the 2004 election with a promise
to spend $54 million on youth mental health.
Parliamentary Secretary Christopher Pyne and his
key advisor quickly set about ensuring the money is
spent in a way that will ensure real support is
delivered to young Australians.

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“There it was, an actual headspace site,
and when you walked in, it was colourful,
it was youth-friendly, there were young
people there, they were really

Professor Lyn Littlefield OAM

Key partners
come together

A consortium of major players in the mental
health sector – Orygen Youth Health,
Australian Psychological Society, Australian
General Practice Network and Brain and
Mind Research Institute – is chosen to
develop a world-first mental health model
from scratch.

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How many people has headspace helped?

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“For many people, there were no services so that package
afforded many young people access to services that in the
past they wouldn’t have thought about accessing.”

Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells

Coalition unveils mental
health package

The 2006 Federal Budget sees the Howard
Government outline $1.9 billion in mental health
funding. Initiatives in the package, including better
access to psychologists, would act to strengthen
and support the future national network of
headspace centres.

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“It was an exciting time, as you can
imagine from those four individuals,
where none of us are wilting violets and
that meant we all had really quite strong
views on what needed to happen.”

Kate Carnell AO

The guiding hand of leaders

Consortium member organisations each nominate representatives to sit on
the Foundation Executive Committee (FEC) which oversees the establishment
of headspace. Sitting alongside the FEC is an Advisory Board made up of 13
prominent Australians, many from the corporate and philanthropic sectors,
led by media executive Ryan Stokes.

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“The University could provide advice and support in
finance and human resources and buildings and all
of the things that are necessary for a new

Professor Glyn Davis AC

Melbourne Uni provides a home

The University of Melbourne provides office space and administrative
support to headspace to set up its first national office in Parkville, where it
would remain until 2009.

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“We were all motivated by the same thing:
delivering better services and more
accessible services for young people. So
that’s what kept us all going.”

Chris Tanti


headspace appoints former social worker
Chris Tanti as its inaugural CEO. Tanti arrives in
the job with no choice but to hit the ground
running – locations for the first 10 headspace
centres had to be decided, with the new
services employing an ambitious model that
had never been attempted before.

Watch the video

“By supporting clinicians in keeping
up-to-date with (the evidence), we know their
work is going to be on target for what young
people need.”

Dr Alex Parker

Mapping out what works

From the beginning, headspace puts evidence at
the heart of its model, establishing a high-level
research unit to ensure clinicians are utilising the
best, and latest, knowledge to support young
people. The team’s daunting first task: comb
through hundreds of thousands of publications to
create the world’s first ‘evidence map’ of youth
mental health research.

Watch the video

“We’ve worked hard at creating a space
that’s not only welcome for young people, but
also welcome for other service providers
that work on-site here.”

Sally Weir

Case study: Centre excels
through partnerships

headspace Darwin (initially called headspace Top End) was
among the first 10 centres announced by the Federal
Government in 2007. By the end of that year 20 more
locations would be revealed. From humble beginnings, the
centre has cemented itself in the local community,
successfully attracting local partners to provide a range of
health and wellbeing services for young people.

Watch the video
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“Getting the mix of those who really instigated
the idea and the people who could carry it to
the next stage, working together, was very

Nicola Roxon

The end of the beginning

The end of the initial establishment phase of headspace is marked by incoming
Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon, who moves to dissolve the Foundation
Executive Committee and the Advisory Board. Members of both would go on
to lead the organisation into its exciting next chapter.

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“It was really, really special and it felt exciting to be
involved in such important activities and different
things we knew would shape the organisation for
the betterment of youth in Australia.”

Amran Dhillon

Walking the walk on
youth participation

The first hY NRG (headspace Youth National Reference Group) is
appointed to advise the organisation on how it can develop and
maintain a youth-friendly approach to supporting young Australians.
It comprises 28 young people from across Australia who have an
existing connection to headspace.

Watch the video

How do young people become
aware of headspace?

You are here:

“I went away, and I rang three people I knew, all of whom
had lost children to suicide under twenty-five, and they all
said, ‘This is the single most important thing that you could
lend your energy to’.”

Wendy McCarthy AO

A new headspace
Board is born

The Federal Government appoints a new headspace
Board, led by eminent Australian Wendy McCarthy
and made up of a Who’s Who of leaders in the
mental health sector and the community.

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“We’ve moved fast; we get feedback from young
people... and we can respond to it, and we can
change the service accordingly. That for me is
exactly the kind of service that headspace wants
to offer.”

Vikki Ryall

Online support goes live

headspace begins delivering services online after winning a government
tender to provide support to young Australians affected by drought. The pilot
program is called eheadspace and would, just 18 months later, be
expanded to offer comprehensive support for teenagers and young adults
across the country. Read More

Watch the video

“There was a great energy in that space...
there was this good vibe because it felt like the
powers-that-be were finally listening or listening
properly, and stuff was being done by
powerful people.”

Dylan Lewis

Stepping onto the world stage

headspace puts youth mental health in the global spotlight, holding the
first-ever International Youth Mental Health Conference in Melbourne, with
experts from around the world presenting over four days.

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“I really think services shouldn’t be dictating
what young people need, without talking to
young people, and that’s just something
that headspace would never do.”

Lauren Moss

Second group of youth
advisors appointed

A new group of young people from around
Australia is appointed to help guide headspace.
Their focus would not just be on advising
headspace, but also reducing stigma by telling their
stories to the broader community.

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How has headspace grown?

2007 2008 2012 2013 2014
Use the image slider to move to the next year.
Please note there were no new centres opened from 2009 to 2011.
View all headspace locations
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“If you are serious about early intervention as a
Government and as a community, then you
need to have services in place that young
people will feel comfortable accessing. We
came to this knowing that headspace must be
a central part of the reform package we
would deliver.”

Mark Butler

Canberra announces tripling
of headspace centres

In the 2011 Federal Budget, the Gillard Government flags a massive
headspace expansion. It allocates $197 million to triple the number of
centres – from 30 to 90 – by 2015.

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“It’s that sense of being in that space with people
and being ok to sit in grief and help people
understand what’s happened, to understand the
mystery of suicide and be able to recover from
that grief.”

Lisa Kelly

Supporting schools affected
by suicide

The organisation’s second major national program is launched.
headspace School Support provides assistance to secondary schools
dealing with the aftermath of a suicide. With teams based around the
country, School Support also works to build resilience in school
communities deemed to be at risk.
Read More

Watch the video

Why do young people come to headspace?

“We knew that lots of females who already had an
interest and an awareness of mental health issues
knew about headspace, but it was really those young
males, the ones who don’t often talk about their
health and wellbeing, who still didn’t know where to
turn to for help.”

Sarah Shiell

Telling young people
“We’ve got your back.”

headspace launches its third national awareness campaign. With the
tagline “We’ve got your back.”, it evokes 1950s boxing posters to send a
strong message to young people – especially young men – that headspace
is the place to go for support.

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“I thought, ‘Jeez, I’ve never been to a Brownlow before,
and I’m certainly not going to win the award for playing,
but it would be a real honour’. So I flew Mexico City, LA,
Melbourne, it took me thirty-six hours, and there I was
on the Monday night, sitting with all the great players of
the League.”

Dan Jackson

AFL embraces

Richmond AFL star and headspace
ambassador Dan Jackson raises awareness
about the organisation when he takes out the
inaugural Jim Stynes Community Leadership
Award on the biggest night on the footy

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“The journey was about getting on the road and bringing a
message of support, encouragement, enthusiasm, and
some inspiration... and letting a lot of young people know
that we share a lot of their own experiences.”

Adam Zammit

Rockers take
to the road

headspace partners with Australia’s biggest music
festival, the Big Day Out. The result is a hectic road
trip from the Gold Coast to Adelaide featuring rock
stars (Grinspoon frontman Phil Jamieson, Silverchair’s
Chris Joannou) and sports and media personalities,
visiting headspace centres along the way.

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“What this means is that headspace can
deliver on its promise really, and I think the
promise has always been that we see all
young people, 12 to 25.”

Chris Tanti

Coming full circle

The organisation returns to its EPPIC origins with the Federal
Government announcing the rollout of early psychosis support
services through the headspace model. This will massively
boost the Foundation’s ability to support all young people, not
just those experiencing mild to moderate mental health
issues. The $247 million announcement will see nine services
set up throughout Australia.

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The current hY NRG team

In January 2013, hY NRG’s third generation gathers together
after being chosen from communities across the country.
Each new representative has an existing connection to his or
her local headspace centre. And each one has strong views
about why headspace is such a positive force in the lives of
so many young Australians.

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“My vision for the future of headspace is that
it’s so sustainable that people think it’s
normal to have it. It should be an embedded
part of the suite of offerings for young people
to enable them to grow up to be great

Wendy McCarthy AO

Future looking brighter
for young Australians

Key figures in the headspace journey reflect on what the
future holds for Australia’s leading youth mental health
organisation, and how young people around the nation will
benefit from the Foundation’s continuing growth.

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