COPSY aims to improve youth mental health services in Port Stephens. The initial focus is youth aged 10-18 on the Tomaree Peninsula. The table below identifies mental health issues faced by youth (aged 12-17) in our region.
Source: Mental Health Issues 10-18 PHN, 2016
There are just under 3,000 youth aged 10-19 on the Tomaree Peninsula (ABS, 2016) with 1,300 attending high school. According to BATYR (a social enterprise that focusses on preventative education in the area of youth mental health), 7 out of 30 students will deal with a mental health issue in any year of which five will ‘suffer in silence’, and just two will reach out for support. If just two high school students reach out for support, that means 87 young people will seek help and if they need an average of 10 counselling sessions per year, around 72 sessions per month need to be provided. This does not include those young people who are not attending school.
The nearest youth mental health services are the headspace centres of Maitland and Newcastle.
After extensive consultation with medical professionals, school principals/counsellors, psychologists, young people, carers and Port Stephens Council (PSC) to understand the nature of youth mental health issues in the region, the Hunter New England and Central Coast Primary Health Network (PHN) and PSC funded a feasibility study. The report completed in December 2016 by Newcastle University (Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health) recommended actions for support and intervention mechanisms to control and alleviate youth mental health problems in Port Stephens.
The PHN encouraged the headspace centres (which it funds) to use the study in late 2016 to bid new Commonwealth funds to place a satellite headspace centre on the Tomaree Peninsula. The bid, however, was unsuccessful.
In 2017, a COPSY Steering Committee formed to bring together key stakeholders to collaborate on the Feasibility Study recommendations. The Port Stephens Community through COPSY identified three priorities from the feasibility study which can be addressed sequentially as time and resources permit:
The first priority is to establish a place where youth can go for help. We identified the Salamander Bay Library as the preferred location on the Tomaree Peninsula (close to both major high schools). If this intervention model works, it can be replicated in other parts of the Port Stephens LGA, as well as provide outreach services.
The second priority is increasing promotion, prevention and awareness activities. There is already quite a lot being done in local high schools across the Port Stephens LGA. However, there are not coordinated or consistent across schools they all cost money.
The third priority is after hours support. Youth counselling centres are generally open only during business hours. Weekends and public holidays can be difficult times for youth in need. On-line support and emergency services help to fill the gap. More research is needed on what else may be possible.
The counselling service will have a positive effect not only on the youth but also on their families, friends, school community, future employers and the community.