AS demand for youth mental health services in Newcastle has grown, one of the busiest headspace centres in the country has expanded in order to help distressed young people sooner.
Headspace Newcastle welcomes almost 1300 adolescents and young adults through its doors each year - but with demand for the service increasing by 20 per cent each year, people could wait up to eight weeks to access its psychology services, clinical psychologist and headspace Newcastle manager, Dr Stephen Hirneth, said.
On Tuesday, headspace Newcastle officially opened its extended premises - part of a $1.7 million expansion of the centre and its services.
The centre now has seven additional clinical rooms, and four extra mental health clinicians.
"The aim is to be able to make sure we can see people as soon as we possibly can with additional clinical staff - that's the most immediate outcome is that we will have more capacity to see more young people sooner," Dr Hirneth said. "The main concerns people are presenting with are anxiety, school-related stress, depression, suicidal thinking and family and relationships concerns.
"There is also a large proportion of people concerned with substance use."
Dr Hirneth said demand and waiting times for their psychological services fluctuated.
"Sometimes it can be a few weeks, but it can be up to six-to-eight weeks at times," he said. "This time of the year, around exams, we tend to see a spike."
He said the Newcastle service was about 50 per cent busier than the national average of headspace centres around the country.
"We are one of the busier centres - we service a huge area with a large population," he said. "The rates of referrals are increasing by about 20 per cent each year. We are seeing increasing numbers of young people each year - to the point where we had physically outgrown our space. We were at capacity, and unable to continue meeting that increase in demand."
Dr Hirneth said levels of distress were increasing in young people, but the demand for the service was also driven by trust in the headspace "brand".
"More and more people are recognising us as the first port of call, but that does mean that it tests our limits with the capacity we have to support young people," he said. "Overall, the centre manages to do a great job in meeting people's needs, but we did need to expand to meet the increase in demand."
Sharon Claydon, the Federal Member for Newcastle, said the busy local headspace service was "punching way above" the organisation's national average on customer satisfaction and clinical outcomes.
"I don't think any of us are that naive, in this current world, to think we won't have a need for quality, supportive services for young people trying to navigate themselves through a very complicated world," Ms Claydon said at the official opening of the expanded service.
"One of the great tragedies is that we are seeing the need for these services growing.
"I think that requires a bit of deep self-reflection about why that might be the case.
Katie Unwin, 19, said she had sought help from headspace herself while suffering with anxiety, depression and post traumatic stress disorder.
We were at capacity, and unable to continue meeting that increase in demand.- Dr Stephen Hirneth, headspace Newcastle
"It was so amazing to walk into headspace," she said.
"The staff are so kind, and you walk in feeling like its the most welcome you have ever felt - which is what you want when you are in a bad space mentally. It makes a huge difference."
Now, Ms Unwin is part of the headspace Youth Reference Group that informs the organisation to create spaces and services that feel "warm and welcoming" rather than "cold and clinical" for young people going through a tough time.
About 75 per cent of mental health disorders emerge before the age of 25.
Nationally, more than 500,000 young people have accessed headspace since it was established.
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