THE Turnbull government is quietly dismantling the youth mental health initiative Headspace, according to its chief executive, who is leaving the organisation in frustration.
Chris Tanti, who was the foundation’s CEO when Headspace was created in 2006, says the federal government’s “bizarre” decision to stop funding Headspace directly and hand control to 31 Primary Health Networks (PHNs) over two years will effectively mean its demise.
“I’m really sad that what we have created in this country, which is the envy of the world, is a national platform of care for young people and what we’re moving to potentially is 31 variations of that national platform,” Mr Tanti said.
Chris Tanti has stepped down as CEO of Headspace. Picture: Sarah Matray
“The regional PHNs may decide that they don’t want to invest the money in early intervention. the money’s not ring-fenced. It’s pretty devastating when we still haven’t actually completed the build of 100 centres. We’re at 94,” he said.
“We’ve had two positive evaluations and our early psychosis program is just establishing. We’re all happy to broaden our criteria to see additional young people with complex problems, but we can’t do that if the system is being dismantled.”
The Sunday Telegraph today launches a new phase of our Can We Talk campaign. We are asking Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to step in and protect Headspace and its early psychosis program hYEPP.
Mr Tanti on Wednesday agreed to accept a redundancy because the government has reduced its national office budget from $19 million to $8 million per annum next year, and $5 million the following year.
Headspace’s overall $170m budget has been handed to the newly created PHNs and Health Minister Sussan Ley said the government is committed to Headspace.
She argues individual centres may actually get more funding as a result of the changes.
Headspace has treated 40,000 Australians aged 12-25, typically for five or six sessions. Young people with more complex mental health problems, such as eating disorders or psychosis, typically require up to 12 months of treatment and Headspace’s next phase was to focus on intensive case management and early-intervention in those disorders.
To that end it created the headspace Youth Early Psychosis Programme over the past 18 months, with centres in each state and territory, but the government is transferring hYEPP’s funding to the PHNs, where each local region can decide whether it will continue.
“There’s been so much investment in the centres, so yes expand the criteria, that’s a no-brainer, but don’t dismantle those centres of excellence,” Mr Tanti said.
“I don’t think the MPs really understand the extent to which the organisation and the quality potentially is at risk.”