Finding Ways for our Youth to Get their Lives Back on Track [Interview Transcript]


Guest: Chris Tanti
Presenter: Wayne Bucklar
Guest Bio: Chris Tanti believes in young people. For the last seven years as CEO of the world’s leading youth mental health organisation, headspace, Tanti has focussed his attention on making a real difference to the lives of tens of thousands of young Australians and their families by working with others to create a model of care that is comprehensive, accessible and importantly valued. The Harvard Business School trained Tanti has led Headspace since its inception in 2006, turning it into an extraordinarily successful operation funded by the Commonwealth Government in Australia to deliver early intervention mental health services for 12 to 25 year olds across the country.

Segment overview: In today’s Health Supplier Segment, CEO Chris Tanti joins us today to impart valuable information about talk the national youth mental health foundation Headspace. With its 60 (soon to be 90) centres offering face-to-face services, Australia’s only fully professionally staffed online and telephone support service eheadspace, the school-based suicide postvention program headspace School Support and new funding to deliver early intervention psychosis, headspace is achieving that mission. Tanti’s next big challenge is collaborating with others to take headspace to the rest of the world, because all young people deserve access to a world class system of care that enables them to be the very best they can be.


Health Professional Radio

Wayne Bucklar: You’re listening to Health Professional Radio with Wayne Bucklar. Today my guest is Chris Tanti, CEO of Headspace the National Youth Mental Health Foundation from Melbourne, Australia. Hello Chris and welcome to Health Professional Radio.

Chris Tanti: Hi. How are you?

W: Very well, thank you. Chris tell us a little bit about what Headspace is and what services you provide.

C: Well Headspace essentially is an early intervention service for young people aged 12 to 25. And what we know about public mental health services really at least in mental health is that we wait for people to become really sick before they get access to care. Headspace sort of turns that on its head in lots of ways and the way we think about illness is that if you intervene early, then you minimize the chances of other secondary problems or problem secondary to the main presenting problem occurring. And so the whole idea with Headspace is that you bring a whole range of services together and they take a pretty broad perspective of the needs that young people present with so we know that young people in terms of the prevalence of mental health problems in this range, the majority of mental health problems emerge during this age range. So mental health is a clear area specialty and we also know the drug and alcohol issues’ prevalent. We know that young people are thinking about their future so vocational, educational issues are important. And we also know that young people need access to primary care, so GP’s and primary care and sexual health and the whole range of things are also available in Headspace centers.

W: Now Chris, I mentioned in the intro that you’re in Melbourne Australia, but what geographic footprint that Headspace service?

C: Well we’re essentially right across the country. We’re in every state and territory. We have 83 Headspace center currently open and we are expanding to a 100 by mid next year. So by July next year we should have a 100 centers open around the country. In addition to that, we have two other programs, one called “e-headspace” which is an online chat service for young people and the other program we have is “Headspace School Support” which works primarily with secondary schools trying to prevent suicide but also in the event of suicide occurs in a secondary school, we have a service that comes in and works with the school system and their network to try and minimize copycat suicide etc. So just fairly well developed network around the country and in fact has just recently been adapted in Denmark and Israel and we’ll probably be much broader than that over time.

W: So is Headspace – for wanting of a better word – an Australia invention or is this something that began in Australia?

C: Yeah, absolutely. It did begin in Australia and I guess the work of that category has really largely informed the idea of Headspace and had probably is the most influential person in the early psychosis field and has certainly been influential globally in terms of the way we think about the provision of services to young people presenting for the first time with a psychotic disorder. This sort of expands on that idea and with I think much more broadly around the presenting problem and take a primary care to as mental health in the sense that the majority of people that have mental health problems and go to their GP will probably experience depression, anxiety and certainly that’s what we’re saying in Headspace center. The majority of clients that we see have depression, anxiety and will come in for sexual health checks and issues around bullying, etc. But we also as well as, in addition to that gets their fairly complex presentations too.

W: I see. Now Chris many of our audience work in the health industry. We target a health professionals but I’ve made a mistake when I first started this job of believing that everyone who works in the health industry knew everything there was to know about the health industry. And as I’ve gotten into the real I’ve discover in fact that many people don’t know what’s happening in the ward next door, let alone in the rest of the industry. What is it that you’d like health professionals to know about Headspace?

C: Well I think what I’d like them to know and there’s been a lot of public … media around Headspace recently. And you know in lots of ways, everybody would like Headspace to be what they think it needs to be. Headspace is not really a service as the more complex acute end and so there are a lot of people who would argue that Headspace should be the more complex acute end. But what you know private Headspace 9 years ago, there was an obvious gap in the system for young people who experience mild to moderate mental health problems. Headspace is designed specifically for those clients, for those young people. And so there’s a bit of a misconception within the community about what it is that we’re trying to do. We are not to … the existing public mental health service system, we are creating a new system of care that’s supports practitioners in primary care but also links into those, have a system in health and welfare for those young people most at risk or those more complex young people. So it’s sort of bolted into the system that it has a completely different orientation if you like.

W: I see. Now is there any referral necessary here or do people just front up to Headspace if they need your services?

C: Yeah. Well, that’s the beauty of it. It’s a completely open system. The majority of people, young people that come to us just walk in the door, they’re self-referred if you like or they referred by their families. So that’s about 60-65%, so they don’t need a specialist referral to come in. And I think the other important thing about our Headspace centers is that every one of them has a huge reference group and nationally, we also have a youth reference group. And I think what that has helped us achieve this sort of environment that is much more relevant and user friendly for young people. And so the demand for our services is pretty high and I think that’s really about how we engage the consumer in the design and delivery of what it is that we do.

W: And Chris is there a cost for this?

C: There may be some out of pocket expenses for young people or their families when they come through. But generally, it’s extremely low cost or no cost at all. We try to minimize the cost for the consumers because we know that young people if they’re having to fork-up or not to fork-up for their healthcare, they have other things to do with their money.

W: (laughing)

C: So we don’t want to, and generally those things are important as I’m discovering with my own son. But that they will not prioritize their health. And so if we start to impose the cost, we know it’s gonna be a deterrent.

W: Yes, that’s a very good point and I was chuckling not to be derogatory about youth procrastination of money, but just fondly remembering my own youth many, many years ago.

C: Yes (laughing)

W: Chris if there’s a misconception about Headspace that keeps you awake at night, what would that misconception be?

C: Well I think that it’s the criticism of our organization recently has been what we done at the data, we don’t have follow up studies, we don’t have long term evaluation – and all of that is a misrepresentation of the truth. And so that’s the thing that keeps me up at night, that how do we let people know what it is that we’re doing, how do we think about attracting funding to do long term follow up studies and there’s a whole lot of ethical issues involved in all of them. We are primarily funded to provide clinical services and last year alone, we saw 54,000 young people in some areas where we have Headspace the referrals into our Headspace centers outweigh those to public mental health by a factor of 7. So there’s very good uptake with services. It is difficult though to be clear about how it becomes of what we know is that the majority of young people that are coming to us, write us 4 out of 5 in terms of satisfaction with service, how they feel when they leave the service, etc. and we also know that most young people, the majority are arriving very distressed in a high period of psychological distress. So we are seeing the right people, I think it is a very good service. I think the community is getting good value of money and before this, the service didn’t exist and I think this is why it resonates right across the world because there is a one size fits all approach to mental health. So basically if you have psychotic disorder and you’re at risk, then you might get a service within a public mental health system. Headspace doesn’t require you to be seriously at risk, it requires you to just identify or your parents identify that you might need to talk to someone and sometimes those problems are fairly significant and other times with an adult perspective, they might feel insignificant. But we do know that young people will kill themselves because they’re being bullied. We do know that young people who same sex attracted, therefore the chance more likely to take their lives. These are serious issues that young people need to process. And so that’s what we’re here to do, we’re here to help young people process some of these things that with an adult perspective, might be fairly simplistic and innate but actually from the experience of adolescence from someone who has very limited experience in life they can be quite pronounced.

W: Chris it’s been very good to chat to you this morning. You’ve certainly cleared up some of my misconceptions about what I thought Headspace was and I’d like to think of myself as reasonably well informed in the health space in Australia so thank you for that. How do people get in touch with Headspace?

W: Well the best way to get in touch with us is through our website and that would detail to all the phone numbers of the various Headspace center right around the country, the locations of those Headspace center and so it’s or Eheadspace And that’s the best way to come into the system in terms of working out the way of the land and where the Headspace centers are located.

W: Chris Tanti thanks for your time today. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you. For listeners who have just joined us or maybe you’re reading a little transcript, there is in fact a transcript on our website, it’s at We also have a sound cloud archive of this interview or you can find it in on a variety of other services including YouTube. Chris it’s been lovely having you with us, thank you for your time this morning.

W: Thank you for your time, I’ve really enjoyed it.

W: This is Wayne Bucklar on Health Professional Radio.

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