Newcastle Herald, by Anita Beaumont

Funding fears: Newcastle MP Sharon Claydon said Newcastle headspace hasn’t received a funding guarantee. Picture: Jonathan CarrollNext government ‘must lead’ Hunter transition

NEWCASTLE headspace is facing a 40 per cent cut to its current funding despite “unprecedented” demand for its youth mental health services.

Wait lists have stretched to more than four months for some of headspace‘s services, but thousands of young people could miss out on life-changing mental health support if a “gaping hole” looming in its budget is not filled, the organisation says.

With a $1.7 million injection of Federal funding due to run out on June 30, headspace is concerned the already stretched Newcastle service will be unable to meet the high and growing needs of the community.

Headspace chief executive Jason Trethowan said that this additional funding had helped the Newcastle service reach more than 4800 young people in the past three years, but there had been “no indication” from either major political party whether it would be renewed.

“Without it, thousands of young people in the Newcastle area could miss out on life-changing mental health support,” he said.

Newcastle headspace confirmed that waiting times had blown out to 18 weeks at times for some of its services, and that people aged 12-to-25 travelled from across the region to access support.

Former Australian of the Year and headspace founder Patrick McGorry recently told the Herald that youth mental health services were overwhelmed and the unmet need was “huge”.

Professor McGorry was responding to the Committee for the Hunter’s Youth Voice 2022 survey – which found a third of young Hunter people were “finding life a bit difficult” or “really struggling”.

“The waiting lists have just blown out,” the former Novocastrian said. “Even though we’ve got these entry points like headspace, they’re completely overwhelmed now… It can’t deal with up to two thirds of the people who come in the door.”

He said headspace needed “back-up”.

“There’s two bottlenecks,” he said. “One is to get in, and the next one is to get to the right level of expert care.”

The headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation was calling on government to re-commit additional funds to headspace Newcastle.

“Reaching out for mental health support takes courage, and we owe it to them that there is always someone available to help,” Mr Trethowan said. “That’s why we’re calling on candidates at this year’s election to pledge more support and funding for headspace Newcastle.”

Newcastle Federal MP Sharon Claydon said headspace received an additional $1.7 million in funding to grow its clinical capacity in 2019 to meet the high demand in the region.

“The last two years have not led to a decrease in demand,” she said.

“Wait times are about 15 weeks now in Newcastle, but headspace has not been able to get an assurance that this money would be re-committed. When you take $1.7 million out, that’s worth 40 per cent of their current funding levels.”

Ms Claydon said losing that funding would “pull the safety net out” from under young people in the community. She said if Labor wins the election this Saturday, Newcastle headspace funding would be a priority.

In response to questions posed by the Herald, a government spokesperson said a re-elected Morrison Government would “ensure continuity” of this funding.

“The Morrison Government has made mental health and suicide prevention a national priority, providing almost $3 billion for the National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan – the largest Commonwealth investment in mental health and suicide prevention in Australia’s history.

“We are committed to strengthening headspace and have provided more than $870 million over the next four years for headspace services, including funding the largest ever expansion of the network, taking the total number to 164 nationally by 2025-26.”