Youth mental health, and what Israel has learnt from Australia

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Headspace: A New Australian/Israeli Start-Up

As we pass the first anniversary of the outbreak of last summer’s war with Gaza, people are quite properly remembering the suffering and pain that this war caused, in both Israel and Gaza.

Some of these scars are visible. Others, equally as painful, are hidden from the eye. We rightly remember the physical cost of this war. But the toll taken on mental health – and especially amongst young people – was equally high.

A few weeks back I attended the opening of the Headspace clinic in Bat Yam, the very first centre in Israel dedicated solely to treating youth mental health issues.

Any parent knows that the teenage and young adult years are some of the most difficult in a child’s life. It is a time of immense transition and challenge. Depression, anxiety, relationship breakdowns, bullying, military service, peer pressure, drug use, social isolation, self-image and sexuality – these are just some of the challenges faced.

Add to this the emotional toll of living in a state of war for over 50 days, and it is little wonder that youth mental health problems spiked in the aftermath of Operation Protective Edge.

Mental health issues are in fact the biggest health issue facing young people. One in four young people will experience a mental health problem by the age of 25. Suicide is the second most common cause of death amongst young people in Israel. Every day in Israel, on average, 17 Israelis attempt suicide. Hundreds more suicide attempts by teenagers go unreported.

These are sobering statistics, and they make a compelling case for improved mental health treatment for youth in Israel.

Headspace clinics were first established in Australia in 2006, with a view to improving the mental health of our youth population. The motto of Headspace is simple: “We help young people going through a tough time.”

There are now over one hundred Headspace centres operating around Australia, with more opening each year. The secret to the effectiveness of these centres is three-fold.

Firstly, mental health needs are just as acute and just as prevalent amongst youth populations as they are amongst the adult population.

Secondly, youth need their own treatment facilities for mental health. The stigma of mental health, insecurities, and family and societal pressures all mean that adult mental health facilities are not up to the task of dealing with young patients. A different environment and approach is needed – one that is friendly, accessible, private and non-judgemental.

Thirdly, early identification and treatment of mental health issues is essential. If options for early treatment are not available, mistakes and decisions are often made which have long-term and damaging consequences. The impact on the lives of those involved, their families, and society at large, can be immense, and stretch for decades. And the costs to the public health system are orders of magnitude larger.

In six short months only, Headspace Bat Yam has learnt these lessons and more. It has conducted over three hundred consultations and treated over two hundred patients. It has tapped a previously unmet and unmeasured demand for youth mental health services in Israel. And its early intervention model promises better lives and better public health outcomes.

Australia has been a proud supporter of these efforts. Not only has Headspace Australia helped establish the model here in Israel, but many Australian Jewish families – the Pratt, Lowy, Gandel, Saunders and Smorgon families – have provided financial support to this Israeli pilot.

We have taken to heart the view that the best way to ensure the future success of Israel is to help invest in Israel’s youth.

Headspace is a genuine example of an Australian/Israeli Start-Up – disruptive, innovative, consumer-driven, results-oriented, and life-transformative.

One comment

  1. Based on the Leifer fiasco, Israel obviously still has a bit to learn from Oz about mental health…Good on you Dave for your attitude regarding Leifer, & hope you succeed in teaching a little sanity.

    Zephaniah Waks, Israel

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