Interview with Dan Schmidt from headspace

I spoke to Dan about the mental health organisation and the services they provide

Interview with Dan Schmidt from headspace

Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?

My name is Dan Schmidt, and I’m the community laison at headspace Adelaide. 

What is headspace?

headspace is a national youth mental health organisation, helping those from 12 to 25 years old with any issues that they’ve got going on in their lives. 

When was headspace set up?

It was set up ten years ago in Melbourne, and we now have over 100 headspace centres all throughout Australia, including many in the Adelaide region. We’re seeing the service is being so well utilised by young people, and so well accepted by young people, that we’ve just had to go through a rapid expansion to service them. It’s really about smashing the stigma around mental health and encouraging young people to seek help in a youth friendly environment. 

What kind of services and support do you provide?

headspace is a ‘no wrong door’ service - that’s how we label ourselves - so if a person has anything going on in their life they can walk into a headspace centre absolutely free of charge, and see someone who is going to help them with whatever issue is going on. If we can't help them with the particular issue, or it requires more specialist help, we’re going to point them in that right direction and not leave anyone hanging. Our four core tenants of what we provide help around are mental health, so things like anxiety and depression, physical health: making sure people are eating right, sleeping well, getting checked by GPs - some headspace centres have GPs on site, like headspace Adelaide - education and training: if people are wanting assistance with study or finding a job, we assist with that, and finally alcohol and drugs, so if people are having issues with alcohol and drug abuse we help with that as well. But we do everything in between all of those as well, so everything from sexual health to assistance with bullying and school work and so on. 

Is headspace a charity?

It’s funded by the federal government. The Commonwealth government of Australia recognised the need of young people; 12 to 25 year olds are screaming out for help with mental health issues, so it’s funded by the Commonwealth of Australia. However, headspace is a registered charity as well, so we get the best of both worlds - we can receive donations and we do a lot of fundraising. A lot of bands get behind us and we do festivals and Fringe shows and things like that. Our workers are generally all professionals in their fields - a lot of our workers are either social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists or GPs - and we also employ those with lived experience, or ‘peer workers’, on some sites. Those are people who have had their own experience with anxiety, depression, psychosis and those things, so they can work closely with the young people and have a greater understanding of what they’re going through, and also share their experiences in a safe environment. 

When did you start working for headspace?

I started working for headspace about five years ago, then I left the organisation to go to another role and I realised that nothing was going to be as good as headspace, so I actually came back quite recently, and I’m very happy to be back! I want to help young people with mental health because, like any young person, I had a lot of issues going on in my life, and headspace wasn't around when I was a young person. It’s just such an amazing organisation and I thought if I’d just had someone like me or anyone at headspace to talk to when I was a young person, it would’ve made an absolute world of difference in my life, so i thought setting myself in that area was really important. 

Do you work directly with the young people who come to the organisation for help?

I don’t, I have a really cool job where I get out in the community and promote the headspace services, so to speak. I do community engagement and raising awareness about what headspace is and what it does. I have done some work in the past, one-on-one, with young people, but currently my main role is being the face and spokesperson of headspace Adelaide, and working very closely with the young volunteers in our centre, because we also get them on board to come out and give school presentations and things like that. We actually have a lot of young people as volunteers, because we find that, going to schools, no one wants to listen to a guy in their 30s, they want to listen to someone who’s a bit closer to their age, who can say, this is what’s going on, this is how headspace can help you with your mental health problems. That’s called our youth ambassador programme, so we have a range of youth ambassadors, who are generally people studying social work or psychology or things like that at university. It’s a really exciting programme and it means that all of our services are driven by young people. 

Why 12 to 25?

Well, studies have shown that most mental health problems arise in adolescence, which is that period of 12 to 25 years old when young people have a lot going on in their lives. I think 75% of mental health problems will arise in adolescence, so that’s why it’s focused on those ages. Plus, keeping a set age range means we can set our services to really cater for young people, as opposed to if we catered to peopled aged 12 to 65, for example, in which case our services wouldn't be quite as youth friendly, or as friendly to elderly patients. It’s really about focusing on young people when the problems are happening in their lives. 

What about people younger than 12?

We have many programmes in Australia for people younger than 12. We have a child and adolescent mental health services, as well. But what we do is we actually go out to some primary schools and present, and say - particularly to those who are 10 or 11 years old - in the next couple of years there may be a whole lot of issues going on; if those issues do happen, come and see headspace. 

Do you see an imbalance in the number of males and females who come to headspace?

Yes we do, actually. We are still finding, despite the large amount of work that's being put in, that we are seeing many more females than we are males. I think we see roughly 40% males and 60% females, on a national average - and of course, some who don't identify as either. We are still seeing less males come to the service, and I think Australia still has that sort of macho culture where men don't talk about it, however we are starting to see some high profile celebrities and sports people start to speak out about these things. Over the last ten years we have put in a lot of work and we are starting to see a turn in that, and more young males are seeking help. 

What advice would you give to young people who are struggling with mental health issues?

As soon as you realise something is going on, just talk to someone. Not all of your issues are going to be solved by talking to someone, but there are a lot of great people who can help you. And you will feel weird and you will feel perhaps even ashamed for going to seek help, but really it’s the best thing you can do. It’s helped so many people. So as soon as you realise something is going on, seek help; don’t let a small issue become a bigger issue. 

What’s next for headspace?

I believe we are expanding globally; I think a headspace centre has just opened, or is about to open, in California, and I believe there is one in Ireland and one in Jerusalem as well, so we are starting to see a global expansion which has been very exciting for headspace. I would love to see it everywhere, to be honest with you. In an ideal world there should be one in every suburb, or one in every major metropolitan centre, where someone can go and speak to someone completely free of charge and just say, ‘hey, this is what is going on in my life, can you help me?’. 

For people who live in areas where organisations like headspace don't yet exist, what advice would you give them?

Well actually, headspace has established what is called e-headspace, so anyone from around the country can log onto and speak with a qualified counsellor almost 24 hours a day. That’s really been beneficial - in this age when we can do these things, why not take it up - and we can also provide phone counselling and support to young people, but we do find that nationwide and around the world there are hotlines people can call, so we do recommend that if you can't get into an organisation to see someone for whatever reason, pick up the phone and call your nearest lifeline or assistance line for mental health. 

Thank you so much to Dan for taking the time to do this interview! You can find out more about headspace or find your nearest branch here:

This interview has been edited for length and clarity


Sam Nead

Sam Nead Local Reporter

I am a 19 year old student who loves reading, writing and all things theatre-related. I am currently on a pre-university gap year, travelling the world, before I go on to study Liberal Arts and Sciences at Birmingham University. Next stop: Adelaide Fringe!

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