Back to School

Samaritans CEO

This month I mark my first anniversary as Chief Executive at Samaritans and also as a resident of the Hunter region. Over this twelve month period, I’ve been in the fortunate position to observe and be involved with this community who is exceedingly generous, welcoming and kind. I’ve personally witnessed the way in which Hunter locals come together to support all who need it- particularly those who have experienced trauma, isolation or loneliness for a variety of reasons.

As we look to the first week back at school for many local students, I reflect on a cause that I am passionate about and that I see as being a key priority for the Hunter region over the next twelve months: youth mental health.

Samaritans supports thousands of young people each year across a number of services and I have noticed first-hand the energy and enthusiasm that young people have to contribute to our community. I am a huge advocate for realising and encouraging this potential and providing relevant and exciting opportunities for them to engage more fully in society, where it can be often difficult to ‘get a break’. It is important that we as a community band together to support their development in a way that is progressive, helpful and nurturing.

It is critical to continue to provide opportunities for young people to deal with the many and varied challenges, demands and pressures that they face in a way that works toward reducing the stigmas associated with mental health.

Samaritans has the privilege of running the Hunter headspace service in Maitland; a commendable model that offers youth-friendly venues and supports to meet the ever-changing and growing needs of our young people between the ages of 12 and 25 years. In the last financial year, occasions of service grew by 19% on the previous year.

Through a comprehensive consultation program with a committed youth reference group, headspace continues to exceed national averages in terms of service delivery outcomes. Suicidal ideation and self-harm is significantly reduced through attendance at headspace, with the support of specialist allied health professionals.

According to a mental health report released by the University of NSW at the end of 2016, substantially more young people using headspace services nationally get significantly better (22.7%) than those who get worse (9.4%) when measured against national benchmarks of psychological distress compared to the broader youth population

At Hunter headspace the representation of young people visiting headspace who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander (17.5%), LGBTQIA+ (15%) and CALD is double that of their representation in the general population, which demonstrates our commitment to respectful and welcoming service delivery for all.

The government has made a commitment to the growth of headspace services across the country which I believe is a welcome investment. Understanding and investing in the mental health of young people results in benefits for all- a more productive, collaborative and supportive community.

I look forward to continuing to grow my involvement and immersion in the Hunter and hope that in another 12 months as I reflect on the year that was, I can report on continuing positive outcomes for our local young people.

I wish all who are returning to school and studies this week a smooth and happy transition and encourage those who might need a little extra support to reach out. There are many local organisations, including Samaritans, that want to help in whatever way they can.

If you are in need of immediate support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.

Samaritans is a charity that assists thousands of people in need throughout Newcastle & the Hunter. Find out how Samaritans can help you here