Showcasing: Youth Complex Mental Health Service


Hunter New England and Central Coast

Lead agency

headspace Maitland, headspace Gosford and headspace Tamworth

Living Well domains

Getting in Early
Putting people first
Better responses

Program overview

The Youth Complex Mental Health service aims to facilitate access and improve pathways to care so that young people (aged 12-25 years) with, or at risk of developing, complex mental health issues are provided the right clinical care and support in a timely way.

Young people are at the centre of the model and are supported with evidence-based clinical and social support services along with non-government services. This includes psychiatry and other specialist mental health care, drug and alcohol treatment services and psychological therapy.  Modality includes face to face, telephone, video conferencing and outreach. The type of care could include direct work, group and family work and partnerships with other agencies.

‘Youth Complex’ means that the young person is unwell for a long time and mental health issues seriously affect their day to day life. This may include experiences of psychosis, major depression, severe anxiety, eating disorders and personality disorders.


headspace Maitland, Gosford and Tamworth lead service delivery, with Hunter New England Central Coast Primary Health Network contributing funds of $1.2 million, sourced from the Commonwealth Department of Health.

The service is delivered in partnership with Central Coast Local Health District, Hunter New England Local Health District, Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations, community based social support services, general practitioners (GPs), specialist mental health clinicians and allied health services.

The service was established in June 2018, and service delivery commenced August/September 2018. As at June 2019, 131 young people had used the service.


Young people with complex mental health issues are at risk of being lost in a multifaceted system. It is common that a young person may need to access a range of services based on the complexity of their mental health issues. Communication between services can become fragmented, resulting in gaps in care. 

The initiative codesigned a model for young people to provide access to clinical care, case management and collaborative care such as specialist mental health care, and psychological therapies. The model aimed to work with the young person holistically, build on existing services and acknowledge local characteristics. 


The service model and approaches were informed by research and evidence provided by Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, along with health professionals, people with lived experience and carers.  

Following a Primary Health Network regional Mental Health and Suicide Prevention needs assessment, Orygen facilitated four co-design workshops. The workshops discussed how each region could design local primary care models that provided the best possible outcome for young people with complex presentations.

Over 200 people from a wide range of services attended the workshops including local people with lived experience of mental health issues and caring, community members, young people, services, schools and government agencies. Stakeholders also provided input via the Primary Health Network’s online social media tool Peoplebank. 

A young person with lived experience of a mental health issue participated in the co design process, workshops and a tender evaluation panel.  

headspace services are contracted to deliver the initiative in the following locations:

  • Centacare (headspace Tamworth): Gwydir, Inverell, Glen Innes and Tenterfield; also in Moree Plains & Narrabri
  • Samaritans (headspace Maitland); Muswellbrook, Upper Hunter and Liverpool Plains 
  • Central Coast Local Health District (headspace Gosford & Lake Haven): Wyong. 


An integrated service is provided, ensuring linkages with primary health care and in particular; GPs, Local Health Districts specialist services, Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations, non-government services, and schools.

The service can be provided in a range of settings and must include timely access and referral pathways to high quality, evidence-based and collaborative clinical and social support services, with emphasis on early intervention.
Youth friendly and culturally safe services are available for all young people including:

  •  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning people
  • those who may be disengaged from education
  • other vulnerable cohorts.

Referral processes include self-referral, referral from family, health professionals and other social support providers.

Key enablers of mental health reform included leadership and governance, service delivery, partnerships, and funding and performance.


The service is providing local solutions to young people to facilitate service access and better pathways to the right care, at the right time, to suit their needs.

The service has been effective due to the model being practical, responsive and utilising the local workforce. It is viewed as credible as it was designed collaboratively by local communities, health professionals and people with lived experience of mental health issues and caring. 

Participant feedback

“The support has been absolutely amazing. Improving the quality of my life and wellbeing immensely. Working with my family has gone super well, as my overall relationship with my mother was a point that we successfully worked on. The quality of service has been impeccable, I have had no problems at all with this program. Absolutely Amazing.”

Next steps

The partnership with Orygen, young people, people with lived experience of mental health issues and caring, Local Health Districts, headspace, the Primary Health Network and other partners work collaboratively to establish, short, medium and long-term outcomes for these services.   

Case study submitted  by Jane Mendelson, Commissioning Coordinator – Youth Mental Health, Hunter new England and Central Coast Primary Health Network,