Centre for Excellence

Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health


Dr Alex Parker


Dr Sarah Hetrick, Dr Magenta Simmons, Mr Alan Bailey, Ms Jessica Stephens, Ms Stefanie De Silva, Ms Heidi Strickland, Ms Kandice Varcin 

Key Achievements

  • Production of 3 new evidence summaries to support evidence-based practice in headspace centres, reviewing the evidence for adolescent relationships (risks and benefits) and motivational interviewing for young people at risk of developing a substance use disorder (see www.headspace.org.au/what-works/evidence-summaries)
  • During 2011/2012, team members have authored 13 peer reviewed journal articles and 2 book chapters (published or in press)
  • Team members were successful in obtaining: 1) beyondblue funding for testing an online symptom and side effect monitoring tool for depression in young people; 2) NHMRC funding for the treatment of depression in young people (involvement as a Chief Investigator and Associate Investigator); and 3) philanthropic support for pilot testing a youth-friendly CBT manual
  • Completion of recruitment into the Simple Interventions Trial, based at headspace Western and Northern Melbourne, with data analysis to occur throughout 2012-2013
  • Completion of the shared decision making project in young people with mental health problems
  • Development of content and delivery of headspace education and training activities, including training on engagement and assessment, problem solving therapy, brief interventions, shared decision making and evidence-based practice
  • One PhD student graduated


The headspace Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health is responsible for collecting, synthesising, generating, analysing and disseminating research regarding young people aged 12-25 with mental health and substance use issues. The Centre works to support headspace service providers and centres to use evidence in practice and services, however all the materials produced by the Centre are publicly accessible at www.headspace.org.au/what-works

The main activities of the Centre focus on

  • Providing access to up-to-date evidence on effective interventions and care for young people
  • Increasing knowledge and supporting use of evidence-based approaches in headspace centres through the production and dissemination of information and resources, and provision of advice
  • Research driven focus to respond to gaps in evidence/knowledge and to evaluate the effectiveness of clinical interventions and the effectiveness of strategies to support evidence-based practice

The Centre also supports work within other headspace national office departments, such as input into national policy responses, media, clinical resources, evaluation, strengthening headspace and clinical staging models.

Current Research Projects

The Simple Interventions Trial

The Simple Interventions trial is a factorial randomized controlled trial offering a combination of psychological interventions (problem solving therapy or supportive counseling) and exercise interventions (behavioural exercise or lifestyle psychoeducation) to young people with depression and anxiety symptoms. The aims of this study are to evaluate whether treatments that are less intensive than cognitive-behaviour therapy, such as problem solving therapy and exercise treatments, are acceptable and effective in managing depression and anxiety symptoms in young people and to identify possible attributes in those who are likely to respond to these treatments.

The trial commenced in April 2009 and recruited a total 0f 177 participants when recruitment finished in June 2012. The study was well integrated into the clinical model operating at headspace Western and Northern Melbourne, and judging by attendance rates, offers treatments that are acceptable to the young people involved. Data analysis will commence August 2012.

Improving the Treatment of Depression: Ensuring Guideline Recommendations Translate into Clinical Practice

This research aims to develop sustainable improvements in the clinical management of depression in young people. The specific aims are to (1) identify gaps between evidence-based recommendations for the management of depression in young people and current clinical practice, and the reasons for these gaps; (2) develop, implement and evaluate the effectiveness of an intervention for changing clinical practice and improving outcomes for young people with depression. The first aim has almost been completed with a clinical file audit conducted and results currently being written up for publication. The cessation of the contract of a key statistics unit member has delayed the analysis with additional costs being incurred for outside statistical support. Focus groups with OYH clinicians have also been conducted to understand the barriers to using evidence and clinical recommendations in practice and the results have been written up and accepted for publication in Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. Finally, various aspects of a potential intervention to support clinical services to implement evidence based recommendations have been progressed, including near completion of a series of systematic reviews on the evidence of interventions for depression which will be written up into a clinical algorithm to guide practice at a local level; use of an online self monitoring tool for symptoms and side effects, including suicidality is being pilot tested in the Youth Mood Clinic at OYH; and a shared decision making tool for those making treatment decisions for youth depression is also being pilot tested within the Youth Mood Clinic at OYH and in a headspace centre.

Promoting evidence based practice: Evaluation of evidence based resources in youth mental health

The Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health has developed resources (Evidence Maps, Evidence Summaries and Mythbusters) that summarise the available research literature around youth mental and substance use disorders. These resources were developed for headspace (the National Youth Mental Health Foundation) with the objective of guiding and informing evidence-based practices within headspace services. The proposed study aims to conduct a survey to ascertain the utility of these resources and to guide revisions, refinements and future resource production. Data collected will be complemented by information gained from two focus groups (one consisting of young people and the other service providers).

Development of a youth-friendly Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) manual to support the delivery of evidence-based practice

This project aims to develop a therapy manual to support the delivery of CBT in headspace centres. Current national guidelines for the treatment of depression in young people recommend that CBT be offered as the treatment of choice for young people with moderate to severe depressive disorders. The provision of a youth-friendly manual is an essential resource to support this work. The development of the content and format of the manual has been guided by knowledge from research trials, clinical practice and young consumers’ input. As a consequence of the evaluation of these sources of knowledge, the manual is being developed as a series of key modules rather than using a session-by-session approach. This will offer flexibility of delivery, a component that is essential in youth-based practice. Young consumers will carefully review the manual to ensure the feasibility and acceptability of its content and the practice-based resources.

Assessing satisfaction of young people who access headspace centres

This project is in partnership with the headspace Research and Evaluation team and aims to develop an understanding of how satisfied or dissatisfied young people are with the services they receive. A client satisfaction survey was developed and pilot tested and has now been implemented across all headspace centres. The survey will give young people that access headspace centres the opportunity to share their views and experiences about the headspace centre and environment, the staff, and the services they received to help improve the centres and the services provided.