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Youth Focus launches WA’s first youth web counselling service

Youth Focus has launched Western Australia’s first face-to-face youth web counselling service, enabling young people living in regional and remote areas to access vital support.

The ground-breaking initiative offers free, confidential counselling sessions with experienced mental health clinicians closer to home, without the added stress of having to travel hundreds of kilometres to Perth or major regional centres.

Web counselling is now available in Northam, with services scheduled for Dalwallinu and Bridgetown later in May.

The landmark program will be rolled out to other regional and remote towns in WA in coming months, with 20 sites to be active by the end of the year.

It follows a successful trial of the program in several Wheatbelt schools in 2016.

Youth Focus Chief Executive Officer Fiona Kalaf said web counselling would enable more young people in Western Australia access to critical mental health support in their own backyards.

“Youth Focus is proud to be at the forefront of this new initiative to improve youth mental health and help reduce the rate of suicide in young people. This type of mental health counselling has never before been offered in WA,” Ms Kalaf said.

“While Youth Focus provides counselling and education across WA from Albany to Geraldton, we are limited in our capacity to employ clinicians in small and remote towns.

“This program will provide much-needed early intervention counselling services to young people in regional areas, where services are scarce or in some cases do not exist.”

The WA Primary Health Alliance (WAPHA) has provided $380,000 funding for the first year of the project.

WAPHA Chief Executive Officer Learne Durrington said by identifying gaps in youth mental health service provision across the state and working closely with experienced organisations, such as Youth Focus, new services can be put in place where they are most needed.

“I am delighted that this highly innovative program is underway, allowing more young people to access vital mental health counselling in a way that suits their needs,” Ms Durrington said.

Under the web counselling initiative, young people who have been referred to the service can make an appointment and visit confidential, designated sites to access a Youth Focus iPad and a secure room for their face-to-face counselling session. Each site has trained staff to help support young people.

Ms Kalaf said: “We are acutely aware that young people living in remote parts of our state can experience extreme isolation and very real challenges in accessing adequate mental health support.”

“Distance should not be an impediment to important counselling and support services. That is why we have developed this landmark program to help expand the reach of Youth Focus offerings to young people in WA, no matter where they live.

“Technology makes it viable to offer services in areas where travel distances and a shortage of qualified staff willing to live in the regions are challenges.

“Research shows that the delivery of mental health services through personal computers, mobile phones and tablets provides an opportunity to increase uptake in rural and remote communities.”

Web counselling locations have been selected based on research that shows there is an overwhelming need or a lack of youth mental health services. As part of the roll-out, Youth Focus extensively consulted with stakeholders across regional WA to determine gaps in youth mental health services and where extra services were needed.

Latest statistics show 54 young people aged between 15 and 24 took their own lives in Western Australia in 2016. For every suicide, another 20 people attempt to take their own lives.

In addition, one in four young Australians live with a mental health condition, with 75 per cent of mental illnesses first appearing in people under the age of 25.

If you or someone you know needs urgent support please contact the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467, the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Nicole Cox – 0419 941 443, [email protected]