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Youth Focus

 Youth focus logo

It’s a grim reality that suicide is the leading cause of death among young Australians aged 25 and under. Youth Focus, a not-for-profit organisation in Western Australia, is working hard to challenge this statistic and, moreover, to put a stop to youth suicide.

Active since 1994, the organisation offers a range of free mental health services to young people aged 12–25 who are showing early signs of depression, self-harm and suicidal ideation.

'We target those areas as an early intervention provider, because the evidence shows that if you start care and treatment early, you can alleviate a lot of mental health conditions from becoming worse and impacting more severely on someone's life,' said Felicite Black, General Manager (Operations) for Youth Focus.

All Youth Focus services are provided by highly trained registered psychologists, clinical psychologists, mental health social workers, mental health nurses and mental health occupational therapists who work from offices in Burswood, Joondalup, Rockingham, Mandurah, Bunbury, Albany and Geraldton. They also do a lot of work in schools, and are the lead service agency for the headspace centre in Midland.

One of the unique aspects of the work of Youth Focus is there is no limit on the length of time that a young person can access their services. The average length of counselling relationships is 22 weeks.

'We are not time-limited with our clients; they stay with us as long as they need, until they are resilient and confident enough to have their cases closed with us,' Ms Black said.

As well as providing flexible, needs-driven, face-to-face counselling for young people, Youth Focus provides family counselling, peer support programs, mentoring programs, and training and education programs.

'We try to be very family inclusive and work with a systemic approach because we really believe that young people need the support of the system around them, so the people around them that are giving them that support need to be informed and empowered as well,' Ms Black said.

'You don't need a referral or a diagnosis; young people can self-refer.

'Once a young person rings us, we aim to have their first appointment booked within two weeks.'

Another unique aspect of Youth Focus is that, unlike many not-for-profits, they gain the majority of their funding from private sources rather than from government.

 'We do that through events, through corporate partnerships, benevolent donations, a raft of strategies,' Ms Black said.

While the organisation is able to raise the bulk of its funding privately, Ms Black said that securing adequate funding and personnel to maintain the high quality of their services are ongoing challenges, and that support in these areas is always welcome.

'It's long-term work and it's not easy work,' she said.

In 2013–14, an estimated 2,000 young people accessed Youth Focus’s face-to-face counselling sessions. In addition, an estimated 15,000 young people took part in their preventative and educational programs over the same period. The average age of clients is 15 years, although Felicite Black said that one of the future goals of Youth Focus is to work more with 18–25-year-olds.

Ms Black also noted that Youth Focus is working on a special project to bring more young men into their service. At the moment, around 70% of the organisation's clients are female.

'We know that young men suicide more and often they haven't been to a service, so we're working hard to understand what it is we need to do to work differently with young men,' she said.

As well as these future goals, Youth Focus is looking into ways to 'use technology more innovatively' to provide more support services to young people in remote areas.