Medical Journal of Australia report casts doubt on effectiveness of headspace

Medical Journal of Australia report casts doubt on effectiveness of headspace

Leading academics have cast doubt on the effectiveness of headspace, which receives hundreds of millions of dollars in government funding.  

A report published this week in The Medical Journal of Australia suggests mental health outcomes are not matching the significant outlay in funding for youth network, headspace.

Australian National University’s academic unit of psychiatry and addiction medicine’s Jeffrey Looi told ABC Radio Melbourne the paper offered a summary of published evaluations related to effectiveness of care. 

“The overall picture is that there is very little evidence of substantial effectiveness — and the other part that is concerning is, so little of the people provided care in the service were actually in the published data,” he said.

Medical Journal of Australia report casts doubt on effectiveness of headspace
The effectiveness of headspace’s service has been called into question.(ABC News: Isabella Higgins)

Headspace has fiercely rejected the claims, saying its own studies show the services on offer have resulted in “significant improvements” for 71 per cent of participants. 

But Professor Looi said one of the largest studies included just .5 per cent of the young Australians who had used headspace. 

He said public and private mental health services were assessed against agreed sets of measures in both in-patient and out-patient settings to ensure benchmarks in the outcome of care. 

“The curious part is how little of this type of evaluation has occurred for headspace and why that hasn’t been forthcoming,  which raises concerns,” Professor Looi said. 

He said the report didn’t question the legitimacy of the services provided but rather whether it was money well spent. 

The report claims that since it was established in 2006, headspace has secured funding totalling more than $1 billion. 

This includes an allocation of $765.8 million as part of the federal government’s pandemic measures with an aim of establishing 10 new centres — to reach a total of 164 sites across Australia by 2025. 

“There is obviously a need in the community,” Professor Looi said.

“It’s whether the money is well spent because of the evidence of the effectiveness of care and that doesn’t seem to be forthcoming.” 

The report was co-authored by Professor Steve Kisely, a University of Queensland researcher, psychiatrist and public health physician. 

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