New partnership offers real time mental health solutions for vulnerable young people

Monash University

A ground-breaking partnership between Monash University, Australian Catholic University (ACU) and the not-for-profit organisation Satellite Foundation will streamline the delivery and effectiveness of vital support services to young people living with a family member who experiences challenges to their mental health.

Currently, one in 4 children and young people across Australia live in a family where at least one person experiences challenges to their mental health. Without support, these young people are significantly more vulnerable to developing their own mental health issues.

In a pilot program, a team from Monash and ACU will partner with Satellite Foundation, which was established in 2009 to work with children, young people and their families where a family member has a mental health challenge, to evaluate Satellite’s programs and activities in real-time, enabling the program to best meet the needs of participants.

“Traditionally, evaluation teams work at arm’s length and often after a program has ended, but in this case the teams will work together in a highly youth focussed way to constantly improve the support services Satellite offers young people in need,” says Professor Andrea Reupert from the Monash University School of Educational Psychology and Counselling.

“These evaluation activities are critical because this is a very under researched field, we need to know what is working, what is not working, for whom and when. Most importantly, the evaluation results will be used to constantly improve and refine Satellite’s programs,” Professor Reupert says.

The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System identified that children and young people who live with a family member who has a mental illness are at greater risk of experiencing mental illness and/or social isolation, less likely to complete education and/or training and likely to take on responsibilities beyond what’s expected for their age.

That prevalence may be higher now given COVID-19 has increased the levels of mental health challenges being experienced by Australian families.

“Australia is a world leader in providing mental health services, especially to young people for their own mental health challenges, however there is a gap in support for the young people living in a family where a parent, carer or sibling has mental health challenges,” says Satellite founder and CEO Rose Cuff.

“The Royal Commission also identified this gap, noted these young people need support for their long-term well-being and recommended an organisation such as Satellite Foundation to deliver this. Our partnership with Monash and ACU means we can refine our services to best meet the needs of these young people, and quickly,” she says.

Since its inception Satellite Foundation has delivered programs and activities that have facilitated effective support and connection between participants, helping them to feel less alone, created opportunities for participants to shape and contribute to programs for others just like them and reached more children and young people than ever before.

Professor Andrea Reupert says that by using a co-participatory design, the partnership will inform and further refine Satellite’s programs. The partnership will run over a three-year period.

“The evaluation results aim to be responsive to the voices of young people. We are also conducting a methodology called a social return of investment (SROI) which is to the best of our knowledge the first time the social and economic value of programs developed for these young people will be determined. Data will be collected from young people over time so we can track potential change. It is these very different data points that will allow us to develop a rich picture to determine what works, for whom and when. Ultimately delivering better support services to those who need it.”

According to the Department of Health and Aged Care, almost half of all Australian adults will face mental ill-health at some point in their lives.

“Mental health challenges are not inevitable and we can do much to support parents, children and young people, to prevent these challenges or to ensure they don’t get worse.

The work Satellite is doing is ground breaking and it’s wonderful that they see us as essential partners in further refining their programs and activities. Satellite and the Monash and ACU team are working together to create better futures for young people and children and ensure that they get the right support they need,” says Professor Reupert.

Case study and interview opportunities:

Case study – Lizzy (45), and her daughter Oexia, aged 13

Lizzy has lived with depression and complex PTSD her whole life due to the trauma she experienced being raised through the foster system. She has four children (aged 13, 20, 22 and 27) and had to relocate to escape a domestic violence situation. This meant she had no friend or family support and, following time at the Alfred where she was being treated for depression, she was referred to the Satellite Foundation so that her youngest child, Oexia, could get access to the extra mental health support she needed. Lizzy said this was also enormously helpful during lock-downs as she knew Oexia had others checking in on her well-being.

Lizzy is now working as a mental health advocate in Melbourne, something she says has been made possible thanks to the support of organisations such as Satellite. Both Lizzy and Oexia are available to talk about their experiences.

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