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Headspace CEO Says Don't Mess With "Cutting Edge" Mental Health Service

"It's the envy of the world."

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The outgoing CEO of mental health service Headspace has stressed the organisation is the "envy of the world" as he warns against changes he believes could dismantle the program.

Cake and congratulations were the first order at a cheery event in the Victorian town of Shepparton celebrating 10 years of Australian mental health organisation Headspace.

More than 600 young people sought help at the Shepparton centre in 2015. But as speeches were made and snacks devoured, looming changes to the popular service for 12-25 year olds were at the forefront of everybody's minds.

On July 1, the national system will cease to be funded centrally, and will be moved to 31 primary healthcare networks (PHNs) across Australia. Health minister Sussan Ley is certain the reform will lead to better care – but outgoing CEO Chris Tanti thinks it might spell disaster.

"It might end up OK. My experience of reform is that it’s not going to end up OK," Tanti told BuzzFeed News.

He fears the move to a "more complex model" could mean some PHNs neglect youth mental health care as a priority – and ultimately lead to Headspace being able to help fewer young people.

"A PHN might say ‘We’re going to prioritise some people, we’re going to prioritise aged care'. The risk is, some of them might say ‘We don’t want to do Headspace’."

"We need to be clear that what we’ve done in this country is set up something that is cutting edge. It really is the envy of the world. Don’t mess with it."

Health Minister Sussan Ley told BuzzFeed News that the "world class" Headspace remained the government's preferred model of mental health intervention.

"Headspace is the preferred model," she said. "In the future, there might be a Headspace that doesn’t do things well. In that case, the PHN would change the lead agency so young people walking in the door in a place like this will get first class help."

Ley said the new funding model would change "absolutely nothing" for a young person walking in the door and asking for help.

She added that Tanti has said to her he was "mischaracterised and misquoted" in a Daily Telegraph article critical of the proposed reforms.

However, Tanti told BuzzFeed News his comments in the Telegraph "represented his frustration" over the reforms.

Speaking on Q&A on Monday night, prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said Headspace centres will continue to have "the same level of support into the future".

"Their funding is not at risk," Turnbull said.

Tanti said there's a chance his worst fears may not be realised – but he's far from convinced the new model will work.

"It might not come to pass," he said. "But I’ve been around long enough to know that these things do come to pass. And I’m trying to head it off at the pass."

Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.

Contact Lane Sainty at lane.sainty@buzzfeed.com.

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