March 12, 2019

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By Heather Stavely

A national early psychosis symposium will be held in May this year. Heather Stavely explains how these Australian symposia, which focus on developing the early psychosis workforce, got started – and why this year’s theme of functional recovery is so important.

In 2010 Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health in Australia produced an Early Psychosis Feasibility Study for the National Advisory Council on Mental Health. The study reviewed the history and progress of early psychosis services within Australia, in consultation with both Australian and international experts, as well as young people and family members. The report provided a number of recommendations to improve services for young people experiencing or at risk of first episode psychosis, including the implementation of dedicated early intervention services. Based on the evidence, the report demonstrated that the Early Psychosis Prevention and Intervention Centre (EPPIC) model developed in Australia was superior to standard care, both clinically and economically.

In 2012 the Australian Commonwealth Government committed $254 million for a national expansion of early psychosis services based on the EPPIC model, as part of its national mental health plan. Initially these services were to be provided within state-based tertiary services. However, in 2013 it was decided that they would be implemented by the headspace Youth Mental Health Foundation, which provides primary care-based youth mental health services across Australia. This was unique, as at this time specialist services such as early psychosis services were not provided within a primary care setting.

These early psychosis services are known as headspace Youth Early Psychosis Programs (hYEPP) and involve a hub-and-spoke model known as a cluster. By 2014 several services had begun operating and there are now six hYEPP clusters Australia-wide, in South East Melbourne, Western Sydney, South East Queensland, North Perth, Darwin and Adelaide.

Establishing the hYEPP services has not been easy. In 2016 there was a chance the programs would lose funding; however, the Commonwealth Government continued to support them, with funding now guaranteed until June 2021. This shows support for the model and a commitment by the government to support the specialised needs of young people experiencing early psychosis.

The hYEPP services have provided an avenue to further build Australia’s network of early psychosis services. In 2015, Orygen held an inaugural, highly successful early psychosis conference, which brought together Australian and international researchers, program managers and clinical staff. As well as supporting the implementation of the hYEPP services, this conference aimed to support the developing early intervention workforce and continue to build the evidence base.

Orygen has continued with regular twice-yearly national forums for hYEPP services, to foster developments in the early psychosis field, promote the work of early psychosis services and provide networking opportunities. This year we are pleased to hold Let’s get functional: Australian Early Psychosis Service Symposium on 7–8 May in Melbourne’s Docklands.

Functional recovery is an important element in a young person’s recovery from early psychosis. The period between ages 12 and 25 is one of significant developmental change, when young people are individuating, developing social roles and relationships, completing education and beginning vocational paths. The onset of early psychosis can affect a young person’s developmental trajectory and may have long-term, adverse effects on their functioning in these areas.

Functional recovery in early psychosis can cover myriad ways of working with a young person and their family or significant others. Interventions not only support the young person in their day-to-day functioning, but also allow them to approach the future with hope and optimism. Let’s get functional has a particular focus on this functional recovery work.

The symposium will showcase the work of early psychosis services in Australia, share the latest research in functional recovery and consider the future of Australian early psychosis services. Young people with lived experience and their families will also be participating throughout the wide-ranging program.

Program topics span employment, education, technology and physical health, each of which will be presented by international and national experts.


Keynote speakers will include:

Professor Jo Smith from the University of Worcester, who helped establish early psychosis services in the United Kingdom.

Dr. Nev Jones, a researcher and advocate with lived experience from the University of Florida and current board member of the IEPA, Early Intervention in Mental Health.

Shannon McCleery-Hooper, who has developed strong peer work support within Riverside County in California.


We look forward to seeing this hard-working network come together to share and learn.

For more information or to register to attend, please visit the Orygen Eventbrite page.

IEPA, Early Intervention in Mental Health will also be live tweeting across the two days: you can follow the conversation via #EIinMentalHealth.