2018 Robin Winkler Memorial Lecture

18 September 2018


Debra Rickwood


This lecture is co-hosted by the UWA School of Psychological Science and the Institute of Advanced Studies.

Young people’s mental health - the what, why and how of supporting young people with mental health problems

The 2018 Robin Winkler Lecture by Debra Rickwood, Professor of Psychology at the University of Canberra. 

Youth mental health is of growing concern in Australia and internationally. It is now well-recognised that most mental health problems first emerge before the age of 25, and often become evident during the teenage years, when they are highly disruptive to personal, social and vocational functioning. It seems that young people are becoming more vulnerable to mental health problems and there are many powerful forces in their lives today that exacerbate this risk. Consequently, there is a high level of unmet need for effective interventions and services to help young people, and their families, deal with emerging mental health problems―although young people are often reluctant to seek such help.

This presentation will consider the what, why and how of supporting young people with mental health problems by drawing on recent data and experiences from implementation of the headspace national youth mental health initiative. It will describe what types of mental health problems are most affecting young people today and which of these are on the increase. It will demonstrate why youth mental health must be a key priority, with a focus on the life stages of adolescence and emerging adulthood. Innovative ways to respond to young people’s mental health problems will be considered. This will cover how parents, families, friends and significant others in the community can recognise and respond to young people with mental health problems; as well as how our service systems need to be reformed to better meet their needs. Research revealing the experiences that are common to most young people, as well as showing the factors that are unique to young people from diverse and more marginalised population groups will be described. The presentation will conclude with some of the ways that the community can work together to better support young Australians during this critical transition period of life.

Debra Rickwood is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Canberra. For the past eight years she has been Chief Scientific Advisor at headspace: The National Youth Mental Health Foundation, where she heads the research and evaluation team. She is a Fellow of the Australian Psychological Society (APS) and member of the APS College of Community Psychologists. In 2016, she was awarded the Robin Winkler Award for Applied Community Psychology Research in recognition of the research she and her team undertook to better understand the barriers and facilitators experienced by young people from diverse and more marginalised population groups to access and engage with headspace youth mental health centre services. 

Debra was a youth worker before completing her PhD, which was one of the first studies of young people’s help-seeking behavior for mental health problems. She has been researching the factors that affect young people’s mental health and help-seeking for over 30 years. Debra has a broad base of experience in research, practice, policy and service development, and set up the headspace centre in Canberra, which was originally based at the University. In recognition of her expertise, she is a Ministerial Appointee to the Child and Youth Services Ministerial Advisory Council in the ACT.

Her work spans the spectrum of interventions for mental health – from mental health promotion for all young people, prevention and early intervention, to recovery and continuity of care for young people seriously affected by mental illness. She has a strong interest in the use of technology, the role of families, and the need for health system service reform to better support young people’s mental health. Debra has produced over 200 publications and been a chief investigator on several National Health and Medication Research Council, as well as other, grants researching in the field of mental health.

The Annual Robin Winkler Lecture

This lecture commemorates the work of Robin Winkler, a highly influential teacher and researcher whose work was guided by humanitarian values and a relentless questioning of accepted orthodoxies. He died at the age of 43 while heading the UWA Clinical Master’s program at the Psychology Clinic, which now bears his name. In the Oxford Handbook of the History of Psychology he is described as “a singular, crusading figure” in Australian psychology.