$12.8 million game changer for youth mental health

18 November 2020
BHP Foundation supports data-driven mental health care

Strategic philanthropy directed at the Brain and Mind Centre suicide prevention work will see locally designed dynamic systems models embedded in eight Primary Health Networks, which can act as a blueprint for the nation.

The BHP Foundation has partnered with the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre to change the way local communities in Australia invest in youth mental health and social care.

The five-year program, commencing in 2021 ‘Right care, first time, where you live,’ will harness latest advances in systems modelling and simulation to guide national and local investments in sustained, coordinated and digitally enhanced youth mental health care. 

University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor Dr Michael Spence thanked the BHP Foundation for its strategic philanthropy. “The wonderful thing about this partnership is that it will enable expansion of our mental health modelling and research into data-driven healthcare, which we have successfully piloted in the past year,” Dr Spence said.

Professor Ian Hickie, co-director of the Brain and Mind Centre, said this program addresses the problem faced by communities around the country: how to know what combination of programs and initiatives will work best, over what period of time, at what scale to deliver the best outcomes in getting young people back to school, back to work, and thriving in their communities.  


  • less than one in five young people have access to high-quality or effective mental health intervention; 
  • three in four major mental disorders have their onset before age 25 years in Australia;
  • suicide accounted for the highest number of years of potential lives lost in Australia in 2019;
  • the cost to the Australian economy of mental ill-health and suicide is in the order of $43-$51 billion annually.

This BHP Foundation AU$12.8 million partnership  allows Brain and Mind Centre researchers, in partnership with the international not-for-profit Computer Simulation and Advanced Research Technologies (CSART) alliance to work with local communities and their health agencies. Together, they will develop interactive dynamic models that put national, data-driven evidence into a local context, empowering the people responsible for delivering mental health services to their communities on the ground to respond to the mental health needs of young people.

Associate Professor Jo-An Atkinson, head of systems modelling, simulation & data science at the Brain and Mind Centre said: “This place-based approach will give local communities the evidence they need to allocate local resources and funding in a targeted way.

“Systems modelling and simulation gives decision makers advanced capability to see forward, to forecast the mental health trajectory that we are on at national and local levels, to test alternative strategies, and understand the impacts they are likely to deliver, before investing significant time and resources. We no longer need to make blind investments,” she said.

A successful pilot program was run with Healthy North Coast, the provider of the North Coast Primary Health Network (PHN), a region with some of NSW’s most challenging mental health problems. The pilot used dynamic systems modelling to identify the tipping and turning points in young people’s mental health trajectories. Over nine months, general practitioners, educators, representatives from emergency services and people with lived experience and other community groups, worked together to identify suicide risk factors. These were entered into a dynamic model to predict the impact of various combinations of interventions over time. Surprisingly, some interventions revealed an upswing in a predicted suicide curve when they were tested. Armed with this real-time data, the PHN worked with community and service providers to focus on social connectedness through a program that is now in place in six towns in the region.  

Strategic philanthropy

In collaboration with local communities and their relevant health agencies, ‘Right care, first time, where you live’ is co-developing and embedding locally designed dynamic systems models in eight Primary Health Network regions across urban, regional and rural Australia. The eight regions will be determined in 2021 together with indigenous, health and other community representatives.

These local models will become a blueprint, to be scaled up or down to support the mental health service needs of communities across the country. 

James Ensor, BHP Foundation Chief Executive, said: “The scale of Australia’s youth mental health challenge demands testing new approaches. At the BHP Foundation, we believe strategic philanthropy can drive the transformational change required to better support the mental health of young people and reduce the tragedy of youth suicide – but we have to act now. 

“This innovative project has the potential to make a real impact in Australia and globally, and aligns with the Foundation’s ambitions here in Australia to give young people every chance to fulfill their potential.”  

Launching ‘Right care, first time, where you live’ today, Professor Hickie said: “This is a smart and very timely investment in large-scale and genuine system transformation to support the next generation of young Australians. It accepts that ‘place-based’ and inclusive implementation of expertise is essential to long-term success and sustainability.

“It is the type of brave investment in the future that is at the heart of genuine innovation and rapid progress on these key social and economic issues.

"Supporting young people to access the right level of care, early in the course of illness, will save lives now and enable young people and their communities to thrive.”

Read more about BHP Foundation

DECLARATION: The partnership is subject to standard process to document details in an appropriate agreement.


Vivienne Reiner

PhD Candidate and Casual Academic
  • Integrated Sustainability Analysis,
We need real changes on the ground and we need those changes urgently across the diverse communities of Australia.
Professor Ian Hickie

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