Research aims to improve youth mental health services

New research will focus on designing more responsive service models to manage the demand for South Australia’s youth mental health services.

The University of Adelaide and not-for-profit organisation Sonder, which provides support for people with mental health challenges, are working together to examine how the efficiency and effectiveness of primary youth mental health services can be enhanced to meet current demand for services.

The University of Adelaide’s Dr Tracey Dodd, who is leading the partnership, is from the Adelaide Business School.

“It is vital that industry, academics, and government continue to work together to unlock new knowledge that can improve outcomes for all South Australians,” she said.

“Research shows that mental well-being is a key pillar of broader social and economic well-being. We have a once-in-a generation opportunity to show how resilient South Australia’s support systems can be in response to the challenges that COVID-19 has brought.”

A new industry-based PhD researcher, funded by the University and Sonder, will undertake the important work.

Sonder CEO, Sageran Naidoo welcomed the partnership and opportunities for improvement that it will uncover.

“With young people seeking help at an unprecedented rate, it is increasingly evident that all youth mental health services are experiencing major challenges in meeting the demand for services and that wait times are growing,” he said.

The research will examine Sonder’s existing youth mental health services (including its lead agency operated headspace centres) and associated service pathways, processes, and procedures to identify improvement opportunities. The research will also engage with community partners, young people, family members/carers, and staff to co-design more timely and innovative models of care for young people.

The findings will support South Australian policymakers and service providers to design more responsive service models to manage the demand for youth mental health services, in a time in which demand for timely services often exceeds supply.

“Long wait times are a major barrier to help-seeking for young people and their families, so it is critical that we work to find ways to improve the efficiency of our service delivery and meet current demand,” said Mr Naidoo.

“With demand for our services exponentially increasing over the last 12 months and rates of mental health presentations by young people to services increasing, now is the time for services to be investing in research to better equip our mental health system to meet the rising tide of need.”

Mr Naidoo said the opportunity to partner with the University of Adelaide to advance the sector’s understanding of how the state’s youth mental health services can be improved is invaluable.

The University’s Adelaide Business School will host the new PhD position.

“The University has a proud history of partnering with industry. We are delighted to work with Sonder on this project to add to our portfolio of thought leadership in the area of social advancement,” said the University of Adelaide’s Professor Noel Lindsay, Dean of the Business School and Pro Vice Chancellor – Entrepreneurship.

About the Adelaide Business School

The University of Adelaide has a proud history of delivering world-class courses in business as the first institution in Australia to offer business education in 1902. With an enviable network of teaching staff and alumni, the Adelaide Business School provides a range of cutting-edge coursework and research options for those who want to make a real impact in the world of business. The programs provide flexible study options and produce business leaders across a range of disciplines, including Accounting, Finance and Banking, Marketing, Management, and Entrepreneurship.

About Sonder

Sonder is a not-for-profit organisation that helps people to live better lives by providing integrated, high quality care, health and support services. Sonder’s range of services include mental health counselling, alcohol and other drug services, Aboriginal health and employment support. Clients are able to access multiple services to address their needs from a range of centres located across South Australia.

Over the past 26 years, the organisation has earned a solid reputation for the delivery of evidence-based psychological therapy and is now one of the leading providers of mental health services in SA.

Additionally, Sonder is the lead agency for headspace Adelaide, Edinburgh North and Onkaparinga. The headspace Centres are funded by Adelaide PHN and act as a one-stop-shop for young people who need help with mental health, physical health, alcohol and other drugs or work and study support.

Sonder is fully accredited under ISO Standard AS/NZS ISO 9001:2015 and the National Standards for Mental Health Services.


Would you like to join a team dedicated to pushing the boundaries in youth mental health service design and reform? Would you describe yourself as a curious person who is good at organising and communicating new ideas? Do you have previous or current engagement in the mental health sector?

Sonder and The University of Adelaide have just the opportunity for you! We have partnered to establish a full time PhD opportunity for a suitable candidate to examine improvement opportunities in the youth mental health system.

The candidate must hold a first class honours degree or equivalent.

The position will attract a tax-free income over three years.

Interested applicants should email a one page letter outlining how they meet the above eligibility criteria, a brief CV and copies of academic transcripts to Program Director, Undergraduate Project Manager, Dr Tracey Dodd at

Following this, applicants may be invited to discuss their application further at interview.

Media Contacts:

Dr Tracey Dodd, Program Director, Adelaide Business School, University of Adelaide. Mobile: +61 (0)407 165 676, Email:

Crispin Savage, Senior Communications and Media Adviser, University of Adelaide. Mobile: +61 (0)481 912 465, Email:

Emma Waters. Marketing & Communications Coordinator, Sonder. Phone: (08) 8209 0700. Email:

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