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Black Dog Institute




Australia Wide



Funding Dates

December 2011 - May 2016

The issue

Up to 75 per cent of mental health issues emerge during adolescence. With depression and bipolar disorder now among the most prevalent and debilitating mental health issues faced by young people in Australia, there is a real need to increase the understanding of mood disorders among teenagers.

The project

The Black Dog Institute is a not-for-profit educational, research, clinical and community-oriented facility offering expertise in depression and bipolar disorder.

Their unique school-based mental health program, HeadStrong, uses a series of engaging, humorous cartoon images to help teachers effectively deal with a topic that has traditionally been difficult to teach.

Specifically designed to engage young people, the resource provides teenagers with an increased knowledge of mood disorders, their symptoms, as well as how and when to seek help, and how to build resilience. It aims to reduce the impact of mood disorders on young people, leading to an improvement in their overall health and wellbeing.

An initial grant of $500,000 over three years has enabled the Black Dog Institute to introduce Headstrong in every Australian state and provide training to teachers, counsellors and youth workers, with the potential to reach up to 90,000 students.

Our continued funding support in 2015-16 will assist the Black Dog Institute to refine the current teaching resources and broaden the reach with the development of HeadStrong 2.0. These improvements will be based on recent program evaluation findings and will include interactive e-Learning modules on seeking help and building resilience, as well as customised modules for parents and young people called MindStrength.

The impact

The national rollout of HeadStrong has been completed with the program tailored to meet the curriculum requirements of each Australian state, allowing the resource to be responsive to the unique needs of high school students and teachers across the country.

Training in how to use the HeadStrong resource has been delivered to teachers at 25 workshops across the country and a flexible webinar version has been accessed over 3,500 times. In addition, there has been more than 7,000 unique downloads of the Headstrong curriculum resource by adults involved with young people including teachers, counsellors, youth workers and parents. 

A study conducted by the Black Dog Institute and published in the Journal of Adolescence in September 2014, has found that mental health education programs such as HeadStrong can help reduce stigma and improve mental health awareness.

Researchers from the Institute compared data from more than 200 Year 9 and 10 students who took park in their mental health literacy program HeadStrong, with data from secondary school students who undertook the standard personal development programs in the health and physical education curriculum.

The results found that students receiving the HeadStrong program demonstrated significantly better mental health literacy. Stigmatising attitudes were also significantly lower in this group. 

Visit Black Dog Institute's website to access the Headstrong 2.0 and MindStrength resources or check out this video about HeadStrong 2.0


“HeadStrong is a ground-breaking teaching resource that uses a series of engaging, humorous cartoon images to convey complicated subjects to students. This resource is designed to target the needs of young people, with the visual format of the materials making it accessible to students of all intellectual abilities, as well as those from a low literacy or non-English speaking background,”

Professor Helen Christensen, Executive Director, Black Dog Institute