Reducing stigma

Circular Head youths Aaron Hills, Mikaylah Tuxworth, Carol Huisman and Nakore Popowski are part of the latest ‘1 in 4’ campaign prompting discussion on youth mental health.

1 in 4: Circular Head’s Youth Mental Health Campaign

One in four Australian youths suffer from a mental health illness.

That is, about five in every football team or classroom.

Members of Circular Head Youth Leaders felt so passionately about the subject, they used their positions in the youth advisory group to take action.

From there, a collaboration with Rural Health evolved, which has seen months of effort put into training days and workshops for the community.

Funding from the council and grants sought by Rural Health means the sessions will all be free for community members, with health professionals as presenters.

Rural Health youth and community development leader Kate Cross said the aim of the campaign is to “reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness” and increase literacy surrounding youth mental health.

“People with a mental illness – be it bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety or depression – feel it’s not okay to talk about it,” she said, adding she believed the taboo to be longstanding.

“I think it spans back a long time ago, when people were locked away . . . and children who were behaving badly were lobotomised.”

Ms Cross said it is common for people to think someone with a mental condition to be unstable, and fear they may be dangerous.

Others feel frustrated in the sufferer, wondering why they can’t just “snap out of it”.

“Parents can often be left feeling frustrated that their once-smiling child is sullen and withdrawn,” she said.

“It’s a common misunderstanding people have, that implies people can just switch off their emotions.”

The target age for the campaign is 16 to 24-year-olds, with Ms Cross explaining the importance of focusing on youth: “We know that three-quarters of serious mental illness emerge by the age of 24,” she said.

“It scares me thinking of young people being isolated . . . and to think, it’s experienced by so many.

“Imagine trying to do life that way – already it’s hard enough being a teenager.”

Over the remainder of the year, the campaign will seek to educate community members on how best to help youths dealing with a mental health issue.

High-school aged students will attend workshops, and teachers are booked in for further professional learning sessions.

Other workshops will focus on educating emergency workers and the community in general.

“The key here is early intervention,” Ms Cross said. “We need to provide the support and intervention and stop people from being afraid to ask for help.

“Most of the youths I see are experiencing stress and symptoms surrounding anxiety, family, school and relationship breakdowns.

“I’ve witnessed and experienced the effects of mental illness and the associated stigma . . . It doesn’t have to be awkward to talk about it.”

Simply asking a friend or loved one if they are okay can start the conversation.

From there, people may feel unequipped to help further, and that’s why counselling services are available.

Ms Cross suggested people who are concerned about a loved one speak with their GP or Wyndarra Centre, Circular Head Aboriginal Corporation and Rural Health to link in with appropriate services.

WHAT’S ON
Youth Mental Health First Aid Course
This 14-hour course teaches first aid skills for adult members of the public to give initial help to adolescents experiencing mental health problems, in a mental health crisis situation, or in the early stages of a mental illness.
Where: Smithton District Hospital Community Room
When: Thursday August 28 and Friday August 29
Cost: Free

Youth Leader/Mentor Workshops
A one-day course teaching basics of youth mental health: how to identify the signs, and support young people with depression and anxiety as well as suicide awareness and substance use.
Where: Smithton High School Southside campus
When: Monday August 25
Cost: Free

Emergency Services Evening
An interactive session for emergency services personnel on responding to acute situations – assessing risk, difference between mental illness and substance use, how to decide whether hospital is appropriate. Plus self care and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Where: SES training room, Nelson Street
When: Monday August 25, 7pm
Cost: Free

Public Evening Workshop
An open, interactive session where community members can learn how to identify the signs and support young people with depression and anxiety, as well as suicide awareness.
Where: Rural Health, Emmett Street
When: Tuesday August 26, 7pm
Cost: Free

For more information about any of the above, contact Kate Cross at Rural Health Tasmania on 6452 1266 or email kate@ruralhealthtas.com.au.

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