Introducing the elephant in the room

Sebastian Robertson, Chairman and Founder

“Keep doing what you’re doing with batyr. Educating young people about mental illness from lived experience is ideal. It gets people to see there’s a positive and happy outcome in the end if they seek help.”

Dean from Trinity Grammar and his brother Jorge interviewed me about batyr for a Year 6 project on mental health and preventative education. As batyr’s Chairman and Founder, they’re topics I’m comfortable with, but it’s one thing to speak to the public and quite another to be interviewed by the very type of person you’re trying to connect with.

After our interview I asked Dean and Jorge what they thought we – as a society – should do to reduce or mitigate mental illness. They didn’t hesitate: “To change the statistics about mental illness would be firstly to break the stigma by educating society that mental illness is the same as treating any health issue like diabetes or a headache.

“There is no shame. Society needs to be aware that mental illness is a growing problem and needs to be addressed.”

Then I asked whether they had any advice for me. First I got some encouragement (which you can see at the top of this blog), then some constructive criticism: “Get your branding out there. We didn’t know batyr existed until we Googled ‘mental health’, and Xavier Eales’s news article came up and we saw your name.”

Doing the work: Helping young people be heard

batyr’s vision is an Australia where young people engage in positive conversations about mental health and seek out help when needed. We deliver peer-to-peer programs that engage, educate and empower young people by addressing the issues that impact their mental health, and promoting resilience and help-seeking behaviour.

On reflection, Dean and Jorge were right on both points. We are doing some amazing things: working with more than 100 schools across five states and territories; reaching out to more than 45,000 young people; and, by the end of 2016, we will have trained more than 250 young people to share their stories through our ‘Being Herd’ program.

And we do need get our brand out there. If we want to have an impact across the nation, we need to be ‘herd’.

batyr was an elephant that could ‘speak’ about 20 human-sounding phrases. Our organisation wants to give a voice to the ‘elephant in the room’ – mental health. We want to challenge the negativity that can surround discussions about mental health, and the name ‘batyr’ gives us a culture and identity that’s more positive.

The next step is to tell our story – which is why we’re launching this blog. We’ll be generating and sharing the insights and experiences that we – as a collective of young people, speakers, teachers, staff, parents and volunteers – find inspiring. We’re all learning from each other, and we’re discovering new ways to reduce the stigma of mental illness so those who are afflicted will seek help.

For me, Dean and Jorge’s visit was more than just an interview. It was a reminder that we should never underestimate our ability to trust and learn from young people. They’re the ones who can change their culture today and help build a mentally healthy nation tomorrow.