Let’s stop waiting for crisis to hit and start investing in prevention

by Sam Refshauge, batyr CEO 

The third national report on young people’s mental health produced by Mission Australia and the Black Dog Institute released on Wednesday, provides continued cause for concern. The findings reveal that Mental ill Health is impacting ¼ young people, prevalence of Mental Health issues are on the rise and as a nation we are not doing enough to support those who are struggling.

The report confirms that mental illness is one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century, and one that requires a holistic approach starting with far more emphasis at the early intervention and preventative education end of the spectrum. Far more than the current 2% of expenditure budgeted at this most pivotal point of the national health and education systems.

The time has come for a consolidated national program in schools to engage, educate and empower young people to speak out about mental health issues and reach out for help when they need it. This report calls for the need to focus on a universal provision of evidence based prevention programs for young people in schools.

A program not dissimilar to the one batyr is running in schools and universities across the nation. The batyr program is based on the in-vivo model of peer to peer based sharing of lived experience to reduce stigma and improve attitudes towards help seeking (Corrigan 2012). By using young speakers with a lived mental health experience, organisations like batyr may create an environment where seeking help and talking about mental health is not only accepted but encouraged and supported, an area of current failing that the report highlighted.

So lets use this new information to put pressure on the people who can actively implement positive change on a national basis. This is an issue that sits across the health & education system, has support from the Prime Minister & across parties and requires urgent action.

As both Helen Christensen and Catherine Yeomans agree, young people are our future. We owe it to them to follow the recommendations of this report and set them on a path to mentally healthier lives by investing in a holistic program of early intervention and education for young people, their teachers and parents.

Young mental ill health – what to do about 13 reasons why

by Dr. Tim Sharp (aka Dr Happy)

Just last week, two seemingly unrelated events received considerable attention – the release of the latest Mental Health Report by Mission Australia; and heated discussions about a new Netflix series produced by a number of people including pop-star Selena Gomez.

According to Mission Australia’s report, action on youth mental health is URGENTLY needed due to findings that indicate, among other things, almost one in four young people met criteria for having a serious mental illness. Notably, these same young people indicated that their first port of call when seeking help was friends (followed by parents and the internet).

Catherine Yeomans, Mission Australia’s CEO said “Adolescence comes with its own set of challenges for young people. But we are talking about an alarming number of young people facing serious mental illness; often in silence and without accessing the help they need.”

She went on to say that “We need to ensure young people have the resources they need to manage mental health difficulties, whether it is for themselves or for their peers. Parents, schools and community all play a vital role and we must fully equip them with the knowledge and skills to provide effective support to young people.”

And Professor Helen Christensen, Director of the Black Dog Institute, added “This report shows that young people who need help are seeking it reluctantly, with a fear of being judged continuing to inhibit help-seeking.”

So what we have is a massive problem, where a significant number of young people are suffering and feeling like they can’t reach out and seek help. Stigma is driving these people to the internet where although there’s much good and valid information and many useful resources, there’s also…

13 Reasons Why. 

If you’ve not heard of “13 Reasons Why” then you’ve been living under a rock or you don’t have teenage children. “13 Reasons Why” is a new Netflix series, based on a book released in 2007. In short, it covers the suicide of a young women who before ending her life sends 13 audio-tapes to friends and classmates explaining how and why they contributed to her final actions.

I’m pretty sure the producers of this show had good intentions; and that their aim was to highlight mental ill-health and start a much needed conversation among young people.

But I’m afraid that many experts, myself included, have serious concerns about some of the messages conveyed in this realistic depiction of youth distress including that (1) suicide is seen as a valid and rational way to resolve bullying and distress, (2) revenge and blaming others are seen as good reasons for suicide, and (3) the counsel of parents and teachers was not sought and in fact those who were included seemed disinterested or unwilling to help.

All of these are dangerous untruths that contradict all the messages we really want to be sending which are that it’s OK not to be OK but that difficulties will pass, especially if appropriate support and treatment are sought early on. We do want young people to reach out to friends and family, but in a healthy and constructive way.

So if you or your children have watched this series and are feeling concerned, what can you do?

Firstly, look for warning signs. 

These vary from person to person but include prolonged, low mood; significant changes in behaviour and appearance; loss of energy; change of appetite and/or weight loss; excessive worrying; social withdrawal; deterioration in social, occupational or academic performance.

Talk about it! 

There’s no doubt that effective treatments for depression and other common mental illnesses are available; but health professionals can only help if and when people come forward. And people (especially young people) don’t come forward and reach out when they’re concerned about being judged negatively. Simple conversations can contribute to people feeling more comfortable about seeking help.

Listen without judgement. 

Having a mental health problem is not a sign of weakness or a failing; but rather, it’s a life problem like any other life problem that can, with appropriate help, be addressed and resolved.

Let those who’re suffering know you love and care for them; and that you’ll be there to help.

Guide your child or loved one to professional support. 

Most (if not all) schools have great counsellors available; teachers can help; many GP’s are also trained in how to help with mental health problems; and of course clinical psychologists are trained in practical and effective treatments that despite common myths and misconceptions, don’t take years to take effect.

And most of all…do whatever you can to inspire hope. 

More than anything, we need to help young people, and anyone who’s suffering, to feel and believe that things can get better. Because they can. Taking positive action will improve almost any situation; and especially with the guidance and support of expert professionals those who’re suffering can indubitably go on to live healthy and productive, happy lives.


BIG Goals. BIG Progress.

Setting ourselves up for another BIG year

The first quarter of 2017 has been one of growth, development and new partnerships.

  • We welcomed 9 new people to the batyr family
  • Launched our newest school program ‘Stressed Out’
  • Kicked off 2 new University partnerships
  • Partnered with the NSW Waratahs as their official charity partner
  • Saw the first ever Orange Elephant Ball, initiated and run by local legends

And that’s just the start!

Being Herd

Our speaker training team ‘Being Herd’ has more than doubled in size! This quarter we welcomed four new full-time staff members. We now have a Being Herd staff member in Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney. Our focus this year is to support the expansion of Being Herd in each of these states, so that we can run more workshops nationally and ensure speakers are being engaged and supported on an ongoing basis.

In addition to recruiting four more staff, it didn’t stop there. We ran 6 workshops, training 43 participants, and had 12 new people further their training to become a speaker at our school and uni programs. Plus we launched our first promotional vid for Being Herd thanks to our partnership with Channel 10.

“Hearing other people and their stories really allows me to feel vulnerable and tell my story without feeling ashamed.” Being Herd Melbourne Participant

[email protected]

Quarter 1 was an incredible one for the [email protected] team across the country! It’s been very exciting to have so much interest coming in from so many areas of Australia – this has led to our team booking in 156 [email protected] programs in Q1 for 2017…already. (In 2016 we booked 150 programs across the entire calendar year!)

In terms of delivery, it was a busy quarter given that students only returned to school in late January. In total we delivered 35 [email protected] programs including 25 in which we worked with students for the very first time. Through these programs we reached 3,500 young people. In addition to this we delivered our ‘Look Out For Your Mates’ program at 3 schools and launched our newest program for years 11 & 12 ‘Stressed Out?’ at Barker College in February, delivering this to 4 schools across the quarter in total.

As an organisation committed to engaging the whole school community in the topic of student mental health, we also delivered our [email protected] for Teachers session to 130 Teaching staff at 2 schools, as well as delivering a parent forum at Domremy College in Sydney.

In this Quarter we surveyed close to 2,000 young people post the program and the results are encouraging. 72% of students said that they would be more likely to seek help if they needed it and 83% said they were very engaged with our [email protected] program. Here’s to an even bigger Quarter 2!

“Thank you – this program has helped me in more ways than I can describe”
Y12 Student – St Joseph’s Catholic College

[email protected]

The [email protected] team has seen some big wins and big changes this quarter. The start of 2017 saw two additional university partnerships, with UNE and the Faculty of Health Sciences from USYD starting their batyr journey. On the ground, things kicked off with the inaugural [email protected] Student Exec ‘Kickstart’ event; bringing together 30 student representatives, from five universities, for a weekend of fun, collaboration, new experiences and a joint passion to make a difference on campus.

Talking numbers; the team and student volunteers across the five Universities (UTS, ANU, UniSA, UNE and USYD)  reached 3,817 young people directly through [email protected] programs and a further 6,362 through massive O-week events and activations. To wrap up the quarter we are in the final stages of recruiting a new Uni Team Manager to replace Dave LT who has been steering the Uni ship for the last three years and has moved on to focus on setting up a business with his wife.

batyr Facilitators

Quarter One has been a time of growth and expansion for the Facilitator Team. We brought on two new Part Time Facilitator Coordinators in Brisbane and Melbourne to assist with the program delivery as well as develop our casual teams in these locations.

The Facilitator team has also expanded into the Being Herd department with more Casual Facilitators co-facilitating and lead facilitating workshops across Australia. With the implementation of more new programs such as; ‘School Chapter Sessions’, ‘Stressed Out?’, ‘Teacher PD’ sessions and ‘Parent Forums’, the team are busy assisting with program delivery across all aspects of the organisation.

Fundraising and Events

The first quarter of the year saw the focus on rural NSW with the inaugural Orange Elephant Ball being held in early March. Orange and surrounding communities rallied together to raise an amazing $80k to bring batyr to town.

In Cobar a local Legend Brad ‘Gibbo’ Lawrence started the first Wines2Mines Tour, a bike ride from Griffith to Cobar supporting batyr and Cancer council. Whilst in Mudgee we saw a local junior football club support our ‘One Sock One Goal’ campaign, which eventuated with the team forming a guard of honour at the NSW Waratahs home game against the Brumbies in March.

A massive thanks to The Funding Network who partnered with Macquarie Group Foundation for their Sydney event. The night raised over $414,000 and batyr took home an incredible $138,000.

A highlight of the quarter was working with our charity partner the NSW Waratahs for a FOX sports story, which you can view here and getting batyr the mascot out on the ground at Allianz stadium.

We’ve set ourselves up for a big year ahead and are excited to continue on this trajectory.

If you are keen to get involved with batyr, we have some exciting volunteer opportunities coming up:

  • Darkness into Light Walk, Bondi Beach, Saturday 6th May
  • NSW Waratahs v’s Melbourne Rebels, Allianz Stadium, 21st May

Email [email protected] for more details.

If volunteering ain’t your thing, there are a heap of other ways you can support us:

  • Check out these sweet active accessories from our friends at Real Active, who are donating 10% of the proceeds to us and the cool peeps at the Yoga Foundation
  • Bring our ‘One Sock One Goal’ campaign to your community and start the conversation
  • Help us continue to run programs across Australia and donate here

Thanks to all our supporters past and present, for enabling us to continue to positively impact the lives of thousands of young Australians.

Here’s to an even bigger Quarter 2!