Game Of Thrones Star Sophie Turner Speaks Out About Her Experiences With Depression

During a recent appearance on Dr. Phil’s podcast series, Phil in the Blanks, British actress Sophie Turner has opened up about her experience with depression whilst filming the Game of Thrones series.

Sophie, who plays Sansa Stark on the award-winning television series shared she’s had experiences with mental ill-health for around five years now, starting when she was 17 years old.

Now 23, she’s speaking openly about her experiences to start a healthy dialogue about mental health. “The biggest challenge is just for me getting out of bed and getting out of the house and learning to love yourself I think is the biggest challenge.

Sophie says she felt alone after her friends and brothers moved away for college, while she was working on “Game of Thrones” and living with her parents. She says whilst social media wasn’t the cause, it became a “catalyst” for her depression.

“I would cry and cry and cry over just getting changed and putting on clothes and be like, ‘I can’t do this. I can’t go outside. I have nothing that I want to do.”

She says it all started around puberty. “At like 17, my metabolism was like slowing down massively, and I was gaining weight. And then there was the social media scrutiny and everything, and that was when it kind of hit me.”

Sophie says, at the time, she was more sensitive about what people would say about her on social media. She said she would read comments talking about her weight and skin as well as criticism about her acting.

“I would just believe it,” she said. “I would just say, ‘Yeah, I am spotty. Yeah, I am fat. I am a bad actress.’ And I just believed it.”

She says she now she feels much better since seeking support through a combination of therapy and medication. Sophie says the support of her fiancé, Joe Jonas, has helped her learn to love herself. “I love myself now, or more than I used to, I think. When someone tells you they love you every day. it makes you really think about why that is and I think that makes you love yourself a bit more,” she adds. “So yeah, I love myself.”

As Game of Thrones airs its final season, Sophie says she’s ready to take a break from acting and is interested in studying psychology. “I’m just really passionate about it,” she tells Dr. Phil.

Thank you to Sophie, for sharing your story and starting conversations that promote seeking support and the need to prioritise mental health.

If you are experiencing a rough time, need someone to talk to, or are in a crisis, we would recommend sending a message to our friends at eHeadspace

https://www.eheadspace.org.au/  or calling either the Mental Health Access Line on 1800 011 511 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Kaitlin: Finding My Voice

The most effective tool I have is my voice. Speaking out when things are troubling should never be ignored or disrespected. All of our experiences are valid and hold powerful emotions that need to be held gently. Using your voice could potentially help someone else in need. It could also save your life.

There is no easy way to explain the devastating and crushing grip my mental health has had on me, the relationships that have been severed, the misunderstandings that have occurred, and the pain that has spread through my mind.

I was four years old when I began to show signs of certain disturbances through acting out and self-harm when I was alone. I was under siege by something invisible that I couldn’t explain. I managed to ‘settle’ these behaviours and emotions by hiding in my cupboard or under my bed where no one could see or reach me.

Now I wish more than anything that I could go back and hold that girl tight, tell her not to be afraid and to speak up.

I was surrounded by a loving family who gave as much as they could, but mental health was never a subject for dinnertime conversations. Everyone kept their feelings to themselves and I was taught at a very young age to ‘suck it up.’

To the outside world, I seemed ‘normal’, perhaps just ‘quirky’, but the pain was at times completely unbearable. With three suicide attempts by the age of 22, I was convinced that I deserved all the hurt. I also thought everyone was experiencing the same things as me, so I never spoke up. I never wanted to burden anyone with my secrets.

“I decided to reach out to my mum.”

She was the one I was trying to protect the most from my mind but, in the end, she saved my life. Slowly she began to put the pieces together.  Mum has never laid down any form of judgment; she has always been kind. Her support and guidance allowed me to slowly open the door to my world and let her take a look inside. With loving eyes, she always reminds me ‘everything will be okay.’

Even when she was told that I had attempted suicide, she knew I hadn’t intended for it to go that far, that I was just hurting. Her strong hand reaches out to pull me back down to earth. Always.

Over the past ten years there have been multiple hospital interventions. Doing CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and DBT (dialectical behavioural therapy) has been an absolute life changer. The way it’s executed through the team of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists and nursing staff has helped me understand that you can deal with your emotions and channel certain behaviours into healthy tasks and activities.

It has allowed me to slowly begin my journey to a form of comfortable recovery, but most importantly, it has allowed me to trust people again. I have learnt that I am in total control of my own mental health.

Writing became my therapy and I learnt that once it was on paper, it was mine.

“Kissing the scars of my soft skin, the sun began to shine through and release some of the darkness that had been confined so tight within. The corners of my mind that bled so much honest pain were starting to see the light.”

My family have struggled to be on this journey with me, but finally at the age of 27 I have learnt to be open with those who surround me with constant love, hope and acceptance. I have begun to share the secrets that have consumed my life, and speaking the truth of their existence has lessened the pain.

‘Be kind to your mind’ is an initiative of SANE Australia supported by Future Generation Global, in partnership with batyr.

 

Tilly: My Mental Health Toolbox

I am not bipolar. I have bipolar disorder. My diagnosis and my identity are linked only in so far as experiencing mental illness has contributed to my personal growth.

My perspectives have broadened, my empathy has grown and I have consolidated certain personal attributes such as resilience and confidence. I have also gradually created a toolbox — one that is instrumental to maintaining my mental health.

I wish the process had have been easier and quicker. But, at the end of the day all that matters is I now have it as I move forward with life.

My mental illness at times caused much distress. Since my first episode of illness, a gradual process of receiving professional help, reaching out for support around me, improving my own understanding and self-awareness, and developing a tool kit of self-care and coping strategies has allowed me to evolve from struggle to recovery and ongoing management

I am able to live, enjoy and adventure in spite of having a complex mental illness.

My handle on my condition is strong. I experience warning signs of mania, including restlessness, erratic or racing thoughts, difficulty sleeping and urges to complete unnecessary tasks. Recently I reflected that, although I can identify them (an important step which itself took time to achieve), I was struggling to deal with them in the moment.

I decided to contact a psychologist for guidance around developing coping strategies and ways to approach calming these symptoms better. My GP set up the referral, commending my proactive choice to seek support even though my illness has little current impact on my day-to-day life.

“I have learnt the hard way that reaching out for support early is crucial in staying on top of mental illness. A culture of help-seeking is vital for staying well.”

When I was 17, my condition surfaced for the first time. I experienced depression for several months. Among my negative thoughts was guilt — a feeling that I had no reason to be depressed and it was silly to feel this way. Consequently, I was too ashamed to tell anyone.

I had a friend who noticed I was withdrawn and quiet, which was unlike my positive, bubbly self. She asked me if everything was ok and said they were there if I needed to talk. That showed me that people did want to help. Though I chose not to open up, being approached was comforting.

However, I struggled in silence instead of reaching out for help, and things went from bad to worse. I fell into a period of prolonged mania and this meant my behaviour changed in a way which was, at first, not overtly noticeable to those around me.

Suddenly things rapidly became more acute as I transitioned into a psychotic episode. I had severe emotional distress, exacerbated from experiencing visual hallucinations and my ability to function at school and home derailed. I was taken to the doctor, and subsequently hospital emergency on my GPs directive. From the psychiatric evaluations, I was admitted to hospital to begin my recovery.

My illness had become so bad others needed to intervene. I often wonder what disruption and distress to me, my family and others around me could have been avoided if I had have sought help when I was struggling with depression, or if I had understood the changes in my behaviour as concerning and spoken up.

The exposure to professional help began my road to recovery. Initially, I lacked awareness of my mental health and the necessary tools of to manage my illness.

My mood was returned to a range which enabled me to function at home and socially, and to finish year 12 with a positive prognosis. I was transferred to a community team consisting of a psychiatrist and a counsellor for ongoing care. I started university and enjoyed beginning a new phase of my life.

I was taking medication that was being progressively lowered, but I was struggling to cope with warning signs as my mental illness again reared its head.

I experienced a relapse, but this was a constructive turning point in how I would handle my condition. It represented certainty and I learned of the permanency of my diagnosis. I became motivated to learn about bipolar, my own signs and symptoms and the coping strategies and self-care techniques I could use.

This nuanced understanding of myself, my illness and what tools worked for me have helped me manage my condition and live my life with bipolar having minimal impact.

I still see my psychiatrist routinely, though this is now infrequent, and I seek the support of those around me when I need it.

“I have learnt to say no, to prioritise time to rest my body and mind, to implement a strong sense of routine and scheduling, and to ensure I sleep adequately. I have activities I know help me to relax, energise or burn off steam, and I know when I need to use these to change my current behaviour.”

It took time to establish what methods worked for me. Combining these methods with new thought-based strategies that I am developing with my psychologist has, for now, completed my tool kit for managing my mental illness.

It may be in future that other things arise, and new instruments for coping may be added, or others taken away. I have established professional medical support, a help-seeking culture, medication regime, self-care and behavioural coping strategies which together ensure I stay at my optimal mental health as much as possible.

It was by no means an easy path, but it was an important one, for me and those around me. Now I have created my toolbox, I can take it anywhere, to use as needed to keep my condition in check in order to continue getting on with my life.

‘Be kind to your mind’ is an initiative of SANE Australia supported by Future Generation Global, in partnership with batyr.

 

Being Bold: Quarter One Update

Additional funding from the NSW State Government to support young people in mental health units.

Last year we began a pilot project using digital storytelling to help young people hospitalised in mental health units.  In March 2019 we received confirmation of additional funding for our Digital Peer Support Project. This allows us to extend the current pilot in the Child & Adolescent unit at Hornsby Hospital for a further six months, as well as implement the project in a new inpatient unit in the NSW public health system. The extension will enable more young people to benefit from the resource and it will enable batyr to increase our evaluation data. This data will be so valuable in acquiring further learnings on the use of digital support content in a young person’s treatment during hospitalisation.

We welcome 38 young mental health advocates to our herd.

We ran five Being Herd workshops in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney including a workshops in a new region for batyr; Bathurst.

The workshops aim to empower young people to share their experiences in a safe and confident way, knowing that their story matters and deserves to be ‘herd’.

Prior to the workshop, only 43% of participants rated their story as valid and 39% had high levels of confidence in sharing it. After the workshop this increased to 94% and 95% respectively.

“The workshop helped me to open up about vulnerabilities I didn’t even know I had. The supportive atmosphere helped me to understand just how impactful my story can be.

Tamworth Participant

We ran our first Being Herd Pathways workshop on the Central Coast, supporting 5 young people not in education, employments or training.

“Being Herd Pathways has been a fantastic experience. I feel more confident about living with mental ill health and allowing it to empower me as I enter the workforce and into the future.”

 Gosford Pathways Participant

4517 High School students heard relatable and positive stories about mental health care.

64 programs were delivered in the quarter across NSW, VIC, SA, QLD and ACT.

Our post program feedback across all programs showed that 2 out of 3 students were more likely to reach out for support after seeing our program.

Here is just one of the hundreds of messages we receive from students every time we run a [email protected] program.

“hi I just wanted to firstly comment on the speakers. I can’t even imagine getting up in front of so many strangers and laying it’s so bare. Kudos to you and your courage. I also like to thank you organisation for talking about this. It’s such an important topic, and I love the energy and passion you guys used in the presentation take care”

High School Student, Adelaide 

Supporting uni students in navigating their way through Uni and life.

20 uni programs delivered, reaching 1256 students. This is a great outcome considering most students don’t start back at Uni until March.

3 in 4 students said they were more likely to reach out for help after seeing a batyr program.

Below is just one quote from a Uni student on the impact of the program.

“It makes you feel less alone in your emotions and normalises it, making it ok not to be ok”

UTS student

What’s on your wellbeing To Do list?!

A few weeks ago we launched our batyr tram with a ‘To Do’ list campaign in Melbourne.

We were lucky enough to have been chosen as one of eight Yarra Trams community partners to share in $1 million of free advertising value on Melbourne’s iconic tram network in 2019

Our ‘Elephant Tram’ is helping us create a mentally healthy Australia by normalising conversations around mental health and encouraging people to take charge of their wellbeing each and every single day by featuring a wellbeing ‘To Do’ list. Let’s make sure mental health care is as regular a daily activity as feeding your fish or washing your undies! (We’re hoping everyone is regularly washing their undies)

Thanks to Stefan Hunt for the amazingly colourful and vibrant designs. 

We can’t wait to see the tram cruising the streets of Melbourne! If you want to check it out, it’s tram 3009 on route 109 zooming up and down Collins st! Make sure to send us a pic if you see it.

Amplifying the voices of young people through new projects and opportunities.

We submitted our response to the Australian Government Productivity Commission into mental health. A call out was made to the young people we work with to gain input for this important submission. According to their voices, research findings in Australia and our experiences in the mental health space, we strongly recommend the following areas of investment to see the necessary change:

  1. Prevention and education to reduce stigma
  2. The power of sharing lived experience to create change
  3. Community building to increase social inclusion and reduce isolation of young people

Speaker stories to inform policy and prevention strategies.

We have received funding from the National Mental Health Commission to run a thematic analysis research project on 100 speaker stories. Led by John Mendoza, director of ConNetica this analysis will identify unique themes to be used to inform policy, prevention and early intervention strategies and the training and development of healthcare professionals. This is an exciting new opportunity for batyr that will continue to highlight the value of lived experience stories in the sector.

Helping to create mentally healthy workplaces

One of our key partners UnLtd is leading the charge when it comes to supporting the media and marketing industry to create mentally healthy workplaces.

batyr were proud to be a key speaker at both of the events in Melbourne and Sydney alongside Mitch Wallis from the ‘Heart On My Sleeve’ movement and Relationships Australia. The event discussed how to make workplaces more supportive of good mental health, how to create a stigma-free culture and what to do when you become the ‘Accidental Counsellor’.

This quarter we will be running our [email protected] program for NGEN – a community for those with less than five years’ experience in the media industry.

If your workplace is interested in hearing more about our [email protected] program please contact our Partnerships Manager [email protected]

Events coming up!

Darkness Into Light –  On May 11th thousands of people in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Newcastle will be walking as dawn breaks to bring light to a topic often clouded in darkness and to raise funds for batyr. Get your tickets here!

Pitch2Punchline – On the 3rd of June people from the Media Industry will stand up at the famous Sydney Opera House to unearth the new comedic talent within the industry in support of batyr. Check out the event and grab your tickets here.

Orange Black Tie Scrum – Of the back of the Get Talkin Tour the Orange Black Tie Scrum has evolved with the goal to help batyr continuing to run programs for the local rugby community and schools within in the Central West region. Stay tuned for more details.

batyr’s Blue Tie Ball – Save the date for batyr’s annual Blue Tie Ball in Sydney. This year batyr’s signature event will be taking place on Saturday 14th September. More details to follow.

Flowers Across Sydney have chosen to support batyr in the month of April with 10% of sales of the rainbow rose going to batyr.  It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Board Announcement 2019

A note from our Founder and Chair of the Board

At the start of the year, at our annual batyr retreat, I had the privilege of doing a Q&A with the team. Whilst we covered many areas one stood out to me: the need for us to continue to ‘fall outwards’. To trust others so that collectively we can continue to seek the positive impact that our community needs.

Recently the batyr board implemented a significant change to the structure of batyr that calls on this mentality now more so than ever as we look to better enable innovation and strategy to truly see batyr flourish.

Going forward, we will be appointing an Advisory Panel of industry experts which will help with the strategic direction of batyr. The Advisory Panel will replace the role of CEO. We thank Jon Davies for his dedication to batyr over the last 12 months.

Below is an extract from Jon’s farewell note to the team:

“I’ve had a wonderful journey at batyr. The biggest highlight by far has been leading a team that relates to seeing a lived experience of mental ill health as a strength not a deficit.  A team in which 100% of us feel that someone at batyr cares for our wellbeing. No other organisation I know can boast this accolade. On top of our core business of our engaging upbeat programs we have started to innovate and pilot new ideas, digital stories and new pathways to employment. All towards batyr’s goal to reach 1 million people.  I have also been so lucky to hear some of the amazing stories from our herd; the unique analogies, the vulnerability, their inner strength always leaves me inspired. If you’re ever feeling the need for an uplift, I recommend you read a snowball from one of the school programs.”

We are where we are today because we have continued to back young people, and our team. And for those that don’t know me, I’m an all in type of person… and this strategy is no different.  

Over the coming year I hope you see, experience and interact with the numerous faces of the batyr family and the incredible leadership throughout it.  

To the students at schools and uni’s championing batyr Chapters, our speakers who now make up the largest youth lived experience network, our financial supporters and volunteers at numerous events and of course our incredible team… today I ask you to back yourselves and ‘fall outwards’, because today, tomorrow and every day, the batyr family backs you.

This is an exciting time for batyr. Whilst there are certainly some challenges ahead, we (on behalf of the Board) are all very optimistic and confident that the leadership team, along with the advisory panel, will play vital roles in steering our ship through this new uncharted territory. To understand a little more about our forward looking strategic perspective I encourage you to read this great blog by the legendary Nic Brown, General Manager of batyr.

Let’s continue to keep backing young people just like our Board is backing our team.

batyr we go!

Sebastian Robertson

batyr’s new strategic approach

Written by General Manager Nic Brown

A stampede of young people ready to share their stories

Over the past 8 years batyr has built a strong foundation to extend on the work the whole batyr community has contributed to achieving. Every year we help more and more young people share their stories and reach more students and workplaces with these stories. Smashing the stigma around mental health and changing attitudes toward reaching out for support continues to be core to what batyr does and this year through these programs alone we will reach almost 100,000 young people. In 2019 we move into a new and exciting phase for batyr that will see these foundations continue to grow and extend in new and innovative ways to continue to help us create a mentally healthy Australia. This year we will be introducing an Advisory Panel of industry experts to help with delivering on some key strategic objectives we have as an organisation.

What are these strategic objectives? We have identified three key areas this panel will assist with:

1. Firstly, for us to reach our goal of 1M young people by 2022 with stories of hope, recovery and resilience we know we need to investigate digital options. Collaboration with other organisations will be key in this approach and we look forward to building on these relationships. For years we have seen the incredible impact young people can have on policy makers, service providers and most importantly other young people when given the chance and we want to provide more opportunities for these voices to be amplified and these stories to be ‘herd.’ 

2. There continues to be additional mental health charities and organisations entering this space every day and doing great work. We want to ensure those organisations are supported to succeed and help find solutions to avoid duplication and amplify impact by coming together to leverage the strengths of all of these groups. The different communities these groups impact is diverse and far reaching and coming together will be key to ensuring all communities (especially those with the greatest need) feel connected, accepted and supported

3. batyr could not exist without the generous support from the broader community, whether that be through funding, volunteering, pro bono support or just backing us in or rocking up to events! Our corporate partners, regular givers, School and University partners, event organisers and committees and more recently Government have all contributed to us being where we are. We will always need that support and backing but we also understand we need to continually look for new ways to resource and fund reaching those that need these programs the most. We are regularly asked to go here or be there and we want to be able to reach whoever wants to be involved in the batyr mission.

I turn up to work every day so grateful for the people I get to do this work with and how they continue to push forward living out the batyr values of Positivity, Inclusiveness, Empathy, Balance with Boldness! I couldn’t be more confident in the legends behind what batyr does every day to take this opportunity ahead of us. The stories we hear every day continue to inspire us that in spite of the challenges there are options for young people, there are people willing to listen, there are support networks available. BUT there is always a need for more work to be done and changes to occur, to ensure all young people can and do access support when they need it, whatever that looks like for them.

As supporters I’m sure you’ve noticed our elephant mascot gives us plenty of analogies to play with and so I will finish with this; There is a stampede of young people ready to share their stories, young people that are strong and resilient and young people that we can’t wait to help be ‘herd.’

batyr we go!

Nic

If you missed the announcement from our Founder and Chair of the board about this new structure and focus for batyr, you can read all about it here.

 

batyr’s Submission for the Australian Government Productivity Commission

Written and Submitted by batyr’s National Program Manager, Stephanie Vasiliou

Stigma is an isolating barrier that prevents young people from reaching out for support if they need it (SANE, 2013). Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data shows only about 22% of young people experiencing a mental health issue seek help (2011). This tells us that over the years, a large proportion of the Australian population has been suffering in silence.

According to leading stigma reduction researcher Patrick Corrigan, one of the greatest ways to achieve behavioural change when it comes to stigma reduction is through the sharing of lived experiences coupled with education in a peer to peer way (Corrigan, 2011). batyr was started in 2011 structured off this evidence based model to see real change in Australian communities. batyr is a ‘for purpose’ preventative mental health organisation, created and driven by young people, for young people. batyr aims to smash the stigma surrounding mental ill health and empower young people to reach out for support if it is something they need.

batyr has trained over 600 young people to learn how to share their stories of hope and resilience in the community and have reached close to 180,000 people with these stories through our structured school, university and community programs. In 2017, Macquarie University conducted a randomised control trial investigating the efficacy of batyr’s school programs and found they reduced stigma in young people and increased intentions to seek help which was sustained at 3 months (Hudson, 2017). These programs all involved the sharing of lived experiences by young people.

A call out was made to the young people we work with to gain input for this important submission. According to their voices, research findings in Australia and our experiences in the mental health space, the following areas to invest in are being strongly recommended to see necessary change:

  1. Prevention and education to reduce stigma
  2. The power of sharing lived experience to create change
  3. Community building to increase social inclusion and reduce isolation of young people

1. Preventative education to reduce stigma

Mission Australia’s 2018 Youth Survey indicated that mental health was rated as the top issue in Australia by young people (Carlisle et al, 2018). A theme that has come through the 600+ stories we have heard by young people at batyr is that stigma has played a direct role in preventing many young people from not opening up about their experiences with mental ill health until they have reached crisis point. Many young people have shared about being subjected to stigmatised attitudes by other people, in addition to experiencing self-stigma. This contributes to mental ill health exacerbate over time, which often results in requiring more acute support.

Feeling stigmatised can have detrimental impacts including avoiding reaching out for support early, which not only impacts quality of life and places lives in danger, but creates strains on various health services including GP’s, hospitals and emergency services. Experiencing acute mental illness can have a significant impact on not only the individual’s personal life, such as family and relationship breakdown, but also has flow on effects such as requiring time off work or study. Research from the Black Dog Institute and Mission Australia adds that unemployment is linked with mental ill health in young people, which can affect a young person’s functioning and development in their short term and also their future (2016).

The financial strain in accessing mental health services and/or medication when they finally do access it ultimately compounds the mental ill health an individual may be experiencing. One of our participants who shared their thoughts for this submission reported that as a young adult, they are unable to rely on their parents’ financial support to help them access mental health services. This means that for three months of the year, they are out of pocket $2100 until they reach the threshold due to their psychiatrist’s fees. The financial strain during that time period is significant and contributes to their mental ill health and quality of life. In regards to the mental health care plan, it’s been reported by several young people we work with that the first few sessions are typically for a mental health professional and an individual to determine if they are a suitable match and to identify the best approach. Therefore, by the time therapeutic effects are beginning to be seen, the sessions covered by Medicare are done.

Recommendations

Investing in preventative education for young people is paramount for several aspects of a person’s life and for the country as a whole. Raising a generation of young people who develop the skills and resilience to manage their mental health early on in life is investing in their future as individuals and in the broader community. A ripple effect occurs where the individual experiences an all around higher quality of life. Beginning this in schools allows for an environment where young people are present, are already learning and are surrounded by structure. They have people who can empower them to make the most of support already around them. Additionally, education around how an individual can look out for their friends, take charge of their mental health through self-care and are educated on what services are in their local community they can access as a young person can positively contribute to reducing the above strains as well. This type of education can help ensure young people are taking charge of their mental health early on in life and are accessing support before they reach crisis point, which can reduce the financial burden on the health system.

In terms of the financial stressors on young people who actually are accessing help, reviewing the amount of sessions covered by the Mental Health Care Plan, in particular for more complex mental illnesses, can support people in getting the help they need before things progress due to being unable to afford services. Looking at a repayment option that involves a payment schedule would also be valuable.

Preventative education also contributes to building resilience and confidence in adolescence and can help equip young people for employment. Data from WayAhead Mental Health Association NSW indicates that young people who are unemployed are vulnerable due to high unemployment rates that exacerbate mental health issues (2017). According to Angela Smith, Group Account Director of the Roy Morgan Research, “failure to find a job can have serious implications on [a young person’s] self-esteem and general mental health.”

The need to support young people with a lived experience who are not in education, employment or training has been recognised as a priority issue by the NSW government that needs to be addressed through their Youth Employment Innovation Challenge. In 2018, 60 participants who completed batyr’s Being Herd speaker training workshop were asked what the top 3 employability skills they gained from the workshop were. Communication, self-management and teamwork were described. The top 3 personal strengths they gained from the workshop were empathy, honesty and adaptability. 80% of participants said that the workshop encouraged them to be more open with their mental health in the workplace. Furthermore, surveyed participants indicated their confidence in themselves was improved by over 90%. Developing important skills in not seeing lived experiences as a barrier from gaining employment, but viewing them as a strength has important impacts on a young person’s life and can prevent longer periods of unemployment. Investing in educating young people on preventative skills can also help decrease sick days for those who are working.

2. The power of sharing lived experience to create change

Input from students and speakers we work with who describe what it is often like living with mental ill health is that they feel alone and that no one can relate to what they’re experiencing. Many young people have shared they view their feelings as not being valid or that their symptoms are not “bad enough” to reach out. When navigating the mental health system, we hear a lot of young people discuss feeling demotivated by having to try multiple professionals before finding the right fit, and therefore they think they are alone in that and there is no hope. With services largely designed and implemented by adults for young people, it can also be difficult for young people to access useful types of support, and it can also be challenging to relate to an adult’s experience with mental ill health. What’s more is it can be hard to find a way to have a voice or give feedback to help the services that exist be more youth friendly and accessible based on individual needs, in particular to reflect diversity in people and in regions. Often a smaller number of big research bodies and service providers receive significant funding. This is great to expand their important work, however opportunities and resourcing for grassroots organisations to try and test new initiatives can make a big difference.

Recommendations

Investing in bringing young people to the forefront of government decisions and in having platforms to share their lived experiences safely to help other young people is an important recommendation. Corrigan states that in order to see positive change in attitudes and behaviours associated with stigma for young people, it is important they are hearing from people similar to them to increase impact since they will be seen as more relatable, and therefore more credible (2011). After each of batyr’s programs, feedback forms are distributed to gain input from the students. Over 6 years batyr surveyed 128,423 young people. Of those young people 90% indicated it is important to hear from other young people sharing real stories of mental health. Sharing lived experiences in a safe and effective way can help young people feel not so alone, and through hearing of real experiences navigating the health system, it educates people on what support is available and how to find the right fit and persevere. Stories of hope and resilience can model to others that it is possible to get through tough times and find ways to manage one’s wellbeing and that people care. Through hearing these stories in our structured programs, we have seen that 70% of young people who have seen a batyr preventative education program have reported being more likely to reach out for support if they need it. In comparison to 22% of Australians accessing help when needed, this change is hopeful for the potential that storytelling has to reduce stigma and help young people reach out.

Additionally, investing in the power of storytelling by young people for young people contributes to improvements in wellbeing for those sharing their stories. Common feedback from those trained to safely share their stories through batyr is that many experience a reduction in self-stigma, they feel their experience with a mental illness does not define them and won’t hold them back anymore, they believe they aren’t alone, they feel they can begin to share their experiences more openly with friends and family, and they gain a sense of empowerment to help even just one other person with their story. Gaining input from young people through their stories on what navigating the health system was for them can also help shape government decisions and how services look in Australia. This can be game changing for the country, and can result in a model that is reaching more young people early on.

3. Community building to increase social inclusion and reduce isolation of young people

A common piece of feedback we have received by the young people we work with is a feeling of isolation, which directly impacts a person’s wellbeing. A key area that has been highlighted is the isolation that exists in certain communities, particularly regional and rural areas in Australia. Information from ReachOut informs that social isolation, stigma, and barriers to accessing services all contribute to feelings of disconnect and even greater mental ill health (2017). Through our work in regional NSW, we’ve heard from various community members that there is a culture in their regions where people are told to “toughen up.” At the end of 2018 during a batyr program in Gunnedah, NSW, two males drove from hours away to attend. They shared their experiences that they were raised to never talk about their feelings and decided it was important they learned to help the younger generations in their communities not feel so isolated considering the suicide rates in their areas.

Recommendations

Investing in building communities for young people to feel connected to others will have countless positive impacts in all regions. There are a large amount of volunteer run organisations, in particular in regional and rural areas (volunteer emergency services, SES, Rotary, Lions Club, church and religious groups, sport clubs, CWA etc.) that have dual purposes of helping others, while contributing to a sense of belonging to those who serve in them. In regional Australia, a lot of these groups form the bedrock of the communities they belong to. Investing in educating these groups on mental health and wellbeing can help re-engineer existing communities to have a more positive view on mental health. This can increase the capacity for social inclusion and remove the barriers that prevent people from connecting in meaningful ways. Funding into programming that can help engage, educate and empower community groups can begin shifting the conversations happening around mental health, help people feel more comfortable to connect, and can create better informed role models and cultures for community groups that afford so many Australians a more meaningful life. Through this investment, local community members can continue driving their own change to see long-term, sustainable change.

Additionally, through education, we can foster opportunity for communities (whether it be school, universities, workplaces or towns) to use the same language and increase awareness to look out for themselves and each other. An example of a community working hard to change the language around mental health in their community is Cobar, NSW. Community members reached out to batyr to run programming at the local high school and for the community. 545 people were reached to start having positive conversations on mental health. Local services, schools, businesses, mines and sport clubs all got together to drive change. Local business owners even began wearing batyr’s fluoro sport socks to work as a visual representation to show the young people in the community that they were happy to talk about mental health and were there to connect with. Through connection and more open conversations happening on mental health, young people can be supported earlier on, which also places less reliance on acute care in these regions which is already under resourced and hard to geographically access for many.

Conclusion

Investing in preventative education, the safe sharing of lived experience and reshaping the culture of mental health in community groups can all reduce stigma, increase help-seeking and foster connection that is imperative for all people. Through these investments, we can expect to see:

  •   improved quality of life through life-long skill development when it comes to managing wellbeing
  •   more young people engaged in employment
  •   reduced reliance on acute services
  •   increased connection of people who are looking out for each other
  •   empowered young people who are brought to the centre of these conversations to create sustainable change and obtain the greatest return on these investments.

References

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2011. Young Australians: Their health and wellbeing. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Carlisle, E., Fildes, J., Hall, S., Hicking, V., Perrens, B. and Plummer, J. 2018, Youth Survey Report.

Corrigan, P. (2011) Best practices: Strategic stigma change (SSC).  Psychiatric Services Aug;62(8):824-6.

Hudson, J. (2017). Stigma-reduction and help-seeking in Australian classrooms. Macquarie University.

Mission Australia & Black Dog Institute (2016). Youth Mental Health Report.

ReachOut (2017). What you need to know about youth mental health in regional Australia.

SANE Australia 2013. A life without stigma: A SANE Report. SANE Australia.

WayAhead (2017) The impacts of unemployment on youth mental health.

batyr welcomes $2.8m investment to amplify the voices of young people online

A very exciting and significant announcement regarding mental health and the voices of young people in Australia has been made by the Federal Government today.

batyr will receive $2.8 million under the Coalition Government to amplify the voices of young people with lived experience of mental ill-health to help their peers. The funding is the first amount of federal funding awarded to batyr and is part of the $460 million dedicated to youth mental health and suicide prevention in the Morrison governments 2019 budget announcement.

Young Australians will be able to access and hear positive stories about mental health from their peers anytime, anywhere, in a safe, relatable, and engaging new digital platform.

With mental health being the number one issue of national concern for young people in Australia, the platform will give young people the opportunity, scale and accessibility needed to create real change and reform.

The $2.8million commitment will go a long way to amplifying the important voices of young people with a lived experience.  Since 2011 batyr has used the power of storytelling and connection to engage, educate and empower over 180,000 young people to take charge of their mental health.

“Storytelling is at the heart of everything batyr does and we know this model of peer-to-peer contact is effective in changing stigmatising behaviours and attitudes to help seeking. This funding provides an incredible opportunity to amplify the voices of young people and provide a platform for them to be heard on a digital scale.”
Nic Brown, General Manager at batyr.

batyr look forward to partnering with researchers, service providers, mental health organisations and young people to inform the approach and ensure the platform creates ongoing impact.

This commitment from the government is part of a $730 million investment in to mental health in Australia – the largest single investment ever into mental health. batyr welcomes the increase in funding to mental health services and the commitment from the Government to expand Headspace’s existing services  for young people, including funding to open 30 new centres and reduce waiting lists for services.

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