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batyr adds young voices to VIC Mental Health Royal Commission

July 17, 2019

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The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System has entered its third week and batyr has added its submission to make young voices heard.

Since 2011, batyr has trained close to 700 young people to share their stories of resilience living with mental ill-health and how they reached out for support.

These experiences provide valuable insight into the realities of navigating the mental health system and, as such, batyr believe the Victorian government should focus on:

  •   Investment into prevention and early intervention to reduce stigma, increase help-seeking and equip young people with the skills to take charge of their mental health.
  •   Amplification of the voices of young people, ensuring lived experience is central to policy development, service provision and research.
  •   Creation of a whole community approach in Victoria to normalise the conversation around mental health.
  •   Collaboration within the mental health space across the whole sector.

Speaking as a witness on the very first day of public hearings, batyr ambassador Nic Juniper said that their voice was their most powerful asset so speaking up about VIC’s mental health system was important.

“Our services cannot handle the current demand of people needing support and many of us fall through the cracks,” they said.

“Mental Illness can make us feel alone, afraid and silenced, but as more and more of us start these conversations, we can create a space for positive change.”

“We all deserve to feel supported, cared for and listened to, and I hope that the Royal Commission will show Australia that we are in desperate need of systemic change, so we can all live to our fullest potential.”

batyr is working to create a space for positive change and we believe the above focus areas are crucial in achieving this.

Peer-to-peer programs 

Peer-to-peer programs are a powerful way to reduce stigma and promote help-seeking behaviour among people experiencing mental ill-health. 

The experience for many young people living with mental-ill health is one of social and self-stigma that leads to isolation, discrimination which, in turn, creates barriers to reaching out for support. This is particularly critical for young people transitioning from school to university or the workforce.

Over the past 6 years, batyr have surveyed 142,905 young people and 90% have indicated that it is important to hear from other young people sharing real stories of mental health. 

However, safe and quality storytelling needs to be a priority for the Victorian government in order to avoid triggering, contagion or harm to participants (see Mindframe Guidelines, 2019). Our submission recommends creating a standardised evaluation process for education and program providers to ensure best practice.

Effectively engaging young people is pivotal to improving the capacity of the Victorian mental health system and reducing the financial burden because it’s a time when many mental illnesses being emerging.

It helps to cultivate a generation of young people who develop the skills and resilience to manage their mental health early on in life, invests in their future as individuals and in the broader community. 

Integration of lived-experience voices in service design

Many of batyr’s speakers describe their first experience with a psychologist being difficult, that they did not feel listened to or understood, and then felt deterred from reaching out again. 

Youth-specific services help to rectify this but long waitlists at headspace centres or university counsellors, for example, do not allow for responsive care when someone is finally taking the first step of reaching out. 

Other speakers describe judgement from professionals such as a GP not taking their eating disorder seriously as they were not underweight. 

Stigma and discrimination around mental ill health have a significant impact on communities that are already experiencing other kinds of discrimination like minority or fringe communities.

Supporting programs tailored to the specific needs and experiences of those groups are important for reducing social and self-stigma. 

These minority groups include the deaf community, LGBTIQ+ community, CALD communities, ATSI communities, low SES groups or people living with disabilities.

For example, within the LGBTIQ+ community, there are higher prevalence rates of mental ill health than for those who do not identify with the community which has been linked to experiences of discrimination (Beyond Blue, 2013). This can also inhibit young LGBTIQ+ people reaching out to professional services as these spaces are not always safe or free from discrimination

Similarly, people who experience more complex mental ill health such as schizophrenia and bipolar also experience higher levels of stigma around their mental ill health (Sane Australia, 2018).

There is a huge amount of work to be done to ensure that services are responsive, professionals properly trained and are appropriate for particular experiences. 

Lived-experience stories help to shed light on the realities and difficulties of the help-seeking process as well as what worked

Embedding peer workers across all service delivery

There is incredible value in peer work and this must be truly recognised to attract, retain and support peer workers in the mental health sector. 

This can be done through training that respects and values the knowledge and skill that comes from experiencing mental ill health and providing the right opportunities.

Since our inception in 2011, we’ve had over 1,500 young people express interest in doing our Being Herd program to become a batyr speaker. 

This training harnesses that passion and provides them an opportunity to become an advocate and use their experiences to make positive change in their communities. 

From our perspective, remuneration is an important element of valuing lived-experience and we believe that all peer work should be properly reimbursed.

A whole community approach 

To create real cultural change and a lasting impact, a peer to peer approach needs to be adopted across all levels of the community. 

That is why our programs involve entire school communities with Parent Forums and Teacher Professional Development programs that allow entire communities to share in positive conversations around mental health. 

Young people in school, specifically, are surrounded by structure so their support network (teachers, parents, guardians, carers, family members, relatives and other family friends) also need to feel empowered to provide support.

Similarly, our work programs focus on reducing mental ill-health stigma, debunking myths and improving wellbeing for employees, employers and coworkers.

Rural communities need particular support

Social isolation, communities with high levels of stigma and a lack of access to or understanding of services make it hard for people to experience good mental health. We know that is a critical problem in regional communities like Gunnedah where we have run programs.

Building supportive communities, improving awareness and access to services and linking people into those services will improve these outcomes. 

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. 

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.

More training and employment opportunities leads to positive outcomes

Mental ill-health not only limits people’s social and economic participation in the Victorian Community, but a lack of opportunities can increase people’s risk of mental health issues. 

One such demographic of individuals within the Victorian community who’s opportunities can be limited by their mental ill-health are young people not in education, employment or training (NEET). 

It has been found that 60% of NEET young people experience mental ill-health and based on research done in Australia, one in five young people seeking help for mental health problems were not in any form of education, employment and training. (O’Dea B, Glozier N, Purcell R 2014)  

Being Herd Pathways is helping young people to overcome these challenges but more investment is needed to provide more employment and training opportunities for young people.

Increasing collaboration within the mental health space

The Fifth National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan (2017) focuses on eight priority areas for a national approach to suicide prevention. 

It is a complex issue that requires a coordinated and integrated effort by all elements of the mental health sector to reduce rates of suicide. 

Suicide Prevention Australia (SPA), for example, play a critical role bringing together organisations from across the sector to find solutions to reduce suicide rates. 

Collaboration, such as the work being done by SPA, is proving incredibly effective and needs to be encouraged across all levels.

To achieve positive mental health outcomes for young people, young voices need to be central to any recommendations handed down by the Royal Commission,” said batyr National Programs Manager Stephanie Vasiliou.

“Preventative mental health education that empowers young people to take charge of their wellbeing and reach out for support early, we believe, will reduce the strain on Victoria’s mental health system and improve the quality of life that young people deserve.”

“ Lived experience is essential in making service provision more effective for young people in need of support.”

We look forward to reading the final recommendations from the Royal Commission which we expect to be released by November this year.

If you would like to learn how to share your lived experience with mental ill-health like Nic Juniper, please register your interest to attend a ‘Being Herd’ workshop.