batyr study finds common themes in a young person’s mental health recovery

Being Herd Stories

16 March 2020, AustraliaYouth mental health organisation batyr has just completed a massive study, analysing 83 lived experience stories from its Herd of young lived experience speakers (aged 18-30) to find common themes in their mental health journey.

Self-acceptance/acceptance from others, finding professional help that fits their needs, and having an anchor person to provide unconditional support were identified as key turning points in the transition to recovery.

“Although we have heard these themes spoken about countless times by participants through our Being Herd program, we were still surprised by how universal they were,” batyr Being Herd program manager Rob O’Leary said.

Being Herd Stories: Thematic Insights, Analysis and Recommendations, undertaken with the support of ConNetica and the National Mental Health Commission, represents a collective narrative of a self-selected group of younger Australians and their experiences of hardship, mental ill-health and recovery in the early 21st Century.

What did we find out?

An ‘anchor’ person is pivotal

In 9 out of 10 stories, receiving unconditional love and unwavering support from at least one other person, an ‘anchor’ person, was a critical element in transitioning to recovery and sustaining wellbeing.

In many cases, they were key to someone taking their first steps in recovery.

Parents (most often a mum), a sibling, a friend, a teacher, a sporting coach and sometimes a healthcare professional were the most common anchor people in a young person’s mental health journey.

After opening up to her Mum, one young person involved in the study said that they “instantly felt this weight lift off their shoulders”.

Another stated that they were “relieved” that they were able to “speak openly and honestly” to someone they trusted, and that “this was the first of many conversations” that helped them to better manage their anxiety.

“The impact an anchor person could have on a young person’s journey was remarkable. That said, it’s definitely not always easy to support someone who is experiencing mental-ill-health – holding space for others can also impact on our own mental health,” Rob said.

Finding a healthcare professional that ‘clicks’

Finding an effective professional/s that young people felt comfortable and connected with was identified in almost all stories (95 per cent) as pivotal to sustained recovery.

Psychologists were the most frequently cited healthcare professionals. 

Some young people spoke of the need to “shop around” to find a psychologist who best aligned with personal needs and to definitely not give up if the first experience with a psychologist was not positive. Persistence paid off. 

The importance of these professionals underlines the need to:

  • ensure that young people understand that they have choices when it comes to selecting and ‘staying the course’ with a therapist
  • manage expectations that not all healthcare professionals are adept at working with young people
  • understand that at different points in one’s recovery, different healthcare professionals will be required to continue improving health and wellbeing
  • encourage young people to persist in reaching out for help in order to find adequate professional support.

Finding acceptance 

While almost every storyteller referred to early encounters with healthcare professionals, including school-based counsellors, as ineffective, a number of them recognised at later points that the barrier to engagement lay with themselves in relation to their willingness to “reach out” for help and not the caregiver.

Some also shared that these negative emotions were acutely felt even if they came from an affluent background, as they felt they had no right to feel such high levels of despair. 

For some, these feelings of shame, guilt and unworthiness effectively blocked out the efforts of others to ‘reach in’ and provide compassion, support, referral or professional care.

Addressing this challenge requires self-acceptance on the part of the young person, to recognise that their experience is valid.

A roadmap for the future

This analysis serves as a great foundation for batyr’s work plan going forward, and we are endeavouring to implement all the recommendations.

Early conversations and empowering ‘anchor people’

Providing more training and education opportunities to empower ‘anchor people’ with the skills, confidence and knowledge to begin early conversations and maintain support is critical.

Confident anchor people encourage young people to share their stories without fear of judgement, shame or rejection. 

The training should include the skills to assist young people in developing an action plan that moves them to a “better place”, receive help sooner and restore a sense of hope and confidence in the future. 

The training should also focus on how anchor people can support themselves through a range of self-care strategies.

Multi-year collaborative school program project

The study recommends that all schools have evidence-based social and emotional learning programs from K-12.

The analysis found that universities are doing well in providing flexible study pathways, on-campus support services and greater awareness on mental health issues. For schools, the story is more mixed with both examples of proactive school policy and practices and the complete absence of such in relation to bullying, the stress of exams and the development of mental ill-health. 

There was also minimal evidence in these stories of schools having in place social and emotional learning programs to support the development of personal resilience, coping skills and interpersonal effectiveness. 

This is a major system level challenge and batyr is planning to work and collaborate with other organisations to have these programs run in schools.  

Expanding on navigating transitions 

Our programs, particularly our school-based ‘Future Proof’ program, cover the topic of key transitions in a young person’s life and the stress that can come with that.

This includes changing schools and the transition from school to university or further education.

However, the findings from the analysis highlight the opportunity to expand on this, such as the transition from uni to the workplace.

batyr looks forward to working with organisations to implement these recommendations and we want to thank ConNetica and the National Mental Health Commission for their continued support to make this comprehensive study a reality.

If you’re in need of support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.

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