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Headspace and Yahoo!7 wage war against mental illness stigma
Terry (centre) and some of the hY NRG group

It took three years, a suicide attempt and years of addiction before Terry sought help.

He was 17-years-old and had spent the last few years drifting from friends’ couches to cheap motels.

While everything looked fine on the surface, inside Terry was dealing with the turmoil of witnessing two of his closest friends take their own lives and losing two more to suicide.

“Seeing what happened to my friends when they didn’t seek help crushed me. I was afraid of what people would think of me and I turned to drugs as an escape.”

On the morning of his 16th birthday, something needed to change and he made the decision to give up drugs.

It took another year before he realised something else was wrong and took the first step in seeking help.

He visited his local headspace drop-in centre and found he wasn’t alone in facing the issues of mental illness.

Headspace is the National Youth Mental Health Foundation and is funded by the Australian Government. It focuses on improving mental health for people aged 12-25.

With the help of psychologists and youth participation officers, he realised mental illness had surrounded him for years.

“I didn’t realise that 30% of adolescents had thought about suicide at some point in their lives and what I was feeling wasn’t so uncommon.”

Fast forward twelve months, Terry is now sharing his story as a representative of headspace’s Youth National Reference Group (hY NRG), to help other young people break through the stigma.

He and 11 other hY NRG members joined 15 Yahoo!7 employees at the Media and Mental Health conference in Sydney this weekend.

The aim was to build a relationship between the media and mental health sectors, and to give young people a voice for their stories, using creative mediums such as blogs, video and photo essays.

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Stories like Terry’s are all too common, according to headspace’s Marketing Manager Sarah Shiell.

“1 in 4 young people have a mental health issues and 75% of those don’t seek help,” she told the conference.

“By sharing young peoples’ stories and showing it doesn’t have to rule your life, our aim is to encourage people to get help early, check in with mates or get help with counselling services.”

The prevalence of mental health in young people is something that concerns headspace’s Youth Participation Officer Laura Baruch.

“I think the speed at which society has evolved has had an effect on young people and their mental health. The availability of drugs and alcohol combined with social media and not having enough to do means that they end up isolating themselves, which isn’t helpful.”

It was her own experiences with mental health that encouraged Yahoo!7’s Chief Operating Officer Kath Hamilton to approach headspace.

“Yahoo!7 has a high percentage of young staff and in my experience managing them, that first step to get help is the most challenging. I had heard about headspace and the great work they were doing through some of my team. “

Headspace representative Maddie composed this photo essay during the conference to highlight issues facing the young people of Broome and to raise awareness of Headspace and its key messages.

For Kath, changing media perception and reducing stereotypes is a key step in breaking down mental health stigma and encouraging young people to get help.

“I’d like to create awareness for the general public and make people realise mental health issues are a common every day challenge for many people. Telling a personal story is not only beneficial for the person suffering, it’s also beneficial for loved ones who struggle to realise they’re not alone.”

She added that in society, stereotypes are an easy way to label people.

“It’s a shortcut, like religion, like any cultural background. It’s an easy way to categorise someone. ”

Judgement is something Laura sees all the time in her work.

“There’s an assumption that young people with mental health problems don’t actually have an illness and people think they should get over it, which is not the case.”

hY NRG member Summah believes the group telling stories in their own words will help break the stigma of mental illness.

“People struggle in life whether they have mental illness or not. A lot of us have very relatable stories which people from all walks of life can understand.

“Our stories will be put in a place where people will see it and where it will impact the audience. I think continuing that relationship is really important because it’s going to create awareness.”

The stories will be promoted on Yahoo!7 in Mental Health Week in October. However for Kath, this won’t be the end of the partnership with headspace.

“It’s an ongoing relationship to make sure we can get those stories out to the seven million people we reach every month.”

For Terry, opportunities such as this continue to motivate and inspire him to carry on his work in the promotion of mental health.

“I still face mental health issues and not only does telling my story help me, but it can help others realise they’re not alone. I want people to realise there are always people willing to listen.”

For more details about headspace, visit www.headspace.org.au. To access online counselling services, visit www.eheadspace.org.au

If you or someone you know may be at risk of suicide contact beyondblue 1300 22 46 36, Lifeline 13 11 14 or Salvo Care Line 1300 36 36 22.