Unfortunately, we have witnessed the sad passing of several beautiful people recently who have succumb to the incredible weight of depression. With the news this morning of the young G.R.L member Simone Battle passing away over the weekend, and speculation again pointing towards suicide, I felt it necessary to share an article we collaborated with Sarah from Headspace [ISSUE #15] on depression in young people.
Mental health issues have many names. From depression, anxiety to PTSD – the list goes on. Looking back on depression and the social definition, case studies have provided an ‘in-the-box’ impression of how someone suffering with a mental health problem ‘should’ appear. However, the reality is that depression comes in all forms and is not restricted to age, aka a mid-life crisis phase.
In 2003, The Sydney Morning herald reported that, “Pressure to perform in the HSC contributes to one in 11 adolescent suicides in NSW.” The issue of pressure on students leading to mental health problems, and suicide, made headlines 11 years ago and a growing awareness of depression in young people has followed since. It is the rapid growth of the ‘mental health issue’ that led local Shire girl, Sarah Rose Scales, towards her passion and chosen field of working with youth.
I AM: Your work with Youth Mental Health Organisation, Headspace, has a strong focus on assessing and assisting University students, why?
Sarah: With exam stress & transition from High School, University students are a strong target group for Headspace. Also, students who have suffered anxiety or mental issues before entering Uni, we want to bring awareness to what’s available on campus and through headspace to assist them. We are partnered with other faculties within Sydney Uni campaigning for mental health awareness around the campus. We are focused on reducing the stigma around depression and mental health issues, we want to encourage people to get help.
I AM: Are uni students really that open to admitting they are not coping?
Sarah: Yes and no. At a recent wellbeing fair, held on campus, students were given the opportunity to write a message about how they feel about mental health on a sign. The message was then photographed with the writer holding it. These photographs were then turned into a large banner that can be seen by all students that walk by. The banner was placed as an opportunity to tell students that they are not alone if they are having these feelings. It was a message to sufferers, who may feel they are alone, that fellow students understand or are even experiencing what they are feeling. Again, it’s about removing the stigma of, “let’s not talk about the fact that we are really not okay”. We want young people to know they will not be judged, that they have access to and will be provided with the assistance they need.
I AM: With statistics revealing the need for more awareness in High School, is this something you believe should be taught to students before University?
Sarah: We [Headspace] would love to hold the forum, similar to the Uni one, at High Schools. Suicide is the highest cause of youth death. I attended a ‘minding your mental health’ forum at State Parliament earlier this year and there were a lot of HSC students attending. When they were asked why they were there, they confirmed their awareness of students suffering with mental illness and the presence of suicide. I believe every school should have [mental health education] as part of their curriculum. Anxiety issues are so common across Australia in all ages. Early intervention and awareness will give people a better chance at a healthier mental state.
I AM: It sounds like we are still stuck in our old ways of not talking about it. How will we break away from this ineffective mentality?
Sarah: Mental health is a growing problem and it’s presence alone is now demanding a change.
Organisations like [Batyr] move around to schools with guest speakers who have life experience in what it’s like to suffer with mental illness. High school students are still very young and respond well to people they can relate to. People who look normal and have normal lives and jobs. It is therefore easier for the students to be able to put themselves in their shoes. These public discussions take the, “it will never happen to me”, expectation away. By getting to these students quite young we are effectively breaking down the walls of the old ways.
I AM: On a personal note, when did you discover you had a passion in the field of Mental Health?
Sarah: I studied a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Psychology and Sociology and from there my plan was to follow a career in Psychology. However, after doing that degree I found I had a stronger passion for helping youth. For me the thought of a child or teenager suffering so intensely that suicide becomes the only option, breaks my heart because I know this is something that can be prevented.
I AM: Let’s say, Mum or Dad is worried about the mental health or happiness of their child, what is your advice for them?
Sarah: Try communication first. It’s not uncommon for the child to say they’re okay, when they’re not. Use your parental instincts if communication is limited or stressful. At Headspace we encourage flexibility and allow the family to come in as a group. This can make the child feel more comfortable, it can also remove feelings of being singled out. You can also ask your child if they would like a friend to go with them. Headspace is open to all children from the age of 12 – 25 years and is a youth friendly, supportive and comfortable space.
I AM: What do you want people to understand about Mental Health?
Sarah: You are not alone. Mental Health issues are very common and just like physical health, you should seek help when something doesn’t feel right. Mental Health should be regarded with the same seriousness as physical health, as it can be a serious debilitating condition. If you have a pain in your chest, you go to the Doctor for a heart health check up, if you’re not ‘feeling well’ in your head … seek help.
Headspace is a National Youth Mental Health Foundation funded by the Commonwealth Government of Australia. Their purpose is to provide health advice, support and information to 12-25 year olds experiencing tough times. Although Headspace is funded by a government body, centres rely on support from the community to deliver additional programs that assist in a range of services including; education, employment and counselling for drug and alcohol abuse.
Headspace recently opened their doors in Miranda. For more information on Headspace and the services they provide please head to: http://www.headspace.org.au