Rant: Ask for help, help end the stigma

It is a dreary Wednesday morning in an underheated school auditorium. An audience of Year 7 girls flow into their seats begrudgingly, probably because it is 8:45am. This could go so many ways. I’ll switch on the charm and have them hooked, I’ll drown in deathly silence or I’ll be mauled in the lioness’ den as their zookeepers – I mean teachers – feebly watch on.

It comes with the territory working for a prominent youth health service, captivating an audience while also discussing potentially sensitive and difficult topics like mental health.

It is not until after the workshop the real work begins. It happens quite suddenly, a cacophonous sound, a mass exodus of students rush for any and all exits. Few remain, perhaps unsure how to approach a 6’3′ giant and have the courage to genuinely ask how to find help or be told what they’re going through is normal.

Well, let me say having a tough time is totally normal. We are not perfect and we are not immune to the oscillating nature of life. However when this impacts on day-to-day function, doing activities, seeing people we love (or perhaps tolerate with love) and meeting basic needs this is when mental wellness transforms into illness.

It is not surprising that every year, four in every sixteen young Aussies experience a mental health issue. But three of those four people won’t get the help they need. There are many reasons why, but stigma plays a major role.

Not seeking help can have negative effects like making it harder to finish study, get a job and maintain friendships.

We are fortunate to have federal and state funded youth mental health services that provide the support necessary to help young people and their families through tough times. I advocate for improved awareness in terms of how we communicate and characterise mental health day to day. Self-education, improving mental health literacy and addressing ‘The Big Stigma’ in our dealings with each other have a deep impact, especially in reducing the internalisation of the negative connotations regarding mental health.

If you or someone you know is going through a tough time, there are many evidence-based support services operating to help capacity-build your confidence in seeking help. First point of call could be your trusted family doctor, who will be able to demystify any hairy questions you may not think you can ask just anyone. Online services such as Reachout, BeyondBlue and headspace have a plethora of information tailored to young people, friends and parents and guardians.

Learning more about mental health or realising something might not be OK can be confronting. But even asking one question could make a difference. Whatever that question is, it may be one step towards positive change, not just for yourself, not just for your loved ones, but also for the  whole community.

Remember you’re not alone, we’ve got your back.

Words by Hayden Fletcher, Ashfield headspace