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New mental health program targets young people in drought-affected Australia

Monday April 16, 2007

Australian Red Cross and beyondblue: the national depression initiative are about to begin a groundbreaking mental health project targeting young people in drought affected areas across Queensland, NSW and Victoria.

The project will train young people to provide support to peers who may be experiencing depression, anxiety or other mental health problems.

Announcing the program at the beginning of National Youth Week, Australian Red Cross CEO Robert Tickner said : 'Our experience backs up research which shows young people are likely to turn to each other first when dealing with these sort of problems and it is vital that they are better equipped to help their mates'.

'Our goal is to train 2000 young people in awareness about mental health and in how to help their mates who may be experiencing difficulties.

We also aim to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and to encourage young people to seek professional assistance early,' Mr Tickner said.

'The incidence of depression is the same in rural and metropolitan areas, but there are more suicides in country areas, particularly among men -- and untreated depression is a major risk factor for suicide.'

beyondblue CEO Leonie Young said: 'It's important that young people look, listen and act. Notice how you're mates are travelling. Listen when they talk about how they're feeling and assist them to get help if they're having a tough time and you're worried about them.'

'People living in rural communities are less aware of depression than urban residents and have fewer available health services -- this is precisely why this program is so crucially important.'

The project, which will kick off next month, forms part of the response by beyondblue and Australian Red Cross to drought-affected communities where a gap has been identified in addressing the needs of young people.

It will build on the success of the pilot program delivered by ARC and beyondblue late last year called Talk Out Loud, which trained 200 young people in NSW and SA.

That pilot has just been evaluated by the Hunter Institute for Mental Health which found:

  • increased knowledge and understanding of mental health and mental illness among the young participants
  • decreased stigma around mental illness
  • increased self-reported confidence of workshop participants to engage and discuss with peers about mental health and mental illness-related issues
  • increased engagement with family and friends about mental health and mental illness following 'Talk Out Loud' training
Some quotes from participants:

I told my next door neighbour that I went to this training session and it was interesting and she asked me what it was about, and I was telling her about it and a couple of days later I found out she went and saw someone to see if she had a mental illness. It turns out she has now been diagnosed and is getting counselling. I thought it was really good and even if it is just one person it makes a real difference.

Working at a local government service we are aware of the suicide statistics in the area and we were concerned about this. Because it is such a taboo subject, and an end point that we want to prevent, we want to tackle the issues in the community and help young people. When we heard about it we were searching for something like this. We are now on the waiting list to have the course delivered. We want to roll it out and get it out there to as many people as possible in the community. We have had a lot of parents and young people who say what can we do. Young people are saying I have no idea what to say to my friend but I am worried about them. It's coming from every level and every age group. It's not just for young people. The course caters for everyone.

For me it just understands that I have certain triggers that if I don't address them at that time can lead to me having poor mental health. It made me understand there are certain things I can do that can keep me healthy in that respect.

It really helped me personally. I realise if I feel upset I can talk to someone.

It taught me how to 'Talk Out Loud'. For me it was the awareness factor. This is the point where you sort of go I can't drive myself anymore. You need to understand that this is something that anyone who is normal faces. Understand that you need to relax and slow down.

Providing that ear for your friends, taking that time out and letting them know you are there for them.