Youth opening up

OPEN up as soon as you can, lean on the people around you and seek support when you are struggling.

This is the message from the Swan Hill headspace youth reference group on Mental Health Week.

Kaita Adams, Shyloe Salter-Fear, Laura Piosik and Brizayah Clifford work to help shape the provision of services to local youth in the area, and told The Guardian the more people opening up about their mental health the stronger the community.

Mental Health Week runs from October 5 to 11 and the 2019 theme asks residents Mental Health: What do you know?

The group has been working for about 12 months now, and has engaged in a range of activities and initiatives to get younger residents thinking, and talking about their mental health.

"We're just a group of young people who speak on behalf of the youth in the community and help headspace to find new ways to engage with us in the best possible way," Brizayah said.

Kaita said youth involvement in the service allowed for a "fresh, younger perspective of things that could happen in the community".

Recent activities have included an update of the headspace website video, and efforts to make the referral pathway clearer and a little less daunting.

The group members had a range of perspectives on why Mental Health Week was important to them, but all centered around the importance of people feeling they can speak up, and be listened to, when they are struggling with their mental health.

For Kaita, the week highlighted the importance of being able to "open up and feel comfortable with where you are in life and with your mental health".

"It's just about being able to help each other out and being there to support people that may feel uncomfortable, and making sure they know it's okay to speak up," he said.

"Like we have been saying all day, everyone has bad days, headspace has got your back if you need to chat."

Laura added it was crucial for people to know they were not alone.

"It's important that people see there are places they can go and there are people they can speak to and not feel alone, and just see that it is fine not to feel happy all the time," she said.

"If you have a crappy day then it's okay to have one, there are people who can help you.

"I think it is really important that message gets out there and people know that."

Shyloe said the various mental health days, weeks and headspace initiatives and activities served as a good reminder for people to check in with themselves on their mental health and how they're feeling.

'It's good that it keeps you on track and it refreshes your memory to remind you that 'Yes, okay, I do need to continue to work on myself, or to do things to improve my mental health, or make me feel better'," she said.

"Or even to do something for the ones around you to make your friends and family feel better about themselves as well, it's like a reminder."

Brizayah said involving the younger generation also went a long way to reducing the stigma around mental health.

"It's really good for youth leaders at school and everything to get involved with it all, so youth can see other youth getting involved and that helps to reduce the stigma around mental health, which is the overall aim of Mental Health Week," she said.

"I don't think the stigma is as bad, and as we talk about it more and headspace visits schools and kind of engages with the community, the word will get out there a lot easier."

Shyloe and Kaita said having a service such as headspace come to town had resulted in more people feeling they can open up.

"I think it has increased at a rapid rate the amount of people actually opening up, which is good," Kaita said.

"I have seen it at school a lot, people will be more confident, open and less scared.

"Some people who have been closed off for the longest time, they are now interacting with more people and I think headspace is a good provider for that kind of thing."

The group said while they believe the community is aware of the services and support available, seeking help remained a difficult step to take.

"I think people are aware (of the services available), it is just the courage to speak up or the courage to push yourself to do that," Kaita said.

"Everybody is scared they are going to get judged, or they think this isn't normal, but as was said before, that's why this is good, everybody has bad days and it's okay to feel crappy sometimes."

Speaking from personal experience, Brizayah said she had recommended a few friends to go to headspace, and even had her mum recommend to her she try it out, "just to have someone extra to talk to".

"Other than that, seeking help at school, hanging out with friends and just doing the things that you love is important to remind yourself of the positives in life and that everything is not just the issue that you might be facing at the time," she said.

Laura said it didn't matter who you opened up to if you are struggling, just so long as you speak to someone.

"I feel like the whole communication thing is the most important because it doesn't matter who you talk to, family or friends, just so long as you are bringing it out and not just keeping it inside," she said.

"That's where it starts and when you start feeling better, and not just keeping to yourself.

"And everyone needs to know it is okay to feel every feeling you are, I liken it to when you say you want to cry and keep crying, and a lot of people say 'Oh it's not that bad, you don't need to cry'.

"But I feel like it's the same as what if someone tells me a joke and I laugh and then they say 'Oh you know, it wasn't that funny you don't need to laugh'.

"I think it's important we can feel that."

Kaita said anyone who notices a friend or a loved one struggling should try to talk to them.

"If you're seeing your friends struggle, it is a good chance to try and communicate with them and see if they can open up to you a bit, and see if you can support them," he said.

"It's just a stronger community when everyone is supporting each other.

"And now is a great time to open up, open up as soon as you can, you will start feeling better.

"The best time to open up is now, because the longer you wait, the more it is going to weigh down on you."