It’s ok to not be ok: breaking the stigma of youth mental illness

560,000 children have experienced a mental health disorder in the past year and one in 13 children aged between 12 and 17 have seriously considered suicide.
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When the largest-ever national survey of the mental health of our young people was released in 2015, it presented a confronting picture of teenage depression, self-harm and suicide.

It found that 560,000 children had experienced a mental health disorder in the past year and one in 13 children aged between 12 and 17 had seriously considered suicide.

The positive news at the time was that the number of young people seeking help had doubled, compared to 15 years earlier. It provided some hope that efforts to break the stigma surrounding mental ill health were making an impact.

However, as founder and chairman of Batyr youth mental health organisation, Sebastian Robertson, knows only too well, many of our youth are still suffering in silence.

“When I was 22 I had depression but I refused to get help,” said.

“I refused because I didn’t acknowledge that I needed the support of others.”

It was Sebastian’s own experience of the frustration and isolation of living silently with mental ill health as a university student, that motivated Sebastian to set up his first Batyr school program in 2011.

“My experiences of mental health and living with depression, ending in suicide attempts and forcing myself to seek help was an incredibly challenging journey to go through and it was challenging because I didn’t want anyone to know,” Sebastian said.

“Family didn’t know, friends didn’t know and I certainly didn’t want the wider community to know because I felt that I would be judged for reaching out for support.

“So not only was the journey of living with depression isolating and lonely, the journey of seeking help was isolating and lonely.”

Once Sebastian had sought help he recognised the importance of having open conversations about mental health with young people.

“I set up Batyr because I wished I had heard from a young person about their story of hope, recovery and resilience through, and with mental ill health.

“Batyr provides programs that train young people to speak about their personal experience with mental ill health and start a conversation in their community.

“It then takes these speakers into schools, universities and corporate arenas to continue the conversation around mental health.”

Since 2011, Batyr has delivered more than 500 preventative education programs in schools, universities and corporations around Australia, reaching nearly 43,000 young Australians and training 209 young people.

According to Sebastian, Batyr is giving voice to the ‘elephant in the room’.

“We are here to say that it’s OK not to be OK. That kids are not alone and help is out there.

“We now have trained more than 200 young people through our ‘Being Herd’ program. It’s these individuals, and their stories of resilience, recovery and hope, that are equipping young people to reach out for support when they need it.

“Young people that are integral to changing the stigma surrounding mental health.

“I think so often we try and come up with solutions for young people, not with young people.

“Our programs engage, educate and empower the audience to learn from the experiences of others and to reach out to the great services around them.”

Visit batyr.com.au for more information. You can also contact Catholic Care in your region for counselling and community services. Visit catholiccare.org.

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