OPINION

headspace Day focuses on mental health of young Australians

headspace chief executive Jason Trethowan. Picture: Supplied
headspace chief executive Jason Trethowan. Picture: Supplied

Today marks the sixth annual headspace Day, a national day of support for the mental health and wellbeing of all young Australians.

Communities across the country will come together, either in-person at headspace centres or online in parts of Australia where gatherings are not yet possible, to show their support for young people experiencing mental health challenges.

In the 15 years since headspace was first established, we've witnessed an exponential growth in the mental health literacy of young Australians.

Young people are now more willing and able than ever before to identify when something's amiss with their mental health.

They also know that supports are available to them.

We've come a long way. But our work is far from finished.

Research released this headspace Day found that half of young Australians choose to deal with personal problems on their own instead of talking to other people.

The headspace National Youth Mental Health Survey also found 61 per cent of young people believe there was stigma attached to seeking help for a mental illness.

These figures are an improvement from our last survey in 2018 but are still too high, especially in the context of COVID-19.

We know the mental health impacts of the pandemic are being felt most acutely by young people.

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COVID-19 and efforts to contain its spread have isolated many young people from the very things that safeguard their mental health: protective factors like study, going to work, playing sport and spending time with family and friends.

That's why, this headspace Day, we want to make sure young people know there are small, everyday steps they can take today that will help their mental health in the future - and we are encouraging their friends, families and communities to support them to do so.

Things like eating well, sleeping well and regular exercise are all vital for building strong, resilient minds.

So too is connecting with family and friends, or doing things that spark joy and provide purpose.

Cutting back on alcohol and other drugs can clear the mind, boost energy and improve motivation.

Another more challenging step for young people is talking to others about what they are experiencing.

Of the headspace National Youth Mental Health Survey participants who said they preferred keeping problems to themselves, reasons cited for their answer included: being worried about what others think; not wanting to talk about personal issues with strangers, and feeling too overwhelmed to start the conversation.

But no young person should ever feel like they are navigating their mental health journey alone.

There is always someone ready to listen and help.

For some people, that might be a trusted family member or friend. For others it could be speaking to a service like headspace.

Either way, we know speaking up makes a big difference to a young person's future.

Over the past six months, 75 per cent of young people who visited headspace reported feeling more hopeful for the future after seeking help.

Taking that first step and asking for help is hard. But young people who do reach out find there is truth in the saying, "A problem shared is a problem halved".

Talking about mental health with another person means not having to go it alone.

It means having someone to help make sense of what's going on. It means being reminded that things can and will get better.

We need to remind young people who may be having a tough time that there is hope, and that their futures will be bright.

They have so much to look forward to in the coming months and years. headspace is here to help them build the mental health knowledge and skills they'll need on their journey.

That journey begins this headspace Day with a small step.

For support, get in touch with one of headspace's 139 centres or connect with online and telephone counselling service, eheadspace.

If you need to speak to someone urgently, call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14. In an emergency, dial 000.

To learn more, visit headspace.org.au/headspaceday

  • Jason Trethowan is CEO of headspace.
This story Everyday steps you can take to improve mental health first appeared on The Canberra Times.