BY SARAH MCLENAGHAN
In light of Mental Health Month the Inner West Council is supporting a number of mental health events and initiatives running throughout October.
These programs range from family barbecues to training programs and professional networking, and will primarily target young people and seniors living in the Inner West.
Mayor Darcy Byrne hopes these efforts will help raise awareness about mental health and provide resources for people in the community.
“Mental illness can affect people from all walks of life,” he said.
“Council is committed to providing services to those in need and partnering with some wonderful organisations to provide support both to sufferers and their friends and family members – no one needs to go through this alone.”
Young people are a key focus of these initiatives, with a youth survey conducted by the Black Dog Institute in 2016 finding that just under one in four people aged 15-19 years meet the criteria for having a probable serious mental illness.
Even more alarming are statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare which reveal that suicide is the biggest killer of Australians aged 15-24 and accounts for the deaths of more young people than car accidents.
Father Chris Riley, CEO and Founder at Youth Off The Streets, emphasised the importance of Mental Health Month for youth: “Mental health is one of the most common issues our young people face.
“Greater awareness is necessary to reduce the stigma and highlight the severity and complexity of mental health issues. By doing this we are making it easier for young people to come forward and seek help if they need it.”
Youth off the Streets partnered with the Inner West Council and Headspace to hold local mental wellbeing events during the school holidays.
This included a Youth Showcase which involved a skate event and competition with games, activities and a free BBQ.
Father Riley said: “The events were aimed at providing a fun environment for young people to engage with mental health services and also have some fun and make friends.”
Initiatives like this help to break the stigma around mental health, which Father Riley says is critical to ensuring young people feel safe enough to seek help.
“We’re hoping to make contact with young people in a friendly environment in order to provide the help they need. By doing this, hopefully we can unlock their full potential and prevent these issues from taking over their lives.”
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the needs of Inner West’s senior residents are being made a priority through a number of mental health initiatives.
One such initiative is Mental Health First Aid for Older People which trains residents to develop the skills to assist someone developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis.
Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care, Ken Wyatt, addressed the prevalence of mental illness among Australia’a ageing population: “It is estimated that up to 39 per cent of residential aged care clients are living with mild to moderate depression.
“Untreated, conditions like depression can increase the risk of, and accelerate physical and cognitive decline (including dementia) and lead to increased reliance on medication and hospitalisation.”
Mr Wyatt emphasised how mental illness effects older Australians differently stating: “Mental illness in the older population is more than the experience of loneliness, sadness or grief.
“It is often the result of an accumulation of multiple physical, social and emotional risk factors that lead to persistent negative thoughts and can become self-reinforcing and limit a person’s ability to participate in, or benefit from, activities that might otherwise promote wellbeing.”
In order to assist older people recovering from anxiety and/or depression, the Inner West will run an Active and Healthy Group over the course of eight weeks.
The programs will not only assist those living with a mental illness, but will also aim to support mental health service providers.
An Inner West Meet Your Neighbour networking event will be held to connect organisations and individuals with an interest in mental health and wellbeing.
This will allow mental health organisations to find ways to collaborate and work together to better connect the people they support with local services and activities.
Rev. Bill Crews, CEO and Founder of the Exodus Foundation, which will be taking part in the Meet Your Neighbour event, explained the importance of networking between organisations with an interest in mental health: “Here at Exodus we concentrate on the whole person. Obviously we cannot supply all needs for everybody who approaches us and thus it is really important to network with other agencies.”
He emphasised the role Local Government needs to play in combating the issue of mental illness in Australian communities: “Local Councils are at the coalface of human settlement. They are the ones closest to the people and so should naturally be the ones people go to for help.”
People seeking support for a mental health problem should contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.