Stigma Reduction — 18 August 2014

By contributor David L Wright from Melbourne VICDavid L. Wright

I’ve always had a bit of a nervous, anxious streak. I’ve had some bouts that I’ve worked through with some professional help. I’ve stood in an emergency ward thinking I’m having a heart attack…then had all the tests in the world and they send me home telling me “there’s nothing wrong” but they don’t suggest it’s could be anxiety or a panic attack. Now with me everything is well managed on the mental health side of things with no medication and I live a rich, full and meaningful life.

So, when our 16 year old daughter was having some issues with school, friends and home life –issues that seemed like just about growing up stuff to us –  we wondered what should we do? Some in the family suggest she’ll get over it, but I knew it would make good sense to see a GP. For us this was the right choice. The doctor set up a mental health treatment plan and we found out that it wasn’t just growing up stuff but depression and anxiety. These steps seemed like an easy path to take to get our beautiful daughter back.

For us we were lucky, we made the time and had an understanding of how to support her through the tough times. We saw the signs early and were able to get the right help. But for many, many others there are lots frightening and tragic stories and as I discovered a growing list of alarming statistic around youth mental health issues – depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide.

Now the next part of my story takes a bit of a twist. Although my daughter from all signs is well and back to her beautiful self, I decided to do a bit more research. My research kicked me into action. It fuelled something inside of me to help… My daughter gave me a book that helped me to get things started. I set aside time every day and lots of time most day for the next 3 years. I was going to start something that matters for youth mental health .I’m not a mental health expert or a youth specialist but a dad with a passion and willingness to put in a chunk of time to make a difference. I’ve always volunteered or supported local clubs and causes. I guess this is something that I learned from my parents who were always active with school and community stuff.

I’ve been lucky to have some early support from Australian Rotary Health, The Lighthouse Foundation, headspace, Suicide Prevention Australia and Mental Health First Aid Australia…and a whole heap of others along the way. Thanks everyone!! Especially Bernie, James, Violet and Brendan.

I’ve ploughed through data and research; I joined the International Association of Suicide Preventions and read their journals. I looked at the findings of the professionals and experts, the Government’s mental health plans, strategies and report cards, the industry leaders and governing body’s findings. Targeted youth neighbour studies, current and past programs, websites, blogs and social media pages. I met with senior government department heads and social workers, youth officers, teachers, psychologists and psychiatrists, clinicians and consultants, entrepreneurs and philanthropists. I wrote letters to ministers and shadow ministers, celebrities and sports stars and talked with many great people across our communities. I connected with everyone I could from the bottom to the top and back again.

Most of the information out there is great and people wished me well on my journey. I found lots of duplicated services and organisations fighting over the same space. Lots of my time was working through the layers and different pathways to find out what really works for metropolitan, regional and rural communities. The more I reached out the more it fuelled me to find a solution.

What I did discover was that there was a gap in the services. The gap is the lack of a simple way to know the early signs of depression and anxiety. To fill the gap from research and trails, I developed a simple early education and public awareness initiative around spotting the early signs with an action plan to assist people to get help. The program is called SPOTa and some 3 years later I am happy to say that the research, support and time has paid off. There’s now a new tool out there to help young people. I’ve joined forces with a national mental health organisation so every young Australian has a better opportunity to live a rich, full and meaningful life.

For me, I now know that “Just one SPOTa Card can save a beautiful mind” perhaps it’s your daughter or son we save. Be BOLD out there and Enjoy Life!!

This article first appeared on ABC Open on 15 August 2014.

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