Technology — 02 September 2016

SOCIAL media is proving a powerful tool as Far North Queensland take mental health matters into their own hands.

A video produced by Mareeba State High School students in partnership with the Black Dog Institute has gone viral, viewed 105,000 times in a week.

It aims to break down the stigma of depression and other mental health disorders, and follows the death of well-known Mareeba GP Dr Mark Bestmann, who battled the illness for more than 20 years.

Mareeba SHS Principal Scott Whybird said the loss spurred students into action, which was how “Dr Bestmann Week” came about.

“All of Dr Bestmann’s kids came through the school and he was seen as someone very positive,” he said.

“The student council took that on board and said ‘we want to recognise the great work he’s done and the fact other people are managing various forms of mental health issues’.

“In May, we had a whole week of events – a cricket match on the oval between students and teachers, lots of dancing; we invited (his wife) Margie Bestmann and released some balloons.

“It’s one of the proudest things I’ve been involved in, in my school career.”

Mr Whybird said students would continue to work with the community to implement strategies to address mental illness into the future.

Far Northerners are also taking the lead on suicide prevention, posting selfies with the hashtag #ItsOkayToTalk.

 The campaign urging men to talk about their mental health started in the UK and was driven by rugby league player Luke Ambler after his brother-in-law took his own life.

Headspace Cairns manager Marie O’Dea said social media was the primary means of facilitating communication between people of all ages but particularly those aged from 12-25.

“Campaigns such as the #ItsOkayToTalk and headspace’s #thebigstigma earlier this year work to effectively inform Australians that the more we talk openly about mental health issues, then the easier it will become to seek help for them,” she said.

Ms O’Dea has shared advice ahead of R U OK? Day and World Suicide Prevention Day on September 8 and 10.

“For me, the fundamental message is if you think a friend or a family member is struggling with mental health issues, if they have changed and have become withdrawn, try to be patient and consistent,” she said. “Keep contacting and offering your support.

“Don’t take it personally if they don’t reply, as often their rejection is of themselves … And if you are really worried and you’re not reaching them, then ask someone to help.”

This article first appeared on Cairns Post on 1 September 2016.

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