The National Mental Health Commission has developed a new mental health program that utilises social media to connect young people with each other, and to the government’s Head to Health website.
The program, #ChatStarter, has been created in partnership with mental health organisations ReachOut, Butterfly Foundation, Orygen, batyr, headspace, Kids Helpline and Beyond Blue.
#ChatStarter gives young people and parents ideas and resources for connecting with each other. It also encourages individuals to start a conversation about mental health by posting content on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, and including a link to a library of tools and resources on the government’s award-winning Head to Health website.
Launching the program this week, the National Mental Health Commission noted that recent research has shown children, young people and their parents and carers have been experiencing increased levels of distress, while heightened levels of self-harm and suicide ideation have led to a rise in emergency department presentations.
In June this year, 30% of Australians aged 18 to 34 reported high or very high levels of psychological distress, the research found, compared with 18% of people aged 35 to 64 years and 10% of people aged 65 years and over during that same period.
The commission said these figures have been an ongoing concern, particularly considering that the current final year exam cohort are in their second year of lockdown.
“With 75% of young people reporting a negative impact on their mental health, two in three young people (62.6%) are feeling the pandemic has affected their learning,” the commission noted.
“In addition, GPs are experiencing a surge in families seeking guidance for parenting in relation to mental health concerns in the context of COVID-19.”
Commission chair Lucy Brogden said #ChatStarter aimed to give people the skills to support those around them and intervene before the point of distress.
“#ChatStarter recognises just how critical conversations are in identifying when someone is going through a difficult time, helping us reach them before they reach crisis point and connect them to the appropriate care,” she said.
“However, talking may not necessarily be the best way to ‘start a conversation’. Sometimes engaging in fun, creative, and productive activities together can transcend barriers to conversation, build trust and help create safe spaces for people to talk about how they’re feeling, and the kind of support they need.”
The commission has thanked the more than 50 young people and parents that helped design the program.
“It is through their frank and fearless conversations that #ChatStarter took shape,” Brogden said.
One such young person was 24-year-old Royina Bakshi, who was living in Melbourne during the pandemic last year. Bakshi completed her degree online during that time, but was away from her family who lived overseas. She said #ChatStarter would encourage people to build connections through conversations.
“With COVID-19 there can be an overwhelming sense of stress about the future and missing friends and family, and that can have impacts on our mental health,” Bakshi said.
“#ChatStarter provides a great way to start conversations with loved ones. Sharing our experiences and chatting with others makes it easier for people to break down the stigma of talking about our mental health.”