What does meaningful mental health support actually look like in practice? For World Mental Health Day, Gina asked some people in the know: young people with lived experience. Here’s what they had to say.
Today is World Mental Health Day, a day to raise awareness of mental health and to encourage empathy and empowerment in our approaches to support.
For me, this looks like celebrating the voices of those who experience mental health challenges. So I went out and chatted with four courageous young people to get their insights about what a meaningful and impactful support environment is for them.
Susu, 24, Melbourne
“I was diagnosed with depression in 2015. I had been exhibiting symptoms since as early as 2008, but I didn’t want to admit there was anything wrong with me.
My support network is close friends who know my history, who I trust and who know what makes me feel good.
When my health was really bad a couple of years ago, my friends took me to the beach, laid in bed with me watching TV and brought me potato gems (the only thing I was eating at the time). No questions, no suggestions, just silent togetherness that made me feel like these people loved me, even when I was this version of myself.
Knowing that people will care for me even when I can’t care for myself, people who want me around; I use that love to keep going until I can get to a place where I’ll feel that way about me too.”
Izzy, 23, Sydney
“I’ve struggled with phases of anxiety and depression to various degrees most of my life. As I came into my adulthood I was eventually diagnosed with complex PTSD and ADHD. I had hit a low point in my mental health where I had no choice but to seek professional help.
It validated and explained a lot of my experiences, and putting a name to my symptoms allowed me to discover healthy ways to cope.
It’s helpful to have people in my life who have my best interests in mind, and who I know won’t judge what I choose to share (and not share).
Having professional support I think is also extremely helpful as it helps me understand what I’m feeling so that I know what to share.
To know that the people you associate with accept you for who you are and want to empower you is very freeing and makes it easier to recover and continue to make positive steps forward.
It’s hard to definitively describe a single way a support network makes you feel, as your mental health will likely ebb and flow. However, I would say that as soon as I started therapy, I felt like I had a better grasp on my mental health as there was a clearer pathway to improve.
Meeting others who also share your diagnosis or similar symptoms can also be very grounding and make you understand that you are truly not alone.”
Nic, 22, Melbourne
“I’ve been navigating the mental health system since I was in my early teens when a school counsellor referred me to headspace.
To me, support is so much more than getting advice from a clinician. In order for it to be meaningful, I need to feel safe and respected. I need to feel like I’m wanted in the room, and I need to feel like I’m not just another patient.
When I was 17, I had dropped out of school and stopped seeing my friends, and my clinician was the only person I really spoke to regularly. She provided me with much more than just symptom management. She made sure that I attended social groups, that I had vocational support, and she was my first introduction to advocacy.
Above all that, I honestly believe that she cared about me as a person. She knew that I loved dogs. One day, when I was doing particularly poorly, she took me to an animal shelter to see the pups. We were hoping that I would volunteer there, but I was just happy to spend an hour where I would usually be crying, doing something that I loved. It didn’t stop there though.
She ended up adopting one of the pooches, and after each session, we would share dog pics. She even brought the doggo to one on my appointments. In a time where I felt utterly hopeless, she connected with me on a level that I didn’t think was possible, and I will never forget that.”
Zee, 18, New Zealand
“I have battled depression and anxiety and some other things such as attachment issues since I was little.
In my experience, and what I would have wanted, was more people to talk to about what I was thinking, rather than being dragged into it and over counselled when I didn’t really even know why I was sad or even what was even going on.
It would have been nice to have had a friend–anyone from family to counselling–to talk to when I was ready to. Feeling forced and so crammed to go and see people I didn’t even understand why I was seeing only pushed the depression and stress further.
The most meaningful support experience I have had was with a youth worker I met at a cafe twice a week. She was very genuine and I felt like she actually cared and wanted to hear about me. Not feeling judged and being able to go your own pace is about the most peaceful environment you can be in.
It’s hard to accept what’s good for you so I felt very stressed and wanted to quit the service constantly. Although, the impact they made in my life in six months by just being someone who got me out and talking was immeasurable.”
Speaking up and opening your heart out about mental health experiences requires a level of vulnerability and resilience that can never be under-estimated. It is an act that holds incredible power and value, both in its immediate impact on the communities that surround you and on the long-term ripple effects it can have on broader systems.
This World Mental Health Day, let us all take a moment to not just celebrate our mental health and wellbeing, but to also appreciate each person’s individuality and what it might (or might not!) look like to support each other meaningfully.
Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.
If anything in this article raises any concerns or issues for you, please contact a relevant support service –Beyond Blue (Ph: 1300 224 636), Lifeline (Ph: 13 11 14) or headspace (Ph: 1800 650 890). If your life is in immediate danger, please call 000.