I was lucky enough to see a psychologist during high school, who helped me work through my social anxieties.
Unfortunately, not every adolescent can say the same, which is problematic given just how many young Australians suffer from mental illness. Pulled straight from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2013):
“30% of females aged 16-24 years... had experienced symptoms of mental disorder. The proportions of males that experienced symptoms of mental disorder 12 months prior to interview were lower, at 23%”.
Mental illness during adolescence is too-often trivialised as merely ‘puberty’, ‘hormones’, or ‘teenage angst’.
Sometimes, emotional slumps and poor temperament can be attributed to the hormonal, changing teenage brain. However, this isn't always the
case. When my friends during high school confronted me with such comments, all they did were further distance me from speaking about
Stigma is one of the largest factors that prevents both those suffering, and their support networks, from coming together on addressing mental health. Sufferers are unable to expose their insecurities to the outside world; and friends and family are unsure how to respond to a mental health crisis.
Social media campaigns, such as the recent ‘#ItsOkayToTalk’ campaign, encourage us to have discussions that break down stigma, but they are fundamentally limited in their effectiveness. Without proper education on how to identify abnormal psychological behaviour, and conduct interventions with sufferers, nothing really happens. Our interests move on to the next social media wave, despite our best intentions.
Instead of standing around, hands-in-pocket, discussing how to break down stigma, I'd like to do something actionable.
Over the next couple of months, I'll be developing a way for high schools to provide stepped-care psychological support to their students. From providing access to the same questionnaires used by therapists to identify abnormal psychological behaviour, to referring students to face-to-face therapy if required.
Furthermore, I'll be developing workshops, resources, and other materials to educate the community (parents, teachers, students) on how to identify mental illnesses, and conduct meaningful interventions.
By providing teenagers with easy and confidential access to psychological support, and educating the community on how to deal with a mental health crisis, only then can we truly break down stigma.
My goal with this initiative is to screen 1,000 students for mental illnesses by the end of 2016; and to impact a million students, parents, and teachers by the end of 2017. I am going to throw the full weight of my business networks, in addition to the little time and capital I have, towards making this a reality.
I am also pledging to donate a percentage of all profits towards charities and organisations that provide mental health support.
Many of the details around this new initiative are still to be worked out. To put this into startup terminology, I am very much still in the idea
stage, with the MVP yet to be built. But, I am certain of my commitment towards this important field. It's the reason why I chose psychology
as my university degree, over computer science or business; and it's the reason why I joined a
mental health startup.
If you're as passionate as I am, why not join me! Either through a donation of time/money, or by signing up to trial the program in your school (free of charge) when it is developed.
This manifesto was written on the eve of my 20th birthday, despite the idea being with me for months prior. If this initiative does not work out, I will continue to commit my twenties to solving this problem.