A mental health program introduced last year has reduced stigma around anxiety and depression, students at Campbell High School say.
Over a month in first term, every Year 9 student at the school took part in the Youth Aware of Mental (YAM) Health Program. Funded by the ACT Government, YAM promotes mental health and addresses suicidal behaviour in young people, explained Emma Davidson, Minister for Mental Health.
“It focuses on prevention and early support by helping young people develop skills to deal with stress and crisis, to identify signs of distress in peers, and to feel confident in seeking mental health support – knowing where to go, who you can turn to, and how to help,” Ms Davidson said.
The course targets 14- to 16-year-olds, an age when peers have the greatest impact on what people do, said Carisse Flanagan, acting CEO of Mental Illness Education ACT.
“After this program, I was able to tell when my friends were down, and I’ve been able to help them get better,” Jayden said. “Some of my friends are still not OK … but I know who to contact if they’re not feeling good, and how to pick them up.”
This is the second year the program has run at Campbell High. Last year, more than 3,000 Year 9 students at 14 ACT schools – public, Catholic, and independent – took part. Worldwide, more than 60,000 teenagers in 16 countries have participated.
The Black Dog Institute’s evaluation measuring the effectiveness of the program will be published later this year.
“It will show what works well, what we need to keep doing more of, and where we could tweak it to make it more effective,” Ms Davidson said.
She predicts the program has been highly successful. “Young people positive about what they’ve been doing is a good sign.”
Campbell High principal Steve Collins agrees; YAM has been beneficial both for severe cases of poor mental health, and for solving some of the ups and downs of everyday adolescence.
Year 9 student Ryan said the program was the first time his peers were able to have a big, open discussion about mental health in a safe space. A lot of students hadn’t heard about mental health, or didn’t talk about it if they were depressed, he said.
In high school, Elsie agreed, everybody pretended they were mentally fine – but YAM made them realise that stress and anxiety were common. “Nobody had to feel humiliated.”
The course takes place in contact groups (homeroom), facilitated by the Office for Mental Health and Wellbeing, in collaboration with Mental Illness Education ACT, and supported by the Black Dog Institute. Through discussions and role-playing, students can talk about or act out mental health and other issues.
“In a normal conversation,” Jayden said, “you wouldn’t be able to talk about mental health openly.” But in a play, students could act grappling with depression and getting help. “We can figure out how we would behave in that situation.”
Growing up can be hard, Ms Davidson said; the course makes sure young people are fit to manage that.
“Roughly half the 15- and 16-year-olds in this city have been through this program. That means if a couple are having a conversation about how they’re feeling and what’s going on in their lives, chances are at least one of them will know what to do about that, who they can talk to. Young people are not on their own when they’re dealing with these things. We’re all here for them,” she said.
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