With centres dotted around Australia, and a new campaign targeting same-sex attracted young people, there’s no need to feel you’re alone, says Headspace’s CEO Chris Tanti.
The nationwide youth support network’s new graphic will be featured on posters and postcards used by all its centres, and will also be seen in selected print and online media as well as in universities and pubs across the country.
Marking Mental Health Week, Same Same chatted to Chris about Headspace’s latest work helping young people as they discover their sexuality and gender identity.
Hi Chris. This week ‘Charlie and the Big Secret’ launched, with Headspace saying it asked for a wide range of feedback and ideas before launching the campaign specifically targeting same-sex attracted young people.
Yes. It really is about people feeling like they cannot fully disclose who they are. This is a way of saying to young people that if you’re worried about this, then there is a solution to this problem, or there is someone who is there to help you work your way through this problem, at Headspace.
The way we try to run our advertising is that we focus on things that most young people can relate to – so they can relate to exam stress, they can relate to coming out because it generally happens during this period of their lives, they can relate to things like frustration, anger and a whole lot of other things… but they generally can’t relate to serious mental health problems. Even those people who have those problems think that we’re talking about someone else.
So we’re trying to engage young people in a conversation about this, so if they are struggling, or if they know someone know is struggling, then they know there’s an opportunity for help.
What we’re clear about in the same-sex attracted community is that the suicide rate is four times that of the national average. So we have a really big problem. And what I’m clear about with people who have attempted to take their own lives is that they were never sure where to get help from. And so the last thing we need is someone who is struggling with this sort of problem doing so in isolation.
So really, this is our way of saying ‘don’t deal with this on your own – there’s some help.’
One thing that’s extraordinary now is that so many young people are coming out at such an early age. Some may feel they can come out when they’re in high school, but once they’re out, they can’t go back into the closet again when times get tough.
I think that’s true. In the past, people have spent a lot of time thinking it through before they came out, wanting to be sure about what they were doing, the social ramifications of coming out. I think the reality is sometimes that people come out and then think ‘well actually, maybe I’m not.’
“Don’t deal with this on your own – there’s some help.”
There’s a period where people are very unclear, and they need to be supported through that process, in a way that allows them to crystallise what it is they’re going through – so it’s their decision, not anybody else’s decision.
They could be coming out into a community, family or friendship that is not supportive, so what do they do if that happens?
And now there’s the online world to deal with too, Facebook, Twitter and more.
Yes, but I do think the majority of interactions on social networks are harmless and keep people in touch with what’s going on. I don’t think it’ll ever replace real-life friendships, but it is a way of staying in touch with people and keeping in touch with what you’re doing.
But there is a downside to it all, that it’s in the public domain, so what was once private or restricted to a few people is now no longer restricted. And you can’t guarantee how people are going to react – I think we’re all shocked that there are people in that space who are vindictive and nasty.
So we are dealing with a very complex environment, and one can find oneself alone in very difficult circumstances. So how do we ensure we have support available for not only same-sex attracted people but everybody who has a hard time?
It’s great to see there’s so many Headspace centres around Australia on your map. (See it here)
It’s good – we’re growing to 90 centres. But that’s a drop in the ocean really, when we think about what’s needed in the community, particularly around rural and remote communities, and also in metropolitan areas where there just aren’t the youth-friendly services for young people – where they’re actually aware of how complex adolescence is and some of the challenges in adolescence.
There are other primary care givers, GP’s for example, but it can take a long time to get in to see a GP, and then if you face one who isn’t youth-friendly, who doesn’t have expertise around same-sex attraction, depression, anxiety, family planning, terminations – all those sorts of things – life gets very complicated for them.
So we’ve set up environments that are very clear around the developmental needs of young people, and are very focused on those issues.