Young Australians are now turning to the internet as a platform for information and support about mental well-being.
In an increasingly digital world, ReachOut.com is targeting this demographic through social media to provide advice for students struggling with mental health issues.
Founded in 1998 by Jack Heath, ReachOut.com is a youth-based online mental well-being service that was created in response to escalating youth suicide rates. Initially a website, ReachOut.com has now expanded to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, reaching 60,000 followers daily.
“Change starts with awareness,” says Rosie Swanton, Social Media Manager for ReachOut.com. This would help breakdown the stigma associated with mental illness to afford teenagers support before it can worsen.
One in four young Australians live with a mental health issue, and suicide is the leading cause of death for people aged 14-25.
“These statistics are huge, and they aren’t really changing,” says Ms Swanton. “We want to get in early and give people the tools to manage their own wellbeing before they develop significant mental health issues.”
Social media has been an integral component of the campaigns of ReachOut.com, as it is a platform that is consistently used by teenagers. It allows ReachOut.com to share content, connect and engage with varied audiences.
“Many young people share our content, and, in doing so, show their peers that it’s okay to talk about mental health and wellbeing,” says Ms. Swanton. “We are working hard to ensure that ReachOut.com is as impactful, accessible, and relevant for young Australians as it possibly can be.”
Akhil Bansal, Advanced Science student at the University of Sydney, is a youth ambassador for ReachOut.com. After utilising ReachOut.com during high school, Bansal began working for them as an online content creator, editor and has presented talks about ReachOut.com at schools and on Sky News.
As a young Indian Australian, Bansal has found that the Indian community can often stigmatise mental illness.
“Whether it’s to produce good marks or to assimilate into a culture that is distinct from that in their own home, young Indians need to feel supported,” says Bansal.
According to Mission Australia’s Annual Youth Survey 2014, the internet is where young Australians turn to for support after family and friends on significant matters.
Bansal believes that the utilisation of social media can be a powerful tool for dealing with mental well-being.
“Mental health issues can be quite difficult to talk about, and information can be hard to find,” says Bansal. “Having all that information in an anonymous space that people can come to read at their own pace and privacy is really quite unique.”
Social media can also be used to spin this issue into a positive light.
“Using social media means that we can have jokes, memes, and show that the stigma associated with mental health being this scary monster isn’t at all accurate,” says Bansal.
University was hardest for Bansal in reaching out to a friend who was struggling with familial issues whilst experimenting with drugs. It was through the forums and information found on ReachOut.com that he was able to help in a constructive manner.
“ReachOut.com is a valuable resource both in terms of discussing issues that are otherwise taboo, as well as providing information in an anonymous and non-judgemental space,” says Bansal.
In September 2014, ReachOut.com launched a campaign called There’s Life After: The HSC, focused on spreading the message that HSC results are not definitive of their future, and that there is hope afterwards. This campaign garnered support from notable figures such as Rove McManus, Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten.
ReachOut.com’s new campaign, which will be launched in March of this year, is called There’s Life After: Bad decisions, which will focus on poor choices that can be made in dealing with relationships and peer pressure, and how to best overcome these obstacles.