The Rotary Club of Ballina in Richmond is hosting a major symposium on August 11 with a focus on youth mental health issues in Northern Rivers. The timing of the free event at Ballina RSL couldn’t be better, as the COVID-related isolation and flooding continues to take its toll on the mental health of the community.
Rotary’s Dave Harmon is the main organizer. He said echo the event was preparing well, after some inevitable delays. “Yeah, we were going to race that last year. And then the COVID lockdowns happened. So we postponed it. Turns out it was probably a blessing in disguise,” he said.
“Due to the devastating floods in February, our communities need mental health support more than ever.
“Personally, we live in a house with no walls and a concrete floor, and I know what that does to me.”
Although the event is particularly focused on young people (those aged 16-24 face the highest rates of poor mental health, according to the Bureau of Statistics), Mr Harmon says the free symposium is open to all while the region faces a “shadow pandemic” of mental health.
“We took that to shake things up,” he said.
The symposium will allow participants to hear from experts in the field and ask questions. Lecturer Professor Michael Sawyer OAM’s specialty is adolescent psychiatry, with the University of Adelaide.
“He worked for the Department of Pediatrics and was an associate dean doing research in the Faculty of Health Sciences,” Harmon said.
“He’s a high caliber guy. He’ll give insight into the state of mental health in Australia, explain what’s going on.
“He is said to be one of Australia’s most experienced people in youth mental health. Michael comes to us from Adelaide.
Also on the bill is local senior psychologist Katie Burgess. “Yes, she was with Northern Rivers Community Gateway in Lismore,” Mr Harmon said. “Recently she started her own business.
“Katie specializes in child and adolescent mental health. She is going to give a case study of someone being referred and the support that was given and how that person was treated, just to give an idea of what kind of support and treatments are available.
“So Katie is more practical. It will give an overview of the type of help available in terms of psychologists and counselling.
But wait, there’s more
In addition to what is happening in the main auditorium at Ballina RSL, there will be a breakout room where attendees can talk to people and organizations who are active in mental health support locally.
“We’re going to have Aimee McNeill, one of the directors of Healthy Northcoast, the government agency. She will be in the break room,” Mr. Harmon said.
Also Fran Pidcock from The Buttery. She will talk about drugs and alcohol and how it contributes to mental health. It can be a vicious cycle, where you can have poor mental health before you take drugs or you can take drugs and then have poor mental health. So they have programs to help them.
“Headspace from Lismore will also be there,” he said. ‘Also CASPA and Batyr’. Batyr describes itself as a batyr is a “designed” preventative mental health organization, created and run by young people, for young people.
“It’s a non-profit educational organization,” Harmon said. “They organize educational programs for young people, teachers and parents, so they will also be in the breakout room.”
Local legends from the Healthy Minds Club are also involved in the symposium. Jackson Connellan from the band is going to be in the breakout room.
“Yeah, Jackson is a champ,” Dave Harmon said.
He added that the Northern Rivers Suicide Prevention and Awareness group would also be in the breakout room at night.
why it matters
Dave Harmon says, “We need to break down the stigma and encourage conversation about mental health issues. As we know, two out of five adults suffer from mental health problems during their lifetime, and one out of four young people.
“There is so much more out there than we realised. So let’s just have the conversation. And let our community know what support is available.
Mr Harmon says the plan is for the symposium to be the start of something bigger, with a follow-up event next year already being discussed.
He said the mental health figures for Northern Rivers in particular were truly concerning, with the worst likely yet to come. “We’re really concerned that it’s the next two to three years after these floods that we’re going to see the peak.” So we want to arrive early and encourage conversation.
How to book
The event is free, but Dave Harmon asks people to book if possible, to help with catering (there will be free tea and coffee).
Arranging a free ticket is easy from the link on the Ballina Rotary website, by computer or by phone. If you have any questions, you can call Dave direct on 0401 956 996.
And what would it say to people who are already struggling with major mental health issues and would like to see less talk and more action?
“I think the conversation has to start somewhere,” Mr. Harmon said.
“This is just the first small step. Overnight we will have the mental health care arm of the federal government and all of the different agencies that work in that space.
“This is the first time an event like this has been held in northern New South Wales, so I think it’s important that people come, be heard and be heard. Questions can be asked. People will also be able to text questions throughout the night.
‘Let’s start the conversation and talk about it. And then let’s put the pressure back on the state and feds to say, hey, the outcome of a night like this was this. Here are the concerns that were raised.
With the large hall reserved for Ballina RSL and the generous support of many donors who have come to the party so far, organizers are hoping for a large crowd to attend the free mental health symposium. Everyone is welcome.
The event will take place from 5:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, August 11, at Ballina RSL.