MAF Walk For Awareness 2014

By Daniel Conaghan

Mental Health Week 2014 concluded with the Mental Awareness Foundation and its walk for awareness. Now in its third year, the walk saw the biggest crowd yet, with an estimated 500 turning up to show their support. The focus of MAF, similar to many other mental health organisations, is to break the taboo on mental illness. The foundation was started after Wesley Vasile lost two friends to suicide in 2011 and decided to try and take action with the help of others touched by suicide.


Supporters gathered before the Walk For Awareness.

There were a number of speakers from well-known mental health organisations and government institutions alike. Grow CEO Clare Guilfoyle encouraged those interested in raising awareness to look into Grow. “There’s a strong emphasis on community building and developing friendships and people connecting up with the community.”

Another partner of the MAF, Mates In Construction, is an organisation that focuses on supporting workers in the Australian Construction industry, where the suicide rate in men is three times that of the average worker. MIC has trained over 50000 workers in general awareness and a further 3000 with additional training. These 3000 ‘gatekeepers’ are identified by a green hardhat sticker, showing workers that they are someone they can talk to if they need to.

Police Commissioner Ian Stewart addressed the crowd before the walk got underway, thanking them for the enthusiastic turnout. “This is a really important event, but it’s the concept that’s the issue. That’s raising awareness about the positive sides, and things that we can all do,” Mr Stewart says, “Every person who gets better educated about how we can help people with mental issues; that can save a life. So thank you to every one of you.”

Mr Stewart went on to reassure the crowd that the police are as mortal as they are, with mental health an issue even in the police force. “We are always looking for better ways to provide the service to the public when the call for service we get involves someone who’s having a critical mental issue. And that happens on a daily basis, many of you would know that. It really is important for us to work with our people to find better solutions to how we intervene in that very first critical phase when someone is in trouble.”

Finally, Mr Stewart had a valuable message for any media attending the event. “This is a plea for help and a plea for recognition from the media who are here today. It is really unfortunate in my view that much of the media stigmatises mental health issues when we’re involved in critical incidences, in particular when that person is a high profile person in the community. Sports-persons, members of a political organisation or a big-name business person, we have that stigma attached to them that it’s a mental health issue. Quite honestly that’s a really bad thing because it provides a negative. People start to want to hide behind the veil and not tell anyone that they’ve got issues themselves. So please, my plea today to the media is: do not stigmatise people with mental illness. Do not cause hurt to the families and friends of those people. Please put the positive on it and make sure all of us look at mental issues and work out better ways of intervening and helping our fellow brothers and sisters in our community.”

Ged Farmer is the Client Engagement Officer for Openminds, as well as part of the organising committee for the Sanity Fair, and has been present at a number of events this week, including the Sanity Fair on Saturday. Having lost friends to suicide, Ged was no stranger to what kind of stigma surrounds the issue and how important it is to dispel it in all its forms. “It really knocks you down when that sort of thing happens, and often the blame is placed with the person who has committed suicide. One of the main things that came out of the message here today was understanding and having compassion for the person who has done that,” Ged says, “For a long time people have said things like ‘it’s a selfish thing to do’, but you don’t know what’s going on for that person that’s gotten to that point. Sometimes there’s a trigger and they don’t know they’re going to do it themselves, it can be something that happens really quickly.”

“Creating awareness within the community that we need to reduce stigma, that’s a really important thing. We need to reduce discrimination that goes along with people who have experienced a mental health condition; often people are discriminated within their workplace, within relationships, within their families and community. If we can try and reduce the stigma and discrimination first and foremost, we’re going to be able to have the real conversation about mental health where people are understanding how widespread it is and how easily people are affected by mental health. And also recognising their own mental health, whether it’s being in good mental health or needing to take care of your mental health, because there are signs that your mental health is not in good shape.”

Ged was proud of how much good the MAF founders had done in such a short time. “What a wonderful legacy for the friends that they’ve lost. To see something like this here, for the family and friends of those people that lost their lives. To see something like this come together is so heart-warming and emotional, and I’m really proud to be a part of this.”

If you or anyone you know is suffering from mental stress, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.


Sanity Fair 2014

By Daniel Conaghan

At the tail-end of Mental Health Week, the fifth annual Sanity Fair was held in Musgrave Park on Saturday and saw a fantastic turnout. The event, organised by the Southside Mental Health Collaborative and run by a dedicated team of volunteers, had a wealth of activities for the public including an abundance of live music, information stalls, interactive games and events and even free yoga sessions.

Live music was performed throughout the day by a number of talented musicians and choirs including the One Voice community choir, an incredibly diverse group of singers that formed in April that encouraged young and old singers in their cohort. TIN is a 23 year old singer/songwriter who has been singing for fifteen years, and when his cousin invited to the event he thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to show his support for mental health awareness. “What’s present right now in this fair is incredible, and the difference these people are trying to make is really palpable,” TIN says, “I think what would really make a difference is taking the awareness part of it to the next level.”


One Voice community choir performs at Sanity Fair.

The main purpose of the fair is to raise awareness for mental illness and reduce the stigma around it, something that organiser Helena Roennfeldt stresses is the biggest issue when it comes to dealing with mental health awareness. “It’s time we talked about it like it’s wasn’t a big deal. If we see mental illness as something big and scary and different then we don’t talk about it. We need to talk about it as part of the normal human experience, because if you haven’t experienced it someone you know has,” Helena says, “It’s part of life, it’s part of being human I think.  We can connect people on that level of sameness instead of being different.” Helena also mentions that while we’ve made incredible progress regarding mental health in the public eye, there’s still a lot of work to be done. “We’re starting to talk about depression and anxiety, we still need to talk a lot more about personality disorders and psychotic disorders because we need to stop seeing them as something that needs to be hidden … This year is the start of a change; mental illness is going to be something that people are going to start talking about.”

Rosie MaGuire from UQ Drama was attending the fair to help raise awareness through the headcase production which she stars in. The production runs from October 22 to 25 and features a forum style of theatre that engages the audience as characters in the play. “It’s kind of like a big brainstorming session about how we can break down the walls of mental health stigma in society,” Rosie says. She’s also been incredibly impressed with Mental Health Week, with her favourite event falling with ABC’s Friday Night Crack Up. “The fact that ABC did the Friday night crack-up, it had channel 7, 9 and 10 in it as well. It’s just really positive. There were aspects of it that were so serious, but they were also breaking down the barriers by forcing people to look at it through comedy. Everyone’s been embracing it and I’ve loved it.”

For more information about getting involved in the Southside mental health community, email

If you or anyone you know is suffering from mental stress, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Mental Health At Work: Q&A Panel Discussion

By Daniel Conaghan

Wednesday saw the MindClicks Q&A Panel discussion, an hour and a half focussed on conversing on mental health in the workplace. The panel consisted of Dr Lesley van Schoubroeck, Queensland’s Mental Health Commissioner. SGT Michael Lyddiard, a former explosive specialist with real life experience in mental and physical health issues. Dominic McGann, the Chairman of Partners who has held prominent positions in Law and Justice Agencies. Anita Link is a Mental Health advocate, writer and has first-hand experience with mental illness. Pedro Diaz, CEO of The Mental Health Recovery Institute and has also experienced mental illness. And psychologist Troy Holland, who works primarily in Central Queensland.

The panel had more than double the attendees than 2013, indicating that MindClicks goal of raising awareness was picking up speed. The panel opened with interesting and enlightening facts, including almost $11 billion in labour and work is lost due to mental illness annually, and that close to half of us will suffer from mental illness at some point in our lives.

MC Madonna King had a number of interesting discussion points lined up for the group, with questions ranging from ‘how to approach a colleague’ to ‘what obligations do employers have’.


From left to right: SGT Michael Lyddiard, Troy Holland, Dr Lesley van Schoubroeck, Anita Link, Pedro Diaz, Dominic McGann.

The panellists offered broad insight into each question, with their own expertise and experiences giving light from different angles on every issue. “There’s a difference between awareness and expecting a mental health issue,” Pedro Diaz stated during discussing workplace education. He stressed that most people aren’t trained to diagnose others with a mental illness, and that the best course of action is to be aware without being patronising or bullying an individual.

A large discussion point was the stigma that still hangs over mental illness, which can be draining for someone suffering in a workplace where they don’t feel comfortable telling someone for fear of how they will be viewed by their co-workers and their superiors. “The majority aren’t just battling a debilitating illness,” Anita Link said, “They’re fighting stigma as well.” SGT Michael Lyddiard backed this up stating that he saw being labelled as a negative, rather than seeing the positives of being treated.

Dominic McGann wrapped up the panel by stating that while we’ve made good progress with mental health awareness, we need to remain patient but consistent. As he quoted a colleague and friend: “We’re all workers in the vineyard.”

The panel was supported by Harmony Place, Axis Clinic, Centacare, McCullough Robertson Lawyers and Kyabra Recovery Connections.

If you or anyone you know is suffering from mental stress, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Queensland Mental Health Week 2014

By Daniel Conaghan

Mental health week is now underway, with a number of events lined up to help raise awareness for mental health and sufferers. The week runs from the 5th of October through til to the 12th, with World Mental Health Day falling on October 10. The Mental Health Week twitter is constantly providing information throughout the week and is a valuable source for anyone interested.

Triple J’s Hack program is taking an incredibly proactive approach to Mental Health Week, hosting guests and Q&A sessions throughout the week. Professor Ian Hickie from the Sydney Medical School stressed that the most important thing you can do for a friend suffering from mental health problems is to stay beside them and offer support, “Staying connected is the most important part of staying mentally healthy,” Professor Hickie said. He mentioned that it’s important to be aware of friends withdrawing from social situations or work and study commitments. A natural response may be to give your friend some space, but Professor Hickie notes that this time is most often when they need the most support. Triple J’s The Doctor has some quick tips to help improve your mental health.

Continuing ABC’s strong suit is their Mental As campaign running all week on television. As of the 7th they’ve already raised over $30,000 it’s steadily rising, with support from twitter growing after a heated and animated discussion on Q and A on Monday night.

qanda1 qanda2

Mental As is delivering continuous information and support over TV, on the radio and online. The range of productions goes from comedy and documentaries to debates such as Q and A.

Mind clicks is a large part of promoting Australia’s mental health this year, launching their own app so you can stay up to date throughout the week with events, contact information, pledges and more. Mind Clicks is sponsored by Open Minds, the Queensland Mental Health Commission and the Queensland Alliance for Mental Health. The Mind Clicks campaign focuses on the moment you connect with another person, group or event and find the support and understanding behind mental health awareness.

If you or anyone you know is suffering from mental stress, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.