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A walk in someone else’s shoes

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A walk in someone else’s shoes

A charity event helps people connect and start the conversation about mental health. Words: Lucinda Dean.

Did you know that more than two-in-five Australians aged 16-85 years (that’s 43.7 per cent of the population or 8.6 million people) experience some sort of mental disorder in their lifetime? And yet ,many suffer in silence because of the stigma and prejudice that still dogs mental illness.

It’s Queensland Mental Health Week (October 7-15). The week aims to raise community awareness and understanding of mental health and wellbeing and reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with mental health conditions.

The theme for 2023 is: ‘Awareness, Belonging, Connection’, which reflects the important factors that help people maintain positive mental health and wellbeing. It is about connecting with the people in our lives and creating space for healthy conversations.

This Sunday’s (October 8) Lift the Lid Walk for Mental Health from Mooloolaba Surf Club to Maroochydore Surf Club and back is an opportunity for the Sunshine Coast community to truly embrace
this theme.

The idea for the walk, now in its eighth year, originated with Mooloolaba Rotarian and passionate mental health advocate Vicki Stewart. “Mental Health is one of the biggest social issues we are facing today,”
Vicki says.

“The volume of calls to support systems like Kids Helpline has gone through the roof, and suicide rates of our younger generation are at record levels.”

The inspiration for the event, which is now in 27 locations across Australia (and growing), came to Vicki one day when she was driving down Buderim Avenue and saw a large group of people donned in pink – tutus, bras and balloons – to raise awareness for breast cancer.

“There are so many awareness and fundraising days for cancer but mental health is not an easy thing to talk about,” Vicki says.

“But it truly does affect every single person in some way: personal, a family member, friend, work colleague etc … but it’s not talked about.

“I felt we have to do something to make it easier to discuss. If you have the flu, people bring you chicken soup. But if you’re suffering from mental illness, they don’t know what to say, so say nothing, which isolates the sufferers even more.

“We have to make it easier for people to talk about this huge issue. The suicide rate in this country is the highest it’s ever been.”

Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians aged between 15 and 44.

Eight people take their lives every day in Australia. Disturbingly, there is an attempted suicide every eight minutes.

Australian Rotary Health (ARH) will channel the funds raised by the walk into research on mental health.

“It’s only by research that we’ll be able to find out why it’s getting so bad,” Vicki says.

This year, ARH is focusing research on the mental health of children aged up to 12 years old. COVID has been a huge issue and now we have children as young as five attempting self-harm. If we can help
them at this age, we’re going to make a huge difference.”

House of Hope, Woombye, is a charity helping people with eating disorders. It was founded seven years ago by Mark Forbes and his wife Gay.

Mark says that in the time House of Hope has been operational, the age of its participants has fallen time and again.

“At the moment, we’re working with boys as young as seven who are showing signs of an eating disorder,” Mark says.

“One boy’s dad relayed his concerns to me that his seven-year-old son had related success to having a six-pack stomach. The kid said: ‘I want to get a six-pack stomach so I’m going to eat less because that’s what I need to do to succeed’.”

Mark says early intervention is critical to turning around an eating disorder.

That’s something he and Gay understand firsthand. For 25 years, the couple grappled with their two daughters’ eating disorders.

“It (the disorder) was in our family for a couple of years before we even knew it was there,” Mark says. “And by then, the eating disorder had got its claws in and then it becomes so much harder to shift.

“So, early intervention is key.”

Seven years ago, the couple started opening their Buddina home to parents and carers of children with eating disorders every fortnight.

“We quickly realised everyone had the same issue. There wasn’t a specific eating disorder residential facility in Australia,” Mark says.

The couple built Australia’s first live-in residential eating disorder facility at Mooloolah Valley, which is now called Wandi Nerida and is operated by the Butterfly Foundation.

While they were building that facility, they knew they’d need a transitional step-up/step-down support facility. So, three years ago, they opened House of Hope at West Woombye. It’s staffed by eight lived-experienced young women, some whom are also counsellors or qualified in other therapeutic modalities such as art, yoga, music or dance. Psychologists also use the space and offer counselling services to participants.

Mark calls it a ‘preventative space’ because participants come to them while they’re on the waitlist for residential care, or they realise the cost of residential care and can’t afford it.

“Quite often, we give them enough support that they decide they don’t need the residential after all, because they’re getting enough support at House of Hope,” he says. “That’s a fantastic outcome for what we deliver.”

Mark says that what makes House of Hope unique is having lived-experience staff who can entirely relate to their participants. The idea is based on best practice in the US.

“We’ve had kids arrive at House of Hope and not get out of the car. One of our girls will approach them and say, ‘It’s good that you’re here’. The next time they’ll get out of the car and go in the house. It’s a slow process.”

Visit ended.org.au.

LIFT THE LID WALK FOR MENTAL HEALTH

When: Starts 8am on Sunday, October 8.

Where: A social walk-and-talk event from Mooloolaba Surf Club to Maroochydore Surf Club and back. Participants have the option to turn around at Alex Surf Club.

Cost: Adults $30, children under-15 free. Every adult participant will receive an event T-shirt. Children’s T-shirts can be purchased via the ticket website.

Register: Online at liftthelidwalk.com.au or from 7am on the day. Credit card facilities are available.

This community event is one of the Coast’s best walks from Mooloolaba Surf Club to Maroochydore (or Alex) and return. Head along if you have been impacted by, or care about, mental health. Dogs are also welcome.

 

How horses show kids who they truly are

Helen Sorenson started her equine therapy service at Hunchy 20 years ago, after training in the US and Canada.

A horsewoman and qualified counsellor, Helen and her Equine Alliance horses work with children who are on the autism spectrum, experience anxiety, have been bullied, or come from trauma and abuse backgrounds.

Helen says horses are very good at helping children to self-regulate because they are very grounded animals. Horses are masters at reading body language and are very good at feeling shifts of energy because as prey animals, they gauge their risk by seeking congruency and trust.

“Because they (horses) respond very subtly to any shift in our energy and because of their ability to read body language, what they do is, they externalise what’s going on internally for people,” Helen says. “In a therapeutic setting, it’s very common for people to say: ‘That horse reminds me of me’ or ‘I’ve got a relative like that’.”

Helen says the counsellor often plays a very minor role.

“Sometimes a person will stand with a horse and say very little to us, but you see such huge shifts in them and it’s because what’s going on for them emotionally is being processed through the horse. As a result, you can see the horse change and the person change.”

Helen explains that horses are particularly adept at helping people process trauma – partly because horses are non-judgmental and accepting.

“So, when a child, who has been burdened with all the labels of their behaviours, stands before a horse, the horse looks at them and goes, ‘That’s not who you are’,” she says.

“It’s very empowering for a child, then, to start seeing themselves through the eyes of a horse.”

Helen says horses are grounded in the moment. They don’t bounce from the past to the future like we do. For kids with anxiety, witnessing a horse come into a state of anxiety and then be able to get out of it in a heartbeat is self-regulating behaviour, which they learn from horses.

Helen says her aim is to give children skills they can carry with them in life.

“Sometimes children go back into (home/school) situations that we know may not be conducive to change, but when they’re here, you see them as they want to be. The best you can do sometimes is plant that seed and when their life situation changes, then they can let that nurture part grow.”

Visit equine-alliance.com.au.

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