The theme – Are you right, Mate? – saw dozens of locals take the opportunity to consider the question in relation to their own mental health and the mental health of their families, friends and communities at large.
SWH Camperdown & Lismore Community Health manager Rebecca Van Wollingen said the honesty and vulnerability of the night’s guest speakers, Melbourne-based actor/writer/comedian Jackson Tozer and Paralympic Don Elgin, made them engaging and inspiring.
Lismore Community Health administrative support officer Sharon Pyke echoed Rebecca’s thoughts. Also involved in the evening’s organisation, she and her family attended, for the second year running.
‘The guest speakers were approachable and spoke in a way everyone could understand and relate to. Their honesty was admirable and put us all at ease. It was also good to hear men speak about their feelings, emotions and experiences so openly. Having a couple of well-travelled, successful blokes turn up to Lismore to speak was something special in itself. We had our 17-year-old son with us and he spoke about them animatedly all the way home,’ she said.
‘For those who attended it was not only an opportunity for social interaction; it brought together people from a range of age groups, from those who were older and lived alone to younger ones with family still at home. It also got people speaking about mental health and admitting, in one or two cases, to experiencing problems with depression or having a loved one experiencing some problems.
‘I think it is appreciated when these events are held as the community feels help isn’t too far away if they should need it, and that there’s a sense that someone cares about them.’
The third VIP guest for the evening was also a hit. beyondblue’s Big Blue Bus rolled into town, nearing the end of its 16-month/47,000 kilometre national roadshow. Its staff joined forces with local health service providers to chat with people who wanted to know more about depression and anxiety, and where to go to get support. They also encouraged everyone to make a mental health pledge – a written commitment or goal to achieve or maintain good mental health, in the next year.
‘Depression and anxiety are growing concerns in our area, especially among men and young people,’ explains another co-organiser of the night, SWH Health Promotion Officer Nikita Wheaton. ‘The aim of these events is to reduce the stigma around mental health by fostering conversations, providing resources about issues many people in our community are facing, and providing information on where they can go to seek help.’
More than three million Australians are currently experiencing depression or anxiety or both and more than half of them do not seek help. Suicide now accounts for twice as many Australian deaths as road accidents. In 2013, 2,522 Australians took their own lives. At this very moment, seven Australians are doing so every single day.
Following on from the SWH-organised men-only Mental Health Night in Lismore last year, this latest free community event is the result of a commendable collaboration between SWH Lismore Community Health, SWH Mental Health Services, SWH Lismore Community Health Women’s Auxiliary, Lismore & Derrinallum Lions Club, Lismore & Derrinallum Football Netball Club, Lismore & Surrounding District Men’s Shed and beyondblue.
Rebecca says the event is now being evaluated to decide what SWH Lismore Community Health will next do next on the mental health front, in and around Lismore.
‘As part of our local mental health strategy we are aiming to continue to have regular meetings and events with the community to continue to raise awareness and encourage communication and sharing of stories and resources.’
PHOTO 1 > SWH Lismore Community Health Women’s Auxiliary members (from left) Gwenda Bell, Margot Lee, Joan Goodacre and Norma Ibbotson celebrate the success of the night with Camperdown & Lismore Community Health manager Rebecca Van Wollingen (centre back) and health promotion officer Nikita Wheaton. PHOTO 2 > Locals take their seats. PHOTO 3 > beyondblue’s Kate Mulhearn (left), Kimberley Nichols and their beautiful Big Blue Bus. PHOTO 4 > Guest speakers Don Elgin (left) and Jackson Tozer (right) chat with Kimberley, Lismore police officer Scott Simpson and Rebecca.