Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal
Tackling stigma around youth mental health
Mental health difficulties are the most common health challenges for young people, with between 20-25% of Australian adolescents experiencing a mental health or substance abuse issue in any given year. In the Bega Valley, youth mental health has been identified as a major issue facing the region. With a lack of public transport, limited education opportunities and few social spaces for young people – outside of playing a sport – a youth dance organisation has become an important alternative and a vital hub for self-expression and creativity.
Bega-based fLiNG Physical Theatre provides opportunities for young people to work with local and visiting professional artists to create original contemporary performance projects. They aim to give voice to regional perspectives, and designed a powerful youth-centric research and performance project called ‘My Black Dog”, which set out to learn about and support the mental health of young people living in the Bega Valley.
The project had two components; the creation of a moving, original performance exploring youth mental health, and the design and delivery of wellbeing workshops for high school students exploring how they can creatively and practically support their wellbeing. But to deliver it, they needed increased resourcing and capacity.
A grant of $17,700 from FRRR’s In a Good Place program, funded by CCI Giving, was awarded and spread across the project to help realise the final performance outcome. It enabled the employment of two fLiNG Alumni, who returned to the Bega Valley to perform in the work, demonstrating potential future pathways for younger fLiNG Company members, who look to these people as role models. Funds also supported a local year 12 fLiNG Alumni to be employed to co-deliver the Art & Wellbeing workshops in schools around the region, ensuring the program is relevant and speaks on the level of those it’s being delivered to.
The live performance, entitled ‘My Black Dog’, was co-created with fLiNG Company members (14-18yrs) across all aspects of activity. The work’s themes – isolation, disconnection, grief and bullying – were set in a school context, and recognisable for many in the young audience. The uncomfortable territory also revealed the characters’ resilience and capacity for them to reach out and support one another.
It ran for a season of eight performances. This project reached more than 750 individuals, and the Art & Wellbeing workshops were delivered to 152 students in local schools. It all helped to break down stigma, learn about what is occurring in the community, and help generate conversation on an issue that is often difficult to talk about. Each performance was supported by local mental health professionals.
The community response to the show was exceptional, and many were inspired to share their own stories. Exploring and talking about the difficulties that young people come up against is the best way to begin to solve and heal them, and fLiNG Physical Theatre is contributing to the conversation in a highly creative and collaborative way. It was the recipient of the 2019 WayAhead Mental Health Matters Award for Youth, and shortlisted for an Australian Dance Award.
Gabriella Rose, fLiNG’s Co-Artistic Director, explained that the project has enabled a deeper understanding of how mental health issues may present in a young person, and what things can be done to support them.
“It has also revealed the enormity of the problem in regional areas, the lack of infrastructure and support available to isolated people. Through round table discussions with school welfare officers, mental health workers, parents and teens, it revealed how overwhelming the situation can be, but also how hard people are working to build better support structures around vulnerable young people in our community.”
The project’s final report also notes:
“Ultimately the My Black Dog project reiterated that within our community, mental health issues are common, and they can impact everyone. fLiNG’s Artistic Directors saw the Bega Valley community take up the offer to connect with this work and to start a conversation. The more we talk about mental health, the better we will become at looking after ourselves, recognising when we need support, and helping each other get through it.”
Grants up to $20,000 available through the In a Good Place program
8 July 2020: Grants of up to $20,000 are now available to not-for-profit organisations (NFPs) throughout rural, regional and remote Australia to support projects that improve and strengthen the mental health of their communities through the In a Good Place (IAGP) program.
The IAGP program, now in its third year, is the centrepiece of a five-year partnership between the Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR) and CCI Giving. It is based on a shared belief in the value and importance of rural, regional and remote communities and a commitment to strengthening mental health and wellbeing within those communities.
A pool of $200,000 is available for community-led projects that reduce social isolation, increase social participation and connectedness, and increase access to help for people within rural, regional and remote communities who are at risk of, or are experiencing, mental health issues.
Jeremy Yipp, Chief Risk Officer of CCI and Chair of CCI Giving, said initiatives that increase the resilience and social connectedness of rural communities not only have direct mental health benefits, but often also lead to improved mental wellbeing by increasing productivity, economic participation, and employment.
“We have seen so many projects funded through the In a Good Place program that have been a beacon of hope for those living in communities doing it tough. They have made a real difference to the resilience, social connectedness and mental wellbeing of rural Australia. Even just sharing experiences and knowing that you’re not alone is, in itself, powerful.
“We encourage community groups to put forward proposals for projects that will help to tackle the mental health challenges their community is facing, especially with the additional pressures encountered due to COVID-19,” said Mr Yipp.
Natalie Egleton, CEO of FRRR, said that COVID-19 has highlighted the impact that isolation can have on mental health and demonstrates why social connectedness, particularly during times of crisis, is so important for the mental wellbeing of those living in rural communities.
“Rural communities have been hit by drought, bushfires, floods and now the impact of COVID-19 restrictions. These events have a huge impact on the mental health of those living in these regions,” Ms Egleton said.
For people living in rural, regional and remote Australia, accessing mental health support is typically more complex than in metropolitan areas. This is due to a myriad of factors including a lack of mental health expertise within the community, the considerable travel time to reach mental health services and specialists and an overarching culture of self-reliance and fear of stigma.
“Mental health in rural, regional and remote Australia is a complex issue. Overwhelmingly, there is a consistent need in these communities for better access to mental health services, as well as greater opportunities to strengthen social-connectedness and participation,” Ms Egleton explained.
“It’s not just about those that have a mental health condition having access to clinical services, but also how we can support opportunities to promote mental wellbeing, through the likes of workshops or mental health first-aid training, or simply providing a safe place to chat to someone.”
“Each community is different; with different mental health concerns, needs and priorities. Our partnership with CCI Giving means that we can support community-led initiatives that are meaningful and will have the greatest impact on the mental wellness of those living in these rural communities,” said Ms Egleton.
Applications open on 7 July 2020. FRRR expects this will be a highly competitive program and so there is a two-stage application process. A brief project outline must be submitted no later than 7 August, and full applications for invited projects are due by 11 August 2020.
 National Mental Health Commission. Monitoring mental health and suicide prevention reform: National Report 2019. Sydney: NMHC; 2019.
 Australian Bureau of Statistics. People living in remote areas are less than half as likely to access a mental health service. Health case study. 2016. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/3e67hIM.