Let's hear from the experts on youth mental health

A wave of interest: Our August 31 story on a tragic loss of life drew a huge number of readers. The media has a responsibility to help stem the tide. Photo: Jeremy Hedley
A wave of interest: Our August 31 story on a tragic loss of life drew a huge number of readers. The media has a responsibility to help stem the tide. Photo: Jeremy Hedley

This is a column I should have written some time ago, but given the gravity of the subject I hope I can be forgiven for approaching it with some caution.

I have an idea I want to run by you and invite you to send any thoughts to jeremy.hedley@fairfaxmedia.com.au (while I won’t be so foolish as to promise to be able to respond to every message that might come along, you can be assured it will be read).

Some Background

On August 31 this year I published an article on the front page of The Bunbury Mail called “Facing the Wave” about the death of a young local woman by her own hand and some responses to that event – that of the community, of her tremendously courageous family, and in effect my own response: you didn’t have to read too deeply between the lines to see that I’d been affected by what I saw.

That ‘story’ (which seems altogether the wrong word in this case) came about because as I was driving home one evening after another job the sunset promised to be beautiful and I thought I would drive home via the beach and enjoy the view.

I came upon a crowd of people and I knew, with a falling feeling, what was going on. The only way to describe the feeling that came over me – and I apologise if I bore anyone with the story again, it’s one I’ve told many times now – is that I was compelled to bear witness.

I took my cameras and got to work as quietly as I could and people let me do that – I felt that there was an understanding that it was right I be there (and, having photographed from one side of the planet to the other, I know when I’m not welcome).

I got home, processed the pictures, and they have haunted me since.

Some Backlash

The response was – and continues to be – overwhelmingly positive, if that is the right word, and the article has become one of our most read this year. But (there’s always one) who thinks to raise a ruckus and someone who should have known much, much better posted to Facebook a savage attack on the article and a nasty personal swipe at me and such ignorant nonsense shouldn’t go unmentioned as its harm is manifold.

Any suggestion that guidelines were not followed in the reporting of the article is wrong and made in ignorance. Any journalist worth their salt knows that the Australian Press Council issued new guidelines for reporting on suicide in August 2011. This was itself prominently reported upon at the time, with council chairman Julian Disney saying, “There should not be a taboo on reporting of this kind.”

Numerous other domestic and international guidelines were consulted as well.

When the messaging of the mental health campaigns is unanimously about better communication and opening up, the media has a responsibility to play its part and anyone who think the timid old status quo is good enough needs to get their head out of the sand, or indeed the more obvious place suggested by that way of thinking.

What I’d like to do

Let’s hear from the experts on youth mental health and wellbeing: youth. I propose to convene both an audience and a panel: the former of health professionals, politicians, parents, opinion leaders, the latter of students from local high schools who will present on aspects of their lived experiences so that the audience of experts may better understand how to face the waves that batter our young each day.

The response so far from politicians and leaders I’ve spoken to has been very encouraging, but students, teachers, parents, what do you think? Please let me know your ideas and let’s make this forum a reality.

– Jeremy Hedley

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If you feel like you need help, please don’t wait. Real support is available from Lifeline (131 114), beyondblue (1300 22 46 36), or Kids Helpline (1800 551 800).