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Slaying the zombies of mental health

Developing a connection between zombies and positive mental health messages is likely to raise eyebrows. But when you are trying to break through and connect with young men – radical approaches are often the most effective.

The Something Haunting You website is doing just that – finding a way to speak to young men and help them to slay their problem ‘zombies’, like exam stress, peer pressure, and body image doubts.

An initiative of the Young and Well Collaborative Research Centre, the website is designed to help 15 to 17 year-olds navigate the stresses in their lives in a unique and engaging way while also breaking down the stereotypes around mental health.

Something Haunting You?

And it is perfect timing with Mental Health Week running from Sunday the 4th of October until Saturday the 10th of October.

Mental Health Week aims to activate, educate and engage all Australians through a week of interactive events including an official launch, community festivals, art exhibitions, music, theatre, television productions and seminars.

From its beginnings in 1985, the week has grown to encompass hundreds of events and a multitude of individuals, community groups and service providers committed to promoting mental wellbeing, furthering knowledge about mental health and eliminating the stigma surrounding mental illness.

According to the Young and Well Collaborative Research Centre, around 40 per cent of young men aged 15 to 17 have some level of emotional distress, with one in five feeling that life is not worth living.

Dr Philippa Collin is a senior research fellow at the University of Western Sydney and a lead researcher on the campaign and is particularly excited about the way Something Haunting You was developed in collaboration with young men across Australia.

It is really a collaborative effort and we’ve been really inspired by the ways in which we’ve been able to work in collaboration with young men to come up with this campaign,” she says.

“One of the key things that was quite consistent across the board was this idea that one of the ways of helping to engage with an issue that was a bit serious or felt a bit confronting was through humour.

“And I guess the sort of dark humour that’s associated with the zombie as a character, and guys liked this idea that you could personify everyday problems with a zombie.”

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While Philippa says there are already many great resources to help young men, the Something Haunting You campaign is designed to combat the range of issues preventing them from seeking that help, like stigma, denial, and gender stereotypes.

“I think it’s pretty well established that there are a range barriers associated with dominant ideas about masculinity and what it means to be a man, being tough and not showing weakness,” she says.

“And so we were interested in understanding how we convert those qualities in to things that help guys to seek formal or informal help or maybe even offer it to somebody that they know.”

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Tom and Sam are both in their early 20s, and are very familiar with both the pressures faced by young men and the feeling that it’s not okay to seek help.

“I think that there’s so much pressure on boys to be tough and whatever, that nobody wants to go see the counsellor for fear of being the weirdo that sees the counsellor,” Sam says.

“It’s pressure to be fine,” Tom says.

“It’s pressure to be afloat, so if you publically go through one of those channels, it’s like an admission that you’re not fine, which is the worst.

“I think there is support there, but a lot of it is sort of left there if you want it, but there’s not a lot of encouragement to go and find it.”

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As well as combatting stigma, Something Haunting You is working to help connect young men with available resources.

“That direct, helping people navigate what’s now a really diverse ecosystem of support and information is something that [young men] were really calling for,” Philippa says.

“Anyone can Google something, but what they really told us was in a campaign like this it would be great if there was a selection of resources and recommendations that could come from guys, but that they know are backed up by professionals and evidence.”

Yet, mental health is a complex issue, and Philippa says the fact that young men, like most members in the community, are a diverse group means there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.

“I think our challenge is to be able to really maximise the ways in which technology helps us to be able to personalise messages and provide some variety,” she says.

“So for guys that feel confident about talking about the things they’re experiencing or how they’re feeling, there are options for them, but then there are other mechanisms, other strategies we can use to connect with guys who may prefer to explore these issues in a different way.

“This a broader conversation about how we work together to support the guys in our lives to be well and manage the tough times that they go through.

“And, most importantly, to recognise that, in each and every one of them and as a community, we’ve got a lot of strength that we can build on.”

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If you or someone you know needs assistance managing stress or needs other assistance please talk to a GP or health professional.

SANE Australia Helpline 1800 18 SANE (7263),  www.sane.org

beyondblue support service line 1300 22 46 36, www.beyondblue.org.au

Lifeline 13 11 14, www.lifeline.org.au

Specific information for young people:

headspace 1800 650 850, www.headspace.org.au

ReachOut.com www.reachout.com

Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800, www.kidshelp.com.au

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