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Peer workshops help Newy teen out of ‘dark pit’

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When Minnie Knight was was nine-years-old, her father was jailed and several of her remaining family members died.

Not only that, school was a struggle and she was being bullied – by the time she was 12, she found herself in what she describes as a “dark pit”.

“I used to self-harm a lot as a way to deal with all my emotions and I felt quite suicidal a lot of the time,” Miinie said.

“I didn’t know how to deal with my emotions in a healthy way.

“I just wanted the bad stuff to end, not me to end as a person. I wanted to stop the hurt, not my life.”

Now 19, the Newcastle teenager’s life is very different – she has just finished a TAFE course and is about to start a bachelor’s degree in education.

Minnie credits her turnaround to a youth mental health program that’s based on teenagers helping each other.

Youth Insearch runs weekend workshops and support groups for people aged 14-22 and operates in Queensland, NSW and Victoria.

Minnie said she was hesitant to join the workshops at first but willing to try anything to ease her depression.

“It was eye-opening,” she said.

“I realised sitting in that session room, that people actually want to listen to each other, and they want to listen to me.

“I found that hearing what other people my age had to say on ways I could cope was really nice to hear.”

The forums are run by young people who have experienced mental health problems themselves, according to Youth Insearch clinical lead Leanne Hall, and extra clinical support is also provided.

“It is a genuine peer-to-peer organisation, so our power is in the ability for young people to support other young people and create networks,” she told AAP.

“We’ve got a lot of research that says they’ll talk to a peer before they’ll talk to any health professional… they don’t trust the system, and it’s a very difficult beast to navigate.”

Minnie is one of many teenagers who have undergone Youth Insearch’s additional leadership training, and returned to lead workshops themselves.

“I see a lot of kids, teenagers,” she said.

“I felt the same as they did and, now, I’m out of that hole and I want to help them get out as well.”

Youth Insearch has helped nearly 32,000 at-risk young people and hopes to expand nationally, but ongoing funding is uncertain – it relies on philanthropy, grants and a mix of federal and state money.

Of the people the organisation supports, two out of three had planned to die by suicide in the past, and half had attempted suicide – but after completing its program, their risk of suicide reduces significantly.

Suicide is the leading cause of death among Australians aged 15–24, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, accounting for about a third of deaths in this age group.

According to Lifeline figures, suicidality disproportionately affects minority groups, with the LGBTIQA+ community having the highest rate of suicide.

People living in rural Australia are twice as likely to die die by suicide, while one in four young people who die by suicide are indigenous.

Youth Insearch is running an End Youth Suicide campaign, now in its fourth year, which aims to destigmatise mental health problems and save lives by encouraging people to talk about suicide.

End Youth Suicide Week begins Monday 14 February.

HOW TO HELP SOMEONE STRUGGLING WITH MENTAL HEALTH

  • Ask them if they are thinking about suicide. Research shows that asking someone if they are thinking about suicide will not increase the likelihood that they will make an attempt.
  • Listen and validate. You don’t need to understand what they are going through, or help them ‘fix’ the problem, you just need to listen and validate their feelings.
  • Help them seek support. Offer to go with them to a counsellor, GP or other health professional.
  • Check in regularly. A regular text or call to let them know you care can help someone who is struggling feel less alone.
  • Don’t forget to look after yourself. It can be difficult supporting some one experiencing a mental health issue – it’s okay to have your own support network and reach out for help if you need to:
  • Lifeline 13 11 14
  • Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 (for people aged 5 to 25)
  • Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 or online 

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