The Australian Foundation for Mental Health Research’s (AFFIRM) Youth Ambassador Program has been officially launched by the Governor-General of Australia, Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce AC at The Australian National University. AFFIRM raises much needed funds towards mental health research as well as early intervention programs, awareness and destigmatisation initiatives to reduce the prevalence of mental disorders.
Coinciding with National Mental Health week, the launch of the Program recognised 58 volunteer Canberra secondary students, who will engage in leadership activities throughout 2011 to raise awareness of mental health issues with their peers.
Ms Bryce was honoured to launch the AFFIRM Youth Ambassador program, speaking about “how the support of peers is very comforting, especially so in countering the evils of cyber-bullying. The work of the AFFIRM ambassadors is crucial in spreading the message that mental illness can be treated. Providing accurate information to their fellow students and convincing them that help is possible and available.”
Deputy Director of the ANU Centre for Mental Health Research Professor Kathy Griffiths said that improving mental health in young people and increasing help-seeking is a key priority in mental health research, schools and the community.
“One in four young people will experience an episode of clinical anxiety or depression by the age of 19,” Professor Griffiths said.
“While these can be treated effectively only 25 per cent of young people will actually seek help when they need it. Recognition of mental health issues, access and availability of services and stigma represent significant barriers.
“Education is key in raising awareness of the frequency, nature and impact of mental health issues in young people and highlighting available sources of help. However, research indicates that young people are more likely to go to their peers for help and support than formal services, and this gap increases throughout adolescence. Of the numerous barriers to seeking help from professionals, stigma represents one of the greatest due to the shame and judgement that often surrounds mental illness,” she said.
Vice-Chancellor of the ANU, Professor Ian Young, also congratulated AFFIRM on the program saying “Here at ANU we are also acutely aware of the issues facing youth. Our students face similar challenges in the stress associated with academic pressures and performance, financial strains, and attempting to balance these with personal life demands. These hassles have the capacity to disrupt young people throughout their time at university and can lead to significant long-term difficulties. We are looking forward to hearing about the outcomes of the work conducted here at CMHR because of its implications in enhancing the health and well-being of our students and staff too.”
The AFFIRM Youth Ambassadors Program has trained students from 26 secondary schools in Canberra. They are undertaking activities to raise awareness, reduce stigma and encourage help-seeking including speaking in class groups and assembly, working with the primary contact at their school to design campaigns and distribute posters with information, speaking with members of the community, participating in media stories and attending community events focused on youth mental health.