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The Lighthouse Project

The impact has been far greater than what we had ever imagined

In 2012 youth suicide and depression prevention organisation, Youth Focus, and then CEO Jenny Allen, formed a working group to address critically high rates of suicide and depression amongst young men.

Suicide was recognised as the major cause of death in the 15-25 year old age group with men accounting for 70% of all suicides in Australia.

The group drew together representatives from Youth Focus; Orygen; the Black Dog Institute;; the Telethon Kids Institute; The West Australian Newspaper; advertising agency Meerkats; the West Coast Eagles as well as general medical practitioners and parents.

In 2014 the group approached Lotterywest with innovative plans to embark on a two year ‘young men’s mental health project’. The project’s aim was to develop new community messaging techniques to research, explore and address the barriers to young men accessing mental health support services.

Lotterywest supported Youth Focus to with a project grant of $775,000 to cover costs such as salaries, psychometrics, documentation, production costs, and honorarium for participants.

Chris Harris of Youth Focus reflected on the incredible successes of the project to date.

“The project had three ‘sub-projects’. The first was removing the barriers to access help, of which a major one was the requirement to have a mental health care plan from a GP before accessing support services.

“Young men going and getting a ‘mental health care plan’ feels like labelling; a sign of weakness. It reduces their chances of getting help” said Chris.

Without any marketing or advertising, once this requirement was removed, the team saw results;

“In an 18 month period, we saw a fivefold increase in young men who accessed services such as psychologists, to receive support predominantly around depression and anxiety.”

The project’s research also identified the need to change the language of communication to fit the target market;

“We thought about how we could use language that fits with genetic loading. Rather than talking about needing help, we changed the language to building strength.”

A second ‘sub project’ that was developed involved six 15 minute mental health sessions trialled with 30 AFL football players aged 17-31. The sessions happened within the footballer’s normal training. The program made no mention of mental health or help-seeking and no psychological terms.

Chris said participants were given situational ‘sporting challenges’;

“For example, we said, look, the opposition is trying to hip and shoulder you, what do you do? Look to your team-mates for help. Then it was… OK – back to training.”

“The idea is that when you come up with difficult situations in life, say your girlfriend has dropped you, you can apply the same strategies and you don’t lose sight of your goal.

The team measured the outcomes of the session and found that without any mention of mental health, there was an increase in participants seeking help – from coaches, family and psychologists.

Chris said the project leaders saw immense potential in adapting the program;

“…things like gaming, music, arts, as long as that intervention relates to that particular interest.”

The third ‘sub project’ was developing a communication strategy to share the projects findings and successes. Rather than adopting a ‘health methodology line’ the team decided on an advertising campaign approach with advertising agency Meerkats becoming involved.

“Initially we looked at putting it out to advertisers, then we came to the point that we decided to do participatory research. The task was for young men to come up with the solution to stop their mates killing themselves. We put the call out on Facebook for people to become involved and we had 112 people turn up at the Perth Convention Centre to help us come up with solutions.”

What they came up with, was The Lighthouse Project an online portal with a complete toolkit that guides people through how to come up with mental health solutions.

The ‘Lighthouse’ is a tattoo, real or temporary which will also be developed into stickers, a clothing emblem, and potentially imbedded in online games.
“It marks you out as someone willing to have the hard conversations to save a mate’s life” says Chris.

Along with a tattoo and sticker design, The Lighthouse Project is also liaising with gamers in the US to embed the logo in popular games.

“The number of young men who have got on board with this is absolutely remarkable. They’ve put up their hand and made this happen. That for me is the success of it; the degree of investment of the young men themselves. If we can trust in young people to help find solutions to mental health, they will come up with them. That’s the most rewarding aspect.”

The Lighthouse Project

Image credit: Nic Ellis, The West Australian

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