PEOPLE: Elevating Youth Mental Health with ‘OurHerd’

Michelle Duong is the Growth Marketing Manager for OurHerd, a storytelling app for young people, powered batyr, a for-purpose preventative mental health organisation. With the exponential rise in mental health illnesses due to the pandemic, this is a project that is needed for young people, more than ever. Here’s the story!

Can you tell our readers what a normal day looks like for Michelle Duong?

The day starts early for me, regardless of what day of the week it is or what I may have on. First is some kind of physical exercise; a walk, yoga or a class at the gym. I find that by setting the intention, showing up and doing it sets me up for the rest of the day. I don’t find the motivation everyday, but I notice the benefits most when I show up on the days I least want to.

Since the shift towards working from home, I’ve been consciously – with the guidance of my psychologist – looking at each day as if it was a sandwich, building it with certain ‘ingredients’ that mark the morning, noon and evening. Without the need to rush into the office, I enjoy the first couple hours in the day for myself; a coffee on the balcony, a walk with the dog, a podcast, a tidy around the apartment or sometimes just sitting and taking a moment to be with my thoughts. These seemingly unremarkable activities form the first part of my “day sandwich” and are arguably my most important and energising. In addition to building a strong morning foundation, I try to take a physical and mental break at lunch by moving away from my workspace and signify the end of work by closing out the sandwich with another walk. I credit these small rituals for helping me to adjust to the challenges of going into lockdown, but even as restrictions begin to lift, I strongly see the value in holding onto them and the mental clarity they bring.

How important is diversity to you and in the work that you do?

I recently joined an extraordinary for-purpose mental health organisation called batyr, which aims to smash the stigma surrounding mental health by promoting positive conversations and sharing lived experience stories. As an organisation created by young people for young people, we ensure that the youth voice is represented at all levels of decision-making, including establishing a National Youth Advisory group, which is made of young people who reflect diverse communities and help guide our strategic direction, and appointing 21-year old Bella Cini as a Board Director, creating a powerful channel between batyr’s board and the collective voices of young people in our community. 

As part of batyr’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, we design tailored workshops for communities including LGBTQIA+, Regional, International Students, NEET and Males and are proud to collaborate on projects like the Orygen University Mental Health Framework, International Student Welfare Program, MYAN (Mental Health and Multicultural Young People) Sector Forum and National Headspace evaluation. ​​

In my role, I’m responsible for the growth and marketing of our new digital storytelling app called OurHerd. The purpose of the platform is to support young people to create change by sharing stories. It’s a safe space, designed to support young people in finding their voices, whilst being a positive environment where people with different views, cultures, experiences and beliefs can feel welcomed, heard and valued. Excitingly, OurHerd is uniquely positioned to leverage digital technology to give young people the opportunity for their voices to be heard, be deeply understood and to inform the decisions that affect them by capturing valuable lived experience insights. The platform uses the power of digital to further bridge the gap between geography, culture and gender. The nature of this work can be challenging but it’s incredibly rewarding. Every single story shared gives you something to admire, learn from and reflect on.

Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?

I count myself lucky to have worked for some great organisations who have generally aligned with my personal values and respected my multicultural identity. Whilst I haven’t been the victim of discrimination directly, I’m acutely aware of differing experiences amongst my peers. As a second generation Australian or “ABC” (Australian-born Chinese), the majority of my childhood and adolescent years were spent trying to navigate the intersection of two worlds; the expectation to embrace and celebrate my parents’ traditional Chinese culture at home, whilst fighting to find my place in mainstream Australian culture at school. There was always a noticeable disconnect in the treatment of the ABCs like me, who spoke English without an accent, dressed like the ‘white’ kids and whose lunch bag occasionally included an unfamiliar snack but, generally nothing enough to cause harm. I seemed to be able to just fly under the radar, whilst my newly-arrived Asian migrant friends weren’t afforded the same luxury. I wasn’t treated differently or badly per se… I just felt a bit invisible and to be honest, I was okay with that at the time. 

Whilst many of those moments took place well before I joined the workforce, the sense of uncertainty and discomfort permeates stubbornly through to this day. Although I don’t let them define my interactions, I can’t quite shake them off either. It’s something I’m still working on for myself and my confidence.


Lean on the people you know, and don’t underestimate the power of your relationships. It can feel overwhelming and scary to consider yourself the odd one out amongst so many others who seemingly have the benefit of the majority. It’s a lot easier to focus on the collective negatives; sometimes it can completely consume your thoughts and make you feel paralysed. In these moments, I would encourage you to sit down and simply make a list of all the people you’ve come across in your life – friends, relatives, neighbours, teachers, support workers, bosses or colleagues – the chances are you’ll realise that despite feeling alone in your challenge, you actually have a network of people you can tap into. 

They may not be the obvious person you think of to help you achieve your ambitions, but by asking for 10min of their time to share your goals with them, it gives you the opportunity to vocalise and own your intentions and who knows, they may even know someone who can support you in the next step forward or hear of an opportunity you wouldn’t have otherwise known about. Generally speaking, people get a kick out of helping others – even if it’s just giving someone their ear – I think there’s something called the ‘helper’s high’. Most people want to feel like their lives mean something and that they’re making a positive difference in the world, so whilst it might feel like too much to ask someone for their time, know that the other person will likely get something out of it too; good karma at the very least! And what’s the worst that could happen? They say “No, sorry I’m too busy right now”. No harm done. The benefits outweigh the downsides by a mile. So go on then, reconnect with your people. In fact, feel free to reach out to me. I’ve always got 10min to share. 

I have to say a little thank you to Maria Chilcott, whose daughter I used to babysit, who was on my ‘list of people’ and who was kind enough to give me 10 minutes (plus more) of her time to share this incredibly valuable piece of advice that’s now with you.

Want to follow and support MICHELLE?

Learn more about the amazing work that batyr does here and check out the OurHerd app – and my story on it – here. I’m always happy to connect with like-minded people – you can find me on LinkedIn here.

About the diversity champion:

Michelle Duong is the Growth Marketing Manager for OurHerd, a storytelling app for young people, powered batyr, a for-purpose preventative mental health organisation. Michelle has experience across a range of industries but is most passionate about using her expertise to rally for the causes she believes in. When she’s not developing strategies to grow the OurHerd community, she’s hanging out with her 40kg foster-fail-dog, Sprocket, looking for ways to live more sustainably – most notably caring for her worm farm and Googling ‘how to DIY (insert everything)’ – and cooking up a storm to share a good meal with her friends and family.

Image description: Michelle is looking at the camera in front of a field wearing a black shirt with zebra prints


VIEW: Misconceptions About Women & Mental Health That Therapists Hear Often

The below is a guest post from Jennifer Okolo, who is a therapist and the founder of She Aspires.

According to the National Institute of Mental health and other evidence-based research, mental health disorders affect men and women disproportionately. There are mental health disorders that are more commonly diagnosed in women such as depression and anxiety. Within this umbrella, there are certain types of disorder that over the years have been more identifiable and unique to women. These include symptoms of mental health disorders during hormonal changes i.e perinatal depression. Abuse is also often a factor in women’s mental health problems and treatments need to be sensitive and reflect those gender differences. Since the pandemic this year following COVID-19, domestic abuse against women has unfortunately increased. It is important to point out that COVID-19 does not cause domestic violence, only abusers are responsible for their actions. Nevertheless, according to Women’s Aid, the pandemic has, however, escalated abuse and closed down routes to safety for women to escape and ultimately affects their mental health.

This emphasises various social factors that put women at great risk of mental health which include:

  • More women than men are the main carer for their children and they may care for other dependent relatives too – intensive caring can affect emotional health, physical health, social activities and finances
  • Women often juggle multiple roles – they may be mothers, partners and carers as well as doing paid work and running a household
  • Women are overrepresented in low income jobs – often part-time – and are more likely to live in poverty than men
  • Poverty, working mainly in the home on housework and concerns about personal safety can make women particularly isolated

One of the common misconceptions around women’s mental health is that all women have this innate readiness to talk about their feelings and seek out strong social networks to help protect their mental health. Additionally, there is also the era of Freud where the history of ‘hysterical’ women and great extreme pressures exists for women to be conducted a certain way. This perception is often derived from the notion as outlined above, that women have now started taking on more ‘male-dominated’ roles such as being the figurehead of the home; completely dismantling the nuclear family we all grew up to learn that was the ‘right’ way and also are juggling careers, businesses and family life simultaneously.

These misconceptions must be cleared up as it can help make a difference in how we can all contribute to combating these problems.

Here are 3 common misconceptions about women and mental health that therapists hear often.

  1. ‘Women are too sensitive’: A lot of the time when women are low in mood or anxious, they are likely to be dismissed as being too emotional or sensitive which is a myth that needs to be dispelled. Society tends to rank people based on certain characteristics, for example. More confident personality traits are perceived as ‘strong’ and those that are more sensitive are deemed ‘weaker’. This creates further stigma and shame and diminishes a person’s mental health symptoms, consequently leading to silent suffering. 
  2. There is a ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ emotional response: Women have a long history of taking care of everyone else but themselves. Even the idea of femininity, according to Psychology Today is often linked to vulnerability, although we are in the process of redefining what it means to be a woman in today’s world.
  3. It’s always a ‘chemical imbalance’: The theory of a chemical imbalance for women’s mental health is often at the first forefront of reference, but all this does is undermine the true complexities of the disorders that women face. It’s important to include societal implications and factors which can have an impact on how a person responds.

As a woman and therapist myself, I am working on dismantling these misconceptions by creating spaces where women are seen beyond bias. My work will continue in 2021 through my platform She Aspires, a career network which provides educational tools and career resources to support women to be more fulfilled and successful at work. Also, through my podcast She’s in a Pod, which I co-host with two other ladies, I hope to continue building a safe space for women to have unfiltered conversations about wellbeing, self-development and much more!

About the expert

Jennifer Okolo is a therapist and the founder of She Aspires – a brand centred around a digital platform that asks young females to write and interact on a series of real-world issues that affect them. Passionate about female empowerment, Jennifer has made it her mission to educate, encourage other women, as explored through social activism, podcasting as 1/3 of award-nominated ‘She’s In A Pod’, and numerous other public speaking engagements across Europe.

Image description: Jennifer is sitting with her legs crossed, smiling. She has long brown hair, dark brown eyes, and is wearing a grey collared shirt and jeans.

VIEW: Our mental health system must reflect the great cultural and linguistic diversity of the Australian population

In Australia, people from a CALD background have a significantly lower level of access to mental health care and support in the wider community, with many not seeking help or support. Following his recent appointment as Multicultural Mental Health Ambassador for the Northern Territory, Mathews David shares his views on the value and role of mental health programs and policies for CALD communities.

  • Why were you originally interested in a career in mental health, and how has that interest changed over time? 

My friends always referred to me as an empathetic and meticulous person and they came to me for their personal issues and it became a profession for me in a later stage.

As a mental health professional, I am making a positive difference in someone’s life, family, and society. There is more work needed to meet the mental health needs of the CALD and indigenous communities of Australia.

  • You have recently been appointed as a  Multicultural Mental Health Ambassador for Northern Territory, Australia. What does this mean to you? 

Australia’s CALD population has unique identities and understanding of mental health and suicide. Quite often, a strong stigma surrounds the individual experiencing mental health issues or suicidal behaviours that may also affect their family, carer, friends and community. Spiritual and religious beliefs may contribute to this stigma, as well as social understanding and attitudes toward mental health and suicide within many cultural communities. As a multicultural mental health ambassador, I have a crucial role to play in terms of advocacy with government and non-governmental sectors to understand the specific needs of CALD mental health.

  • What are your priorities in this role? 

We are only in our early stages for developing CALD mental health. The majority of the service providers do not even understand specific needs of CALD communities. There is a lot to achieve; the key priorities are:

  • Mental health literacy
  • Addressing stigma and shame
  • Health promotion
  • Addressing Policy/ systemic issues
  • Why is CALD mental health particularly important to you? How does this differ to non-CALD mental health?

It’s important to  promote health and reduce illness by the development of culturally appropriate services that cover the spectrum of mental health care from the prevention of mental illness and the promotion of good mental health to treatment, rehabilitation, recovery and relapse prevention. An understanding of the role of culture is vital to the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of mental illness and is essential for everyone involved with the health and wellbeing of all people in Australia.

Many existing mental health systems and policies have been developed for non CALD communities and are only effective for non CALD communities. The First Nations people’s mental health and suicide statistics are much higher than the general community; government is trying to close that gap but still there is a long way to go. Similarly, CALD communities and leaders need to be consulted to create culturally inclusive service delivery in the health system.

As a side note, our budget gives no substantiative funding to CALD-specific mental health initiatives.

  • If you could change one thing about the current systems that manage mental health in Australia, what would it be? Why?

Cultural competency of the mental health front line workers must be addressed, and cultural competency should be a core business for all service providers. Similarly, systemic issues need to be addressed and culturally appropriate assessments must be readily available in each mental health setting.

About the expert

Mathews David is an experienced Mental health clinician with a special interest in CALD and Indigenous Mental health. He is an experienced Migration agent and Education counsellor for Australia, and was recently appointed as Multicultural Mental Health Ambassador for Northern Territory, Australia.

Image description: Headshot of Mathews – he is looking at the camera wearing a light blue-grey suit with dark tie and light blue collared shirt.

VIEW: Climate anxiety and grief are healthy feelings which can form a basis for action

Young people are particularly experiencing real stress and anxiety around climate change, with four in five Australian students recently reporting they are very anxious, and one in five saying they would not or have fewer children because of climate change. In this interview, Dr Sally Gillespie outlines how she has applied her studies and experiences with Jungian psychology to help others and publish a book on climate consciousness.

  • What is Jungian psychology and how did you initially become interested in this field?

The focus of Jungian psychology is to expand consciousness through identifying unconscious aspects of ourselves and the cultures we live within. As a therapeutic approach, it encourages us to find meaning and healing through seeing beyond our habitual thoughts, behaviours and identifications. Jungian psychological practices aim to question, observe and reflect on unknown aspects of ourselves through paying attention to dreams, body symptoms, emotional responses, fantasies and creative expressions.

Jungian psychology initially appealed to me because of my vivid dream life. In my early twenties I began recording and working with my dreams, which led me to read and attend lectures about dreams and the work of Jung. This led me into Jungian analysis and then training to become a psychotherapist.

  • How have you been applying it to the field and global issue of climate change?

As my concerns over climate change grew, I became aware that there was a strong psychological component behind climate denial and inaction. This prompted me to think about my own and other people’s reactions to climate change. My dreams also reflected climate concerns, spurring me on to deeper involvement. In 2011 I undertook PHD research and set up a research group to discuss our psychological responses to ongoing engagement with climate issues. Drawing upon Jungian perspectives, I looked for ways to bring unconscious feelings into consciousness through encouraging reflective conversations, based upon respectful listening and open-ended questions. I also invited participants to share dreams which seemed relevant to the research topic. Dream sharing allowed the group’s conversations to acknowledge difficult feelings like confusion, fear, grief and despair in ways which fostered compassion, wisdom and tolerance. What we learnt through this research process was that having the safety and space to identify and explore climate change responses, many of which were quite ambivalent or contradictory, increased our emotional resilience and motivation for action.

When something which has been felt unconsciously becomes conscious and can be explored compassionately with others, it frees minds, hearts and imaginations for change and creative action. I have continued this work through writing and facilitating community conversations and workshops on climate psychology.

  • ‘Climate anxiety’ is a growing problem and challenge, particularly for younger generations. How common or natural is it to feel overwhelmed by issues like climate change?

It is important to acknowledge that feeling anxious about climate disruption is a rational and sane response, especially given the lack of adequate climate action by Governments, nationally and internationally. Climate anxiety and grief are healthy feelings to have and are part of waking up to what is being lost and destroyed in our natural world, and the ways that this will affect our lives especially for younger generations. When this anxiety and grief can be acknowledged and shared safely, it builds empathy and connections with others while developing ecological consciousness and conscience as a basis for action.

While it is natural to feel overwhelmed at times by climate anxiety, especially when in midst of climate driven disasters such as drought and bushfires, it is neither healthy nor useful to live in a perpetual state of heightened anxiety over climate disruption, or to feel paralysed by climate anxieties. Instead we need to learn how to process and manage our climate fears, as many long term climate campaigners and scientists have learnt to do.

The emotional process of normalising and familiarising ourselves with climate anxiety acts as an antidote for feelings of numbness and apathy which frequently mask underlying or unconscious feelings of climate anxiety, grief and despair. We need to identify, discuss and digest our climate fears and sadness, at both a personal and a collective level, to become fully engaged and response-able. When we can do this, climate anxiety does not so much disappear as become a part of the landscape of our lives and our relationship to our world, which we can reflect upon and integrate over time.

  • How can someone who is experiencing this feeling of being overwhelmed shift their mindset to be more action-oriented?

Learning how to manage climate anxiety is an ongoing personal and collective process which builds social connections, develops emotional resilience and empowers action. The first step is to acknowledge how you feel and to share your feelings with others in a safe space. For anyone experiencing ongoing paralysing anxiety, it is best to seek sympathetic professional help to manage distressing anxiety symptoms. Otherwise a good strategy is to seek out others who are up for honest and respectful conversations (not debates!) about climate anxiety. This might mean initiating conversations with friends or within your existing communities, such as schools, workplaces, sporting groups or book clubs, or it might mean initiating a climate discussion group.

While people are often scared to enter into climate conversations, fearing that they will either feel overwhelmed or encounter arguments, they usually feel relieved and grateful when they can talk openly and safely about their feelings with someone who listens well. There are also supportive websites, podcasts and books that acknowledge climate anxiety and grief, while sharing inspirational personal stories that support connection and action.

Secondly, monitor how much time you spend viewing climate media reports as this can be traumatising. Once you accept the basic climate science it is best to focus on collective climate action rather than fall into repeated reading of distressing reports on your own.

Thirdly, prioritise emotional wellbeing through maintaining self-care and social networks. For climate action to be sustainable and enjoyable, as it needs to be, individuals and campaign groups need to foster social connection and support through activities such as regular check ins, mindfulness practices, bushwalks or group dinners. Additionally always choose a form of action that excites you and aligns with your talents and interests, while also making time for fun activities not related to climate action. Just as our ecosystems need restorative attention and space, so do we!

About the expert

Dr Sally Gillespie facilitates workshops on climate psychology and ecopsychology and is the author of Climate Crisis and Consciousness: Re-imagining our world and ourselves, available online and in all good bookstores.

Image description: Headshot of Dr Sally Gillespie from the shoulders up. She wears a navy blue top, gold necklace and glasses. She is smiling and standing in a garden, surrounded by trees and plants.

PEOPLE: Providing mental health services in an overloaded industry during a pandemic

CONTENT WARNING: The following article mentions suicide and domestic violence. If this triggers something or you need to talk to someone, please called Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636. If you’re in immediate danger, call 000.

During the coronavirus pandemic, many are doing it tough, including the thousands of healthcare workers on the frontlines. Sarah Goulding is one of these frontline workers, taking on night shifts to deliver much-needed mental health services to patients, while homeschooling during the day. In this interview, she shares how she has seen the mental health industry evolve throughout her career, her experiences during the pandemic, and advice for others considering a career in this space.

  • Working in the mental health space, what are the major mental health challenges you’ve seen Australians struggle with and how has that changed over time, particularly now during COVID-19?

The major challenges we face in mental health are access to service issues and under resourcing. Access to community mental health services and inpatient beds remain an issue – long waitlists for community treatment teams, blockages in Emergency Departments for consumers awaiting and inpatient beds.

Staff are constantly under pressure to move people through the system as quickly as possible, to make more space for the high demand of patient flow. This has resulted in poor patient outcomes and high staff burn out rates. 

The majority of struggle during COVID-19 has been the sudden spike in mental health issues whether consumers have pre existing conditions or new presentations. When you have a system that is already overloaded and these unprecedented events occur, it can be quite catastrophic. Consumers have been struggling with a range of emotions, such as panic, hoarding, low mood, and anxiety. We also have to consider our consumers that have pre existing mental health conditions who have relapsed under the stressful conditions of social isolation. 

There have been reports of impulsive suicide in the community and for consumers in quarrantine. There has been a major spike in domestic and family violence cases. 

Over time we have learnt to adapt to staff shortages, bed shortages and lack of resources, however the rapid increase of mental health presentations and relapse in consumers with pre existing conditions has made it very difficult to manage. COVID-19 has required public services partnering with private services, cooperation and problem solving to try and attend to the needs of a community in crisis. My hope after COVID-19 is for more awareness on the fragility of our community especially post the bushfires, we need mental health services more than ever.

  • What are some of the signs people should recognize as indicators that someone needs professional mental health support? 

As a general guide, I would look for behavioral changes, mood shifts, food intake, sleep, levels of motivation and socialization, (even via Facetime during COVID-19) irritability, hopeless or helpless themes in conversation.

Risk issues can be a difficult conversation to have with another person, however if they express suicidal ideas or thoughts of suicide it is really important that they speak with a professional immediately to get advice. Options include your local G.P, telehealth services such as Beyond Blue, Life Line and Suicide Call Back Service. If there are imminent risk issues it is best practice outside of business hours to contact 000 and attend your local Emergency Department. Another challenge we are facing is that consumers that are acutely suicidal are very reluctant to attend hospital or be admitted to an inpatient unit for fear of contracting COVID-19, so there is a huge amount of pressure on community services right now. 

If there are changes in mental state with low risk, for more than 7 days and the symptoms are unchanged or worsening, the first place to start is with your local G.P who can link you to the appropriate support, and if there are ongoing issues, then there are alternative options for pharmacotherapy and more intensive specific therapies.

Secondly, pre existing mental health conditions and managing relapse are very much dependent on the diagnosis. As a community we are predominantly educated on  Depression and Anxiety, Diagnoses such as Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Personality Disorders and Eating Disorders are far more prevalent than most of the community are aware. In many cases most people would not know what to look for. For example, Eating Disorders have the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric conditions. I think as a community we are very uncomfortable about discussing suicide, self harm and challenging or difficult behaviours. We need to be more transparent and direct more attention to capture a better view and understanding of mental health outside Depression and Anxiety.

  • Particularly now, as many are struggling with increased stress, anxiety and loneliness, how can we help others in our life who may be struggling with these things, but who we can’t physically be close to at the moment?

Maintaining emotional contact with the people in your life is very important. Even though we may not be physically present, when we have presence, albeit, technology based, it does give us the sense of company and emotional contact. Using Facetime, Zoom and other social platforms are helpful in maintaining a sense of familiarity, connectedness and staying in touch with laughter, thought and conversational skills.        

Encouraging and assisting people in using technology online is also important – Online G.P reviews, telehealth appointments with Psychologists and Mental Health Social Workers.

Similarly, for the elderly setting up an ipad or sending videos if they have tech – or if not lending them simple tech and showing them how to use a device to maintain contact – is really helpful. For the elderly that don’t have these options, family, friends or carers, slip a card into their letterbox, phone them, check in with them. It makes a difference.

  • You believe diversity is important so we get a better understanding and appreciation of where people are coming from and their experiences. What are some of the best and worst things you’ve experienced in your work, where that understanding or appreciation did or didn’t exist?

The best experiences I’ve encountered in my work are seeing recoveries, and those consumers living their best life, having the opportunity to specialize in Eating Disorders and learning so much from clinical information to service design and implementation. Being invited to speak at a consultation group during the Royal Commission into mental health (Victoria) was a humbling experience to meet people you would rarely have an opportunity to speak with. CEO’s of NGO’s, Board of Health and Hospital Directors, the Commissioners – it was great to speak about a variety of my experiences in real time with people of influence and that have the ability to make social change. 

The worst experiences are obviously suicides of consumers we work closely with, and working with severely mentally ill consumers requiring physical or chemical constraint can also be very confronting. Involuntary detention is always an unpleasant way in which to work, however in some cases it is necessary for the safety of the consumer, their carers and the public. 

Mental health is a very difficult and complex profession. We often work in high pressure environments, making serious decisions in short time frames, working with severely distressed consumers and families. It requires a certain skill and knowledge level. We often work alone or in very small teams, and in the long term, on a sub conscious level, the cumulative effect of trauma is manifest through our interpersonal relationships, and workplace culture. I think at times this has led to very negative workplace dynamics which is hard to navigate if you are early on in your career and have not had time or experience to re frame and reflect.

  • Would you recommend a career in mental health to others? Why or why not?

I would recommend a career in mental health. If you are passionate about people, if you are passionate about social justice, and have a legitimate interest in psychiatry then it’s certainly a place where you will get to experience many different bio psychosocial scenarios, learn about different legislation, micro, meso, macro systems and public service structure and development. It is a multi-faceted career path and you do have the ability to specialize in different areas. 

However, in my experience, you will need a rigorous self-care and external professional supervision regime, be open to learning, adjusting and adapting to scenarios because unlike general medicine, Psychiatry is not linear, there are no direct cures only treatments. At times I’ve found this frustrating, but I do have hope that mental health will slowly get the full recognition that it deserves and consumers get the highest quality of service.

About the expert

Sarah Goulding is an Accredited Mental Social Worker and Family Therapist. She has spent the past 19 years working in public mental health services. She has worked on Inpatient units, Community Care Teams, Crisis Assessment and Treatment Teams, Emergency Department Triage, Eating Disorder Treatment and Recovery, mental health service design and development, private practice, telehealth and community consultation groups in Victoria and NSW. Her passion, commitment to quality, education, awareness and advocacy for mental health continues to guide her practice and she is always inspired and motivated by consumers’ strength and resilience, with the hope of continually improving the space in which we work. 

PEOPLE: 84% of girls rate their self-belief and self-love below a 5/10 – Milly Bannister’s mission to change the stats

Milly Bannister is the the Founder & Director of GRLKND, a non-profit organisation connecting young women to mental health resources.

GRLKND is an organisation build by and for women. With the purpose of advancing self-belief and kindness in high-school leaving and college-aged women, its self-development curriculum and online support community is backed by a board of female experts and psychologists.

The GRLKND App (free) supports a daily check-in experience to help users get to know themselves better and feel supported, and a ‘help me hub’ for instant access to mental health resources and crisis lines.

In this interview, Milly reflected on GRLKND’s journey so far, and why she wants to “represent and empower women to not only know they matter, but to chase and create realities they desire.”

  • What instigated you to build GRLKND? 

In the United States, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people aged 15–24 (10.6%). In Australia, suicide is the leading cause of death among people aged 15–24 (35%). These stats are terrifying. They indicate that, now, unlike ever before, young people are faced with a critical amount of risks to mental health. Traditional education may not effectively cover these areas of self-development in a relatable, accessible way. It’s only with judgement-free, peer-educational space and support that I was able to understand what mental health meant and why it mattered. Being able to label things and have your emotions and feelings validated is crucially important for young people. That’s exactly why GRLKND exists. Feeling supported is something every human deserves.

  • What was the original ambition for GRLKND and how has that evolved over time? 

Great question – it’s quite enjoyable (and a little cringe) to look back at what GRLKND looked like a couple of years ago during its conception in 2018. Originally, I wanted it to be an online program that facilitated a young woman’s journey towards self-love, kindness and confidence. Now the extensive ’online program’ that was written in co-ordination with our board of experts, exists on our site, socials and free App as a series of videos and worksheets. I guess the high-level evolution is pretty visible in the way we transitioned from a self-development program to a mental-health focused non-profit organisation.

  • Have you been surprised by the response to GRLKND? Why or why not? 

Initially I had a little bit of imposter syndrome – expecting the worst for my little concept I cooked up in my brain as a young, inexperienced businesswoman. The more I spoke about the idea and workshopped it and brought the pitch to industry-leading female experts, who helped shape what we are today, the more I realised how much young people need this space. Then of course the feedback we received from in-person workshops, social media, the podcast from our target demographic was beyond anything I could have ever expected. For me, supporting even just one person a day is a success.

  • In your view, what do you think are the biggest reasons for why 84% of girls rate their self-belief and self-love below a 5/10? 

I don’t think there’s a single, uncomplicated answer for that. It’s a whole barrage of events and circumstances culminating into a high-pressure, virtual, relentless monster that hangs heavy on the back of all of us, so heavier than others. This generation, that I’m a part of, (our target demo of female-identifying 15-25 year olds) grew up online. Traditional education, the more clinical psychologists, therapists, books and even our parents cannot actually comprehend what that’s like since they never experienced it.

I think it’s important for us to remember that yes, it’s possible for us to understand that the expectations we see on social media and in real life are only societal structures, while simultaneously struggling with self-perception, self-love and self-kindness. Some days are harder than others in this continuous journey towards self-acceptance, which is why at GRLKND, we want to support every moment of that and help each individual understand their worth, their value throughout every part of that.

  • How did you expand GRLKND to the US? 

I actually moved over to California in 2017 to finish my last year of a Bachelor of media/journalism and got to experience life on campus (yep, it’s just like the movies). I got certified in human research and suicide prevention while I was there and made lots of meaningful connections. Once I founded GRLKND in 2018, while living in NYC, things moved pretty quickly, as I was able to meet companies, brands and organisations in person and get the resources I needed to make an impact. I was able to partner with a high-school touring organisation to visit public high-schools across 6 different US States. Sadly our March tour got cancelled due to covid-19, but we’ll be back on the road in August for a bigger one! We’re still in early days, but soon I’d ideally love to host inter-campus conferences and events and retreats with high-school-leaving and college-aged girls. I think we could all use a community-focused, connection-building safe space, led by bad-a** female industry-leading experts.

  • What is your advice to other women considering starting a social impact organisation like you did? Any watch-outs to be aware of?

Honestly just go for it. If your heart is with the mission, and your intentions are honest, things will open up for you. Since everyone’s journey is different, make lots of mistakes quickly and move on. Just keep moving forward and reach out for help. You may be surprised by how incredibly ambitious, kind and serving this generation of women is. Empowered women empower women. Get it, girl.

About the expert

Milly Bannister is a communications expert, lifestyle journalist, mentor and creative director with over 175,000 followers. She’s the big sister/ BFF you always wanted, backed by a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism & Media, and certification in Human Research and Suicide Prevention.

As Founder & Director of mental health-empowerment and educational organization, GRLKND (est. 2018), her professional lifestyle and travel photos are filtered, but her words are not.