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There are so many reasons to talk about mental health and wellbeing.

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Our world is facing anything and everything at once. Big universal issues of poverty, malnutrition, economic crises, disease, unemployment, climate change and outbreaks of war. And communities are suffering overflows of waste, insufficient maternal and child healthcare, inflated petrol prices and supermarket wastage.

I find it incredible that every single person – or dog, cat, ant or any other living, breathing species – is unique. Everyone has their own history, experiences and story to tell. Each person is their own mixture of their parents, friends, extended family, education, culture and religion. It really takes my breath away knowing that each person I speak to, interact or make eye contact with, as well as every person I just pass someone on the street, is one of a kind. And anyone you have heard of, referenced, imagined or backstabbed is, too.

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I’m no saint. Sure, I’ve spoken a bad word about someone behind their back, joked about a person’s shoes being too big, their hair unkempt (although let’s face it, I’m the number one perpetrator of that ‘crime’), and criticised someone’s decisions based on my personal principles. But that’s just it. My judgements, assumptions and assertions are my own, stemming from my personal, social, familial and cultural background. I’m trying to to judge less, and accept and appreciate more. Because if someone is acting safely, in a manner that could be widely considered as socially, ethically and morally just, then really, who are we to judge?

The times are tough and tedious and I think you’d be searching far and wide to find someone who wasn’t in need of a helping hand in one way or another. Maybe your grandmother needs someone to take her grocery shopping because she can’t carry all the bags back to the car/bus/tram. A friend might want a wingman for a first date on Valentine’s Day. Or maybe your loving, caring mother or father might appreciate a phone call from their long, lost daughter or son who they haven’t seen in weeks, despite you living just a couple of suburbs away, across the river.

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I say this because everyone deserves a life – a life where they feel appreciated and loved for who they are, no matter their race, religion, sexual identity, gender, socio-economic status, whether they live in a house, a yurt or they choose a nomadic lifestyle. If someone has committed a crime, they deserve a chance to redeem themselves if they are willing to work towards a better and more sustainable life in which they will contribute positively to society.

And so often, it’s about the words we choose. Naming and shaming does nobody any good. Not one of us is perfect; no one has everything. Social media perpetuates this constant feeling of inferiority, FOMO, hints to us that we’re insignificant in a burgeoning network and sea of faces. But as I said, in each (legitimate) profile picture, is a whole person. A person with unique feelings, thoughts and experiences from which we can learn, and influence in the best ways we know how.

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Alongside all the heavy weights pulling on the world, everyone also has their own troubles and challenges. While I’d love to be able to resolve global conflicts, find a cure for dementia or cancer, or provide a home for all those seeking asylum across the globe, I’m aware of trying to ground myself in reality. That’s not to say one person cannot make an impact, instigate change or contribute to solving any one of an array of international issues. But if that’s a bit overwhelming, maybe we can start closer to home.

Everyone can find themselves in a sticky situation where they’re left feeling vulnerable and alone. For some, this is rare, and these people are lucky. For others, helplessness and struggle seem to be daily battles occurring within the depths of their stomach, their heart, their mind. These people do have a bright future ahead of them. They might just need a leg up over the bushes to see it.

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A huge percentage of the world’s population are facing or coming to terms with mental ill health. Mental health is a precursor for a life where one is appropriately stretched and tested, and is gratified and celebrated in return.

We need to let these people know that while despair can be debilitating, it too, shall pass.

Thankfully, there are thousands and thousands of people across the world who are striving everyday to communicate this message to those who need it. And if you don’t need it now, chances are you or someone you love will need a little shot of hope somewhere down the track.

So many industries and sectors are working their butts off to create an environment where everyone feels welcome and appreciated. Every month, awareness is growing, as are available support groups, networks and healthcare professionals. You might not need that kind of support, and that’s okay too. Sometimes your greatest support can be your puppy, your partner, or even a note pad and pen.

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I second the responses of Thu-Huong Ha, who in December, asked the question, How should we talk about mental health?. Drawing on wisdom from TED speakers, she highlighted the importance of sensitivity, being considerate, and respect when talking about the health of our minds. I suggest this is the same respect and thought we give others who’ve broken a bone and cannot participate in a shopping spree, or those who’ve been diagnosed with a condition that’ll put them out of work for weeks or months at a time.

We do not give up on these physically scarred individuals. Because everyone who is scarred, is also healing. They are one and the same. Healing is a process which only time can propel. But with the right treatment, ointment, love and care, we can all heal, whatever our wound, and in turn, help others to do the same.

Nobody else can tell your story. And it’s okay to ask for help to relocate your voice, your legs and your lungs, so that you can.

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Support Services Australia:

headspace

beyondblue

Black Dog Institute

Butterfly Foundation

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Lifeline

Kids Helpline

Relationships Australia

International:

Mental Health America

Mind (UK)

Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand

Canadian Mental Health Association

Or please use Google to find the most direct and appropriate service for you.

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Facebook is celebrating its 10th birthday today amidst speculation of an impending decline. But the behemoth of social networks is showing no signs of flailing just yet.

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Facebook is one of the first things we check in the mornings and the last, before we go to sleep.

Whether its FOMO, addition or just habit, Facebook has become a stalwart pal for about one sixth of the world’s population, a staggering ‘citizenship’ which could surpass the number of people living in China, the world’s most populous nation, within the next year.

It seems the way people use Facebook is dependent on whether (or not) they grew up with the network. As Seth Fiegerman writes, ‘Facebook’s users seem to be divided into two groups: younger users who are forever connected to people from the past, and older users who are given a powerful tool to reconnect with those they’ve long since lost touch with’.

Having signed up to Facebook at the beginning of 2008, I wasn’t one of the first to jump on the bandwagon. But I did have an account before many of my friends, albeit one I saw as the inferior little sister to my, at the time, beloved Myspace. I actually got a Facebook account to keep in touch with new friends from interstate. Either myself or members of the Sydney clan had to make a move to the dark side (Facebook and Myspace, respectively), and I ended up caving to what I thought was the short straw. About a year later, Myspace became effectively defunct and I found myself pretty proud of my already established Facebook backlog and network.

Nevertheless, I still latched onto Facebook as a way of remaining connected, rather than reigniting long lost friendships from my single digit days. Simultaneously, my peers began to use Facebook as their primary social network, to the point where I’m now connected to hundreds and hundreds of ‘friends’ some of which I’ve either met only once, or haven’t spoken to directly in years. However, every now and then someone I might classify as ‘random’ (a word my mum thinks is ‘soooo Gen Y’) pops up on my newsfeed and I’m kindly reminded of their existence in the world, if not in my life as such.

At the moment, I’m still pretty dependent on Facebook to do what it does best and give me updates and a realtime tracker of what my friends and ‘friends’ are doing with their lives. Ironically, Facebook really shows just how much we’re not doing because we’re too busy updating our online presence through status’, photos and ‘checking in’ to places where we want to be (virtually) seen.

I am not out to diss Facebook. As I said, I’m still thoroughly engaged with, and through, the network to people I’d otherwise have lost contact with. Despite only being a few years out of school, there are so many people I’d have called close friends that I now, rarely see or even speak to. Facebook provides me with that virtual and emotional link to classmates with whom I spent weeks and years, side by side. Someone’s got a new boyfriend, someone else is on exchange, one girl is living abroad and another just qualified as a professional nurse and has already landed the job of her dreams.

When people announce exciting (or even terribly tragic) events on Facebook, there is an almost resurgence and instantaneous spill of camaraderie for those involved. It’s pretty amazing how quickly people come together for someone in need, or to celebrate and congratulate a new couple, job or marriage.

But Facebook also perpetuates a continuous disease of comparison between both strangers and friends. If the aforementioned friend got ‘the’ job while you lucked out, you might feel down. You see a group of old friends catching up without you and checking in somewhere for drinks, and now not only you know you’ve been sidelined, but everybody else in their network does, too.

And social networking is, ironically, incredibly self-centred. While each network proclaims to be about connecting people, they’re all centred around individual users creating a ‘profile’ through which they will portray themselves to the world. Yet whether by intuition, self-protection or devious scheming, what and how we choose to display ourselves online is overwhelmingly self-selected – and if it’s not, you can untag yourself or remove yourself from the group with the click of a button.

So people are choosing profile pictures where they’re pleased with their appearance. They’re checking in only at the places/with people with whom they want to be seen. They’re selectively creating a virtual profile of themselves filled with all the good bits, and only minimal (if any at all) aspects of their vulnerabilities. And as Brené Brown teaches us, there is so much power in vulnerability.

But with over 1.23 billion users worldwide, Facebook is clearly doing something right. The network also hosts thousands of support groups, allows for easy sharing of digital content, and makes inviting friends to your birthday soiree so much easier. Of course, sometimes you’re drowning in events from promoters or can’t see anything on your newsfeed other than bloody memes or videos of friends nek nominating each other, but being so privy at least means you’re kept in the loop… at all times… whether you like it or not.

I suppose what it all comes down to is the power of social networking in creating, building and maintaining relationships between individuals and groups across the globe. In the words of TheFacebook’s multibillionaire founder, Mark Zuckerberg, ‘It’s been amazing to see how people have used Facebook to build a real community and help each other in so many ways’.

Only time will tell if the network survives its terrible teens. Always reinventing itself, Facebook continues to keep up with if not, lead, the Joneses so if it continues to dominate global connectivity into the 2020s, here’s hoping we’re all still interested in those self-appointed popular girls from high school because, who knows? Maybe we’ll even see them settle down some day.

As mentioned in a previous post, part of our assessment for Networked Media is to create a speculative piece for our class wiki, ‘niki’.

My group’s first topic, or person of interest, is the artist and computer scientist, Jonathan Harris.

Harris is a young American based in New York who graduated with a degree in computer science from Princeton. He says he came to Princeton more as a formality and without a specific interest in the field, and that he actually kept sketch books and created visual art for years, and thought of pursuing a career in the arts. However, after travelling in Costa Rica and having his sketchbooks stolen from him while being held up at gun point, art fell by the wayside, at least temporarily.

His love for creating and sharing visual experiences never disappeared though, and Harris has emerged as one of the today’s leading internet anthropologists. On his website, Number 27, Harris says his primary interest is in exploring the ‘relationship[s] between humans and technology’.

From our primary research and discussion, my group’s understanding of Harris is that he’s an incredibly passionate, talented and generous kinda guy. He’s a documenter of human interest, thought and states of being, which is evident through his work.

His projects include an exploration of human emotion called We Feel Fine, a public library of human experience, Cowbird, and I Love Your Work, an interactive documentary about the lives of female sex workers.

Interaction and participation seem to be central to most of his endeavours, as does his love for authentic communication as opposed to propagandising his work, or creating purely for profit or business interests.

I’ll be sure to write about Harris more as our thoughts progress but a fellow group member, Mardy, has also written a post about her emerging ‘love affair’ with the guy, so head over there for some light, evening romance.

I’ll leave you with a quote in which Harris voices what he sees as the potential for growth, where technology and creativity collide:

I… see incredible potential in technology to deepen the relationships between people, not just to increase the number of relationships between people. But I don’t think there are really any great examples of things that have done that yet. I’m very interested in trying to show people that technology can be a beautiful thing to make our lives more meaningful, not more superficial. – NYLON Guys

Kids are so often questioned by endearing adults about what they want to be when they grow up. I’d say it’s one of the three most common questions grandparents ask their grandchildren, teachers ask their students, and family-friends ask their younger acquaintances.

There are your stereotypical answers: firefighter, sports star, pop singer. I know I had dreams of becoming a famous entertainer; traveling the world with my entourage, performing to thousands of screaming fans at the world’s biggest arenas. I knew every word to Sk8r Boi, Born To Try, and Bring It All Back. With friends and cousins, I created shows and made tired adults sit through our endless cycles of songs and dances, accompanied by summersaults, and a hairbrush held upright, just below my chin – for authenticity, of course (see below).

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I’m an avid TED fan, and spend my spare moments listening and watching TEDTalks from all over the world. TEDTalks give me insight into the possibilities and opportunities available to me, knowledge about the brain, our emotions, global institutions, personal triumphs, life challenges and revolutions of all sizes and nature, and the chance to gain an understanding and new perspectives about issues so central to our world, past, present and future.

I’ve listened and watched American model Cameron Russell’s TEDTalk time, and time again, (and if you enjoyed my post Like This, I suggest you watch it, too). I love Andrew Solomon’s soliloquy on depression, and Brené Brown on The power of vulnerability.

As the slogan says, the speakers at TED really do have ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’.

Today, I came across a recent TEDxTalk by Logan LaPlante. LaPlante shares his thoughts on this reoccurring concept of asking children what they want to be when they ‘grow up’.

LaPlante explains his philosophy that maybe what we should focus on is making a life, rather than making a living, and suggests that being happy, healthy and engaging in creative practice will help us achieve our life goals in more meaningful and rewarding ways.

Maybe you’ve come across similar ideas somewhere, someplace, sometime. Maybe you think there’s nothing so exceptional about an individual such as LaPlante having developed this point of view.

Except, Logan LaPlante is 13 years old. In Lake Tahoe, California, he lives with his parents and his younger brother, Cody. And, another thing that makes LaPlante’s philosophy so poignant is how he found these principles by which he lives. 

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Logan LaPlante

Ask LaPlante what he wants to be when he grows up? Happy. He believes innovation, exploration and experimentation are key aspects of developing a life worth living, and actively pursues his interests through his education.

LaPlante was taken out of the traditional school system at age nine. Now, he is homeschooled, and has coined the method through which he learns, as Hackschooling.

He explains, ‘hackers are people who challenge and change… systems, to make them work differently, to make them work better.’ He says hacking and hackschooling involve adopting an open ‘mindset’ where you’re not afraid to try new things, to get messy.

LaPlante stands by Sir Ken Robinson’s argument that creativity should be just as valued as literacy, and suggests hackschooling as a ‘remix’ or a ‘mash up’ of traditional education, one that  encourages students to develop their passions, take on opportunities, and think outside the square.

He now loves writing, because he was given the opportunity to write about subjects that actually interest him. His favourite ‘class’ is an internship he has one day a week with Big Truck Brand, a global lifestyle and accessories company. He is motivated, stimulated and aware.

LaPlante talks about Dr Roger Walsh’s idea of Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLCs), and has made these principles of learning how to be happy and healthy an integral part his hackschooling philosophy.

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And, as LaPlante says, because it’s a mindset, not a system, ‘the cool part [is] hackschooling can be used by anyone, even traditional schools’.

At its heart, hackschooling is about encouraging kids to follow their passions. It’s about involving young people in the community, drawing on local resources, making learning fun, and trusting that given these opportunities, young people will find their way to make a living as a byproduct of their journey towards creating a meaningful life.

Learning should be hands on, involved, inspiring. We should focus on developing skills and fostering relationships, rather than memorising charts and tables and facts.

Logan LaPlante recognises we’re living in a world in great need of more young people with this hacker mindset, and the benefits it offers individuals, their communities, and the world at large.

If only our Education Minister and (sadly appointed) senior teaching staff such as Christopher Bantick were open to adopting the hacker mindset. I’m sure the world would have a much brighter future.

So often we read about, hear of or watch stories about people pained by violence.

Violence of any sort is brutal. Someone shot in a drive by, a girl murdered and thrown down a laundry shoot, a mother killed in front of her children. In some cases, the media sensationalises individuals’ experiences, almost to the point of exploitation, showing little respect for those left behind to pick up the pieces and live with the tragic realities of losing someone they love.

It is physical violence that we are most aware of. Unfortunately, it is much easier to pass under the radar if you are a perpetrator of psychological violence, bullying, crippling another’s confidence, and leading them down the path to high anxiety and major depression.

Shockingly, the most frequently reported cases of individuals afflicted by mental, physical and sexual taunting or trauma have a personal relationship with the guilty party. Maybe a friend, a partner, a parent. And so much of this criminal activity occurs within the family home, going unnoticed by anyone external.

In Australia, a woman is more likely to be killed in her home by her male partner than anywhere else or by anyone else. In a study conducted in 2009, the National Community Attitudes to Violence against Women Survey, identified that almost all people, 98 per cent, agree domestic violence – acts that occur between people who have had a relationship in a domestic setting – is a crime.

Something must be done to reduce the prevalence of domestic violence, and the good people of Sacred Heart Mission in St Kilda have committed themselves, their skills, knowledge and resources, to do their part in helping to achieve this goal.

I recently spoke with Sacred Heart Mission’s Women’s Services Manager, Leanne Lewis.

The statistics are shocking, but knowing that people like Lewis and those working at similar services around Australia and in deed, the world, is at least a small comfort for those in facing such adversity.

Do your part. Read my recent piece on domestic violence (including words from Lewis), published on The Modern Woman’s Survival Guide, and become a member of a movement creating awareness, improving services, and contributing to the lives of so many who suffer at the hands of unloving family and friends.

It’s more common than you think.

My piece Do Not Discriminate – In the Firing Line of Hate, has been tailored and published on We Matter Media, and now a similarly edited version has also appeared in RMIT’s student magazine, Catalyst. You can view it online here, but what is also exciting, is that it is my first print publication.

This is the first edition of Catalyst for the year and the new editors have totally revamped the style, facade and interiors of the magazine. It looks amazing. In addition, they’ve initiated and launched Catalyst online, which basically means you have no excuse not to read what’s on the minds’ of RMIT students no matter where you live. So bookmark it and be sure to check back regularly for updates.

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  1. Hygiene and Sanitation in Communal Bathrooms – bathrooms and toilets in particular have the potential to be inherently dirty and disgusting. But walking into a clean, air-freshened toilet cubicle makes the whole experience so much nicer. No one wants to pee when there’s dirt on the floor, blood on the bin lids and others’ remains waiting to greet you, so I’m thankful for cleaning staff and the majority of the population who respects the facilities they use and the cleanliness of those present before and after them. Leave a toilet how you’d like to find it.
  2. Navy Blue – today I wore a navy blue top with navy blue shorts. As a little kid I hated navy because I was constantly dressed in it but I’m happy to say my opinion has changed. I also wore a baby blue backpack. I’m feeling blue, with a positive connotation.
  3. Honesty – it is pretty rare, so it’s nice to know it still exists.
  4. Location – today I woke up at 7:45am to be somewhere by 10am. That’s early for a sleeper like me. But other’s had to get up at 6am to arrive at the same place at the same time. So I’m thankful I live within close proximity to many places I frequent.
  5. Diversity – today, an ABC newsreader was publicly abused on a Sydney bus. But I am in awe of how diverse our population is. Each person is unique and no one can be defined by a single determinant such as race, religion or age. I am thankful that I’ve grown up in a multicultural society and that I have the chance to meet new and interesting people so often.
  6. Graduation – or more distinctly, the phases one passes through and graduates from within their life. I was in the presence of a young man today who is about to graduate into a new phase of life. Stepping into unfamiliar territory is scary, but he has accomplished many things and is now ready to make this transition. It is important to recognise our small graduations, because they may be significant in subtle ways.
  7. Random Acts of Kindness – I opened a lovely packet of Derwent Artist’s colour pencils today. They had been used many times before but the girl next to me had taken the time to organise them according to the colour wheel. I feel less anxious when things are in order and her small action had also made my experience of scanning the pencils more aesthetically pleasing.
  8. People Singing in Their Cars – while driving today, a song came on the radio and I started humming along, as I’ve taken to doing since driving on my own because I’ve always thought people singing in their cars look pretty silly. So while I was humming and singing the words in my head, I looked in my rear vision mirror and instantly recognised the girl in the car behind me was mouthing the words to the song I was listening to. It was a strange feeling, firstly knowing we were listening to the same radio station (which I’ll admit, must happen all the time without us realising) but then I was reading her lips and hearing the words come through to me via my stereo. It made me smile. Furthermore, we were going to the same destination and entered the building one after the other. And it was a song with lyrics and a video clip I love. So keep singing in your car, it’ll make someone else giggle.
  9. Athleticism – not mine, but observing that of others. Watching someone truly run, with power, energy and determination is a great thing.
  10. Getting to the Station Just Before the Train Arrives – I walked onto the platform and the monitor told me the train would be there in two minutes. Best feeling, knowing I’ve timed everything right, from waking up to stepping outside.
  11. Today’s Weather – Melbourne was a beautiful 28 degrees today. I’m generally a Winter Girl, but today had just the right amount of sunshine, a light breeze and no insanely hot periods. Nailed it, Melbourne.
  12. Coincidence – today I met a girl who’d gone to the same school as me, a few years behind, and yet I’ve never seen let alone met her before. Someone recently noted how frustrating it is that in Melbourne (and possibly other cities/countries as well) people are very quick to ask what school you went to. While she saw it as a negative, and I can see her point of view if it leads to judgement or remains the only topic of conversation, I believe it’s an easy way to make connections with new people, find mutual friends and acts as a pathway to discussions of similar interests and knowledge.
  13. Professionals and Education – being in the presence of someone who actively steers a conversation in a meaningful way as a result of their professional training or knowledge is both a testament to their abilities, and a help to those they are guiding. The value of education is often disregarded, particularly in a society where almost everyone receives a minimum of 10 years of mandatory education and so many go on to complete further training. Amongst my peers, I feel learning in its own right is thought as compulsory rather than voluntary or engaging which means it is often seen as having many, often unwanted, strings attached. We should be able to enjoy learning without the pressure of grades or rigorous study schedules, as well as learning to gain qualifications. Hundreds of people go through all levels of education each year and settle with just passing their subjects so they can get their degree and walk. Education is an opportunity, but I feel it isn’t valued as such.
  14. Flexibility – similarly, education amongst other things, should be flexible. Amidst a group of people I was with today, many educational institutions had been flexible in allowing them to miss a day of school or study, allowing the individuals to better themselves and expand their horizons outside of their primary institution. While rules and regulations are necessary to maintain standards and behaviours of living, being about to be flexible is so important. I am still learning to be more open to flexibility myself, but accommodating unexpected situations, people and new ways of thinking is important for our personal growth.
  15. Preparedness – on the flip side, being prepared is very rewarding. I know that if I’m cold, I’ll get shitty. It happens every time and so for me, checking the weather forecast the day before, for instance, is very important. Despite the beautiful weather outside today, I was inside an air conditioned building for the majority of the day. So I’d packed a jumper. When possible, prepare yourself and life get’s easier.