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“One of the fundamental challenges in young people’s mental health care is based in the assumption that youth equates with health. ‘So unless the person is really obviously disabled, really obviously injured… there’s an assumption that person’s entirely well.’

I was shocked. I’d never connected these dots. Health and youth are so inherently linked. And a disruption in the link adds a new, complex dimension to the prevention, identification, intervention and treatment of young people with mental health challenges.”

At Connect 2014, a national youth mental health conference organised by Young and Well CRC (where I am currently an intern), I was given the opportunity to interview a man at the forefront of Australia – and the world’s – mental health sector.

Professor Ian Hickie is pretty much a guru. He works in research at the Brain and Mind Institute, and is involved in the development of evidence-based services that can change the way young people and their communities approach mental health care. Professor Hickie attends all the conferences, meetings and interviews he can, to help spread the word on what we can actually do to make progress and help scores of young people nationwide.

In his formal addresses and the time I spent with him one-on-one, Professor Hickie communicated a sense of hope regarding the future of Australia’s young people and their relationship with themselves, their health, their carers, and their world. He offered many insights into the potential for social media, apps and digital technology to become keystones in mental health care, and spoke of the challenges health care professionals are facing in relation to these changes.

Young people are healthy, aren’t they? We’re nimble, we’re free, we’re thrill-seeking, happy. If we fall down, we get back up. Resilient creatures, we are. Or so the story goes. So when something challenges that status-quo, sometimes we and those around us don’t know how to react.

I learned so much at Connect 2014, and would do the experience a disservice to try and reproduce even some of it here. But my interview with Professor Hickie, published on Young and Well CRC’s website, will give you a glimpse of what I was a part of, where we’re at with young people’s mental health care, and where to go from here.

If you want to follow (or relive) Connect 2014 in its entirety, you can also view the Storify summaries.

“We have so many opportunities to transform health care to a model where the individual is at the centre, and the clinician is a consultant – is complementary – but not in control.

Together we can develop a system of care that will respond, educate and serve all young people in meaningful and respectful ways. And that will really change our mental health.”

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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

twenty10

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.

I feel like so much has happened this week. I’m constantly looking to Twitter, the newspaper, Facebook, television, tuning into the radio and those around me, in an attempt to keep up with everything going on.

My schedule seems to have been more hectic than usual. Work for university seems to have blown in my face en masse, despite me remaining relatively up to date throughout the semester. This week has seen numerous group meetings, time spent in the edit suites crafting and perfecting a short broadcast program, numerous blogs, readings and symposium conversations, time researching new theories and concepts on networks, technology and Ray Kurzweil amongst others.

Today, my Broadcast Media television group reshot some footage for our current affairs segment at N2 Extreme Gelato in the 40 degree heat, where the menu included tofu and Kopiko creme gelati for the week’s Chinese New Year theme.

ImageI spent my Thursday at my internship collating information on how different not-for-profits organise their media coverage, discussing events and updating brand and logo charts.

I am often overwhelmed by the weekend newspapers and having recently approached them differently, which actually involves getting on with other things before I’ve read the entire editions back to front. While this has enabled me to be more productive and somewhat less restricted, today, I found myself still trying to finish off last Saturday’s magazines while this week’s ones were on the dinning room table. The perils of so much information and diverse interests.

This week also brought us a number of media controversies and notable world events (or non-events). There was the attack on ABC from numerous Coalition and associated identities and Abbott’s announcement of an ‘efficiency study’ into the network and the SBS.

SPC Ardmona became a company in even more dire straits while local Liberal MP Sharman Stone stood up to her party and the nation’s leader in defence of the rights of her people.

The winner of America’s 15th season of The Biggest Loser spurred a worldwide controversy over the program’s lack of ethics, and disrespect for individuals’ health and overall wellbeing in favour of sensationalistic and damaging television. Fortunately, much of the health and wellness industry has spoken out against the show, but I still saw too many tweets and comments by mainstream news organisations and high profile individuals who saw Rachel’s extreme ‘makeover’ as ‘inspirational’, and led to me posting this:

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This came on the back of a contentious ‘body image issue’ of Fairfax Media’s Sunday Life magazine. For a good read in response to the issue, check out Madeline Beveridge’s letter to the publishers.

The Pakistani government and the Taliban didn’t and then did meet, and an evacuation of the besieged Syrian city of Homs finally began.

The creative industry and beyond were shocked by the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman and the Daily Telegraph sank to new journalistic lows – which I have chosen not to link to as they/it/he deserve no further coverage of such a distasteful nature.

And of course, Sochi happened, although whether the region was ready or not is another point up for discussion. While many athletes and journalists had photographic proof of their arduous arrival and accommodation, Dmitry Kozak, the deputy prime minister responsible for the Olympic preparations, retaliated and claimed he could be certain all such reports were false as Russia had ‘surveillance video from the hotels that shows people turn on the shower, direct the nozzle at the wall and then leave the room for the whole day’. Apparently Mr Kozak was pulled away before he could make any other spying admissions.

Screen Shot 2014-02-08 at 8.51.30 pm Screen Shot 2014-02-08 at 8.51.39 pmFinally, Google came out in support of all people and the Winter Olympics with a lovely Google doodle to mark the games’ opening, which also appeared on Google’s Russian homepage.

unnamedSo that’s just a snippet of what’s making news in my world this week. Here’s hoping for more progress, equality, peace and awareness in the week to come.

Last semester I took a subject called International Human Rights and Law. While I entered the course with relatively little prior knowledge of what I imagined the subject would cover, I had actually picked the politics/economics strand of my degree as my contextual major, specifically to take this subject.

I’ve studied very little law or legal studies in any formal way. At school, in year 10, we were introduced to some of the horrific realities of honour killings, forced marriages and dowry penalties, and similar degrading practices that occur far too commonly, largely in developing nations.

I suppose that subject contributed towards me choosing to pick up Women and International Justice over the spring semester of 2012.

But, today I want to post my final essay for International Human Rights and Law.

While not directly addressed in our course, I chose to focus on the ways in which people with disabilities or mental illness are dehumanised and ‘psychosocially debased’, and how these practices are in fact, violations of their human rights.

It never fails to surprise me how much I can enjoy learning and doing ‘work’ when I’m concentrating on something of personal interest. It is with this realisation, I find even more reason for leading educators to consider the principles of Logan LaPlante’s hackschooling philosophy.

It’s a bit Convention heavy, but if you have the time to sit down and ingest the essay, I’d love to hear your responses.

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Discuss whether the dehumanisation and psychosocial debasement of a population or a sector of a population are always leading indicators of potential human rights violations?

Human rights have long been an issue of import and controversy across the globe. Within governments, industries, timeframes and communities, what constitutes a human right has been debated as cultures, generations and evolution bring new and conflicting ideas to the front of popular conversation. Despite this, it is commonly assumed, as recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), that dignity features as a primary concept across legislative instruments and cultural norms. Basser (2011) considers dignity to be an attribute of each person ‘by virtue of his or her humanity’ (p. 19), independent of social status, political affiliation, economic value, gender, ethnicity, or one’s ability to reason. This paper will work with a flexible definition of dignity, incorporating three significant elements of agency, control and worthiness. As such, any attack on a person’s agency, control or worthiness is inherently an attack on their dignity and thus is a violation of their human rights.  To quote Reaume, ‘[t]o ascribe human dignity to human beings… is to treat human beings as creatures of intrinsic, incomparable, and indelible worth’ without the need for further qualification (2003, p. 675). Therefore, one’s physical or mental ability or merit should not diminish the right to dignity and one’s inherent rights to humanity.

Implicit in human dignity and the inherent value of the human person, is an acknowledgement and acceptance of human diversity and difference (Basser, 2011). This paper will address how a disregard for this notion is very present in relation to people with disabilities or mental illness, and how as a consequence, they are collectively dehumanised – deprived of positive human qualities – and debased through the psychosocial, cultural, medical and legal spheres within which we exist. On many occasions, the rights of the disabled have been violated as they are considered to be non-human and are thus de-righted (Quinn and Arstein-Kerslake, 2012). They are often denied access to jobs, services and education, as is the case when children with disabilities find their choices are limited due to schools’ reluctance or inability to provide adequate support or resources to accommodate the child’s differences.

Lawson writes, ‘[t]raditionally, disability has not been regarded as a human rights issue’ (2006, p. 462), and the characterisation of ‘disability rights’ as a social issue was largely absent from global public, political, or legal debate until the early 1990s (Perlin, 2011). Those with disabilities are commonly objectified, and are considered to be a medical ‘issue’ or problem requiring management, care or control. While people with disabilities, like all people, may need care and medical assistance, it is important to highlight that human rights are relational, and that people live together in society where the extent to which any claim to human dignity can be met will be ‘constrained by the need to give equal concern and respect to other human beings’ (Basser, 2011, p. 21). Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that ‘All human beings… are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in the spirit of brotherhood’ (Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 1), and yet many people with disabilities are denied this very first human right.

The issue of one’s ability to reason is in itself, contentious. Robertson (2012) explains the 19th century ‘rationalist fallacy’ where rights were only thought to belong to those capable of logical thought which excluded ‘women, dogs and lunatics’ from equal and professional life (p. 150). Perlin (2011) endorses this critique and locates it within a modern context, referring to it as ‘Sanism’. Perlin defines sanism as ‘an irrational prejudice of the same quality and character of other irrational prejudices that cause (and are reflected in) prevailing social attitudes’ such as bigotry based on sex, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity (p. 5). He deepens this definition stating that sanism ‘infect[s] jurisprudence and lawyering practices’ and is based on ‘largely invisible… socially acceptable [prejudices] based predominately on stereotype, myth, superstition, and deindividualization… sustained and perpetuated by our use of a false “ordinary common sense” and heuristic reasoning in an unconscious response to events both in everyday life and in the legal process’ (p.5).

The persons with disabilities most affected by such potential human rights violations are those with intellectual disabilities, mental illness or problems, or those with communicative disabilities, and it was not until 2006 that The Convention on Rights of Persons with Disability was constructed in the hope to provide a guarantee that such persons should have adequate access to community services and facilities. The 1948 Genocide Convention outlawed the attempted destruction of a race or ethnic group, yet Robertson (2012) notes the Convention makes no reference to those judged as ‘feeble-minded’ by the popular 1920s eugenics movement in the United States and United Kingdom (p. 150), a category under which those with disabilities were constituted. In what may be considered a similar vein, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights made no reference to those with disabilities, until the European Convention on Human Rights took hold in 1953. After what the United Nations claims to have been ‘decades of work… to change attitudes and approaches to persons with disabilities’ (United Nations Enable, 2006, para. 2), the urgency of a specific charter was finally met with the adoption of The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in December 2006.

Perlin (2011) heeds the United Nations’ notion that society has an obligation to ‘remove the attitudinal and physical barriers to equality and inclusion of people with disabilities’ (p. 4). He considers the extent to which society was blind to the frequent and enduring violations of international human rights law particularly concerning the institutionalisation and legal inequities people with disabilities are so often subject to (2011).  Article 12 of The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ‘Equal recognition before the law’ states: ‘persons with disabilities have the right to recognition everywhere as persons before the law’ who are able to ‘enjoy legal capacity on an equal basis with others in all aspects of life’ (The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Article 12). Articles 12.3 and 12.4 refer to involved parties’ duty to ensure appropriate support and safeguards are in place for helping persons with disabilities exercise their legal rights and capacity, and that these structures ‘respect the rights, will and preferences of the person’, while being free from any conflict of interest. Article 12.4 specifically states these measures will be put in place ‘to prevent abuse in accordance with international human rights law’.

Despite this, one of the first interventions denied to a person with a disability is their legal capacity to exercise their moral agency, including and especially, a right against forced treatment and an authority to give or refuse consent to various procedures, medical or otherwise (Quinn and Arstein-Kerslake, 2012). Quinn and Arstein-Kerslake (2012) cite Blackstone’s (1765) naming of this to be effectively a ‘civil death’ (p. 42), where the individual is automatically subject to being treated as ‘less than’ equal to other human beings. Medical or legal decisions are substituted to a third party, much like the protocol observed when caring for a minor. However, unlike when caring for children, it is assumed that these lost or diminished capacities will not return to those with disabilities. Quinn and Arstein-Kerslake (2012) note that ‘[t]here remain many laws, practices and policies throughout the world (including in Europe) that unduly restrict the legal capacity of persons with disabilities to make decisions for themselves’ (p. 43).

A large proportion of human rights violations of persons with disabilities are calculated through medical examinations and protocols. A significant proportion of persons with disabilities will be faced with institutionalisastion, where they are confined against their will, as a result of a ‘negative’ medical analysis that has deemed them to be somehow unfit to look after themselves. Perlin notes that despite formerly hospitalised individuals and their supporters taking an active role in advocating for mental health reform, ‘there is little evidence that these groups are taken seriously either by lawyers or academics’ (Perlin, 2003, pp. 699–700). Thus, routinely, persons with disabilities are deprived of their freedom, dignity and basic human rights in violation of Article 14.1b of The Convention on the Rights of Persons that states that ‘the existence of a disability shall in no case justify a deprivation of liberty’.

Article 5 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights condemns torture, including ‘inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’. However, as mentioned above, persons with disabilities are sometimes considered to be ‘inhuman’ themselves and are consequently placed in situations of restraint or seclusion undermining their worthiness and human rights. In early 2013, United Nations’ torture Special Rapporteur, Juan E. Méndez, stated that torture is the ‘most serious violation of the human right to personal integrity and dignity’, where the victim is thought of as powerless, is deprived of their legal capacity, their liberty, and is ‘under the total control of another person’ (Méndez, 2013, p. 7). He called for ‘an absolute ban on all coercive and non-consensual measures, including restraint and solitary confinement of people with psychological or intellectual disabilities … in all places of deprivation of liberty, including in psychiatric and social care institutions’ (McSherry, para. 3).

The General Assembly of the United Nations adopted Principles for the Protection of Persons with Mental Illness and for the improvement of Mental Health Care in 1991. Principle 9.1 mandates patients be treated in the ‘least restrictive environment’ and Principle 9.2 states that treatment shall always be ‘directed towards preserving and enhancing personal autonomy’. This, however, becomes more complex in relation to Principle 11 that deals with consent to treatment. Richardson (2011) notes standards published by the Committee for the Prevention of Torture in 2004, of which paragraph 4 states ‘[t]he admission of a person to a psychiatric establishment should not be construed as authorizing treatment without his consent’ except in the cases of involuntary admissions were the person’s condition poses significant risk to their own health or to others’ (p. 140). It is imperative to remember here, that persons with disabilities or mental health problems must be considered to have the capacity or potential to make a full recovery, or to return to a place of stability in which they could regain greater agency and personal control. Richardson (2011) also highlights that ‘the intensity of some mental disorders can vary over time and a patient’s level of competence may fluctuate over the course of the disorder and its treatment’ (p. 152). Throughout treatment, whether voluntary or involuntary, the patient is to be respected and treated with dignity, and as an equal before the law. Under no circumstance should the person be dehumanised, exploited or coerced. If any of the aforementioned was to occur, the individual’s fundamental human rights will have been violated.

Ultimately, The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities seeks to reverse disadvantage faced by people with disabilities through ‘empowering rather than a constraining approach to human dignity’ (Richardson, 2011, p. 155). At present, United Nations’ Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is calling on the 134 states that have ratified the Convention to ‘energize the international community to move from commitment to action [giving] greater recognition… to the issue of disability in sustainable, inclusive and equitable development’ (UN News Centre, para. 3). People with disabilities make up nearly 15 per cent of the world’s population (UN News Centre, para. 4), and are considered to be the ‘world’s largest minority’ (Perlin, 2011, p. 14). Fortunately, there are many established organisations and foundations worldwide seeking progress and activity surrounding disability and human rights. One such organisation is the World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, that recognises the need for care and communication continues post-active treatment. Similarly, there is an International Day of Persons with Disabilities, as well as efforts by the United Nations to mainstream disability and recognise the inclusion of disability into the Millennium Development Goals as integral to their prevailing success.

People with disabilities must be given the opportunity to prosper and exercise their legal capacities through consolidated support from the global network. Sanism, discrimination and questionable treatment of persons with a disability are all undeniable indicators of potential human rights violations. It is those who are most vulnerable who face continuous denials of their agency, control and worthiness, yet they are as human and as equal, as individuals living free from disability.

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References

Basser, L A 2011, ‘Human Dignity’, in Critical Perspectives on Human Rights and Disability Law, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Leiden, pp. 17-36.

European Court of Human Rights, 1953, European Convention on Human Rights, European Court of Human Rights, viewed 22 September 2013, http://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Convention_ENG.pdf.

Lawson, A 2008, ‘People with psychosocial impairments or conditions, reasonable accommodation and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in Law in Context, vol. 26, pp. 62-84.

McSherry, B 2013, ‘Targeting isolation and restraint in mental health facilities’, The Conversation, 9 September, viewed 22 September 2013, http://theconversation.com/targeting-isolation-and-restraint-in-mental-health-facilities-16519?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest+from+The+Conversation+for+10+September+2013&utm_content=Latest+from+The+Conversation+for+10+September+2013+CID_a1e59d76a2229c3e1581ca325f634a89&utm_source=campaign_monitor&utm_term=Targeting%20isolation%20and%20restraint%20in%20mental%20health%20facilities.

Méndez, J 2013, Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, United Nations, viewed 22 September 2013, http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session22/A.HRC.22.53_English.pdf.

Perlin, M 2003, ‘You have discussed lepers and crooks: Sanism in clinical teaching’, in Clinical Law Review, vol. 9, pp. 683-729.

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 1991, Principles for the Protection of Persons with Mental Illness and for the improvement of Mental Health Care, United Nations, viewed 22 September 2013, http://www.equalrightstrust.org/ertdocumentbank/UN_Resolution_on_protection_of_persons_with_mental_illness.pdf.

Quinn, G & Arstein-Kerslake, A 2012, ‘Restoring the ‘human’ in ‘human rights’: personhood and doctrinal innovation in the UN disability convention’, in Human Rights Law, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 36-55.

Reaume, D 2003, ‘Discrimination and Dignity’, in Louisiana Law Review, vol. 63, no. 3, pp. 645-696.

Robertson, G 2012, Crimes Against Humanity, 4th edn, Penguin Group, London.

United Nations, 1948, Genocide Convention, United Nations, viewed 22 September 2013, http://www.hrweb.org/legal/genocide.html.

United Nations, 1948, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations, viewed 22 September 2013, http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml.

United Nations, 2006, The Convention on Rights of Persons with Disability, United Nations, viewed 22 September 2013, http://www.un.org/disabilities/documents/convention/convoptprot-e.pdf.

United Nations News Centre 2013, Countries must increase commitment to rights of persons with disabilities – UN chief, media release, United Nations, Spain, 9 September, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=45800&Cr=disability&Cr1=#.Uj0YkBZ7m0u.

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. 

Logan LaPlante

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.

hackschooling

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.

Last night I uploaded a new profile picture to Facebook.

Lev019

The Likes I received were incredible/ridiculous/many. Every time I checked my phone, the Likes had increased. I went out to yoga, put my phone on silent, and by the time I came home an hour and a half later, the number had skyrocketed further, still. As I write, I’m on 209 Likes and 23 extremely generous and complimentary comments. That’s a Like Record for me, the most I’ve had on anything I’ve posted over my five plus years on the social media platform.

So, I’m thinking, ‘Wow, this is great! People think I’m attractive, people like what I’m wearing, my smile, the composition of the photo, or a combination of all of the above’. It made me feel good, I felt (no pun intended), Liked. I felt more worthy than I had a few hours before, I felt more accepted and somehow, more legitimate, as a valuable, equal member of my peer group, of society, if I can to take it to that extent.

Here’s the problem: I recently had a professional photo shoot at a professional photography studio. I had my hair and make-up done by an ‘artist’, was shot by a professional photographer, and the team used ‘props’ like a fan to blow my hair around, made lighting and furniture adjustments, and positioned me in ways they thought complementary to my figure/features/whatever. Essentially, they directed me into looking ‘good’. The photographer said she had all the knowledge and experience needed to produce the most flattering shots and I was (and still am) grateful for her keeping to her promise.

But, how do I know she succeeded?

Because one of those photographs is the one I made my profile picture less than 24 hours ago. That same one with the most Likes, kind comments and good feelings that have come as a result of the finished product.

Oh, there’s another Like. 210, now.

So, here’s the thing. What does it say about me that this course of events and tiny clicks, minute actions by others, granted, by you, that have led me to feel a significantly increased my self-esteem over a short period of time? How else could I have achieved this sense of okay-ness on my own? Am I so dependent on others that I am unable to pick myself up?

And, perhaps, what does it say about you? Is this a situation you’ve too, been in?

What lesson does it teach me, or us, about our society? About praise, about dependence, about the relationship between looking good and feeling good?

Instant gratification. Social media provides me – and I suspect most of my generation if not everyone active across the various platforms – with comments, Likes, Followers, that give me a sense of achievement. For that second that I’ve got someone else’s attention, I’ve been thought of, considered, mentioned.

Truth is, my presence in your mind probably is only momentary, fleeting if anything was. You’ve no doubt now scrolled down your newsfeed and Liked three other Friends photos, status’ or Shares. But in our fast-moving world, that moment I was present with you is as significant as I can ask for.

But, here’s the thing. Is that person in that picture you Liked actually me? I mean sure, it’s me – the image captures my hair, my face, my favourite clothes, my ring, my posture. But, I’ve been manipulated. Edited. Touched up.

Granted, it wasn’t actually touched up a whole lot. If I had a copy of the original, organic, un-Photoshoped photo, I’d post it here for you to make that judgement yourself. I saw it before editing though, and I’d say they only smoothed out a few blemishes or whatever they deemed to be imperfections on my face or something.

But, what about all these pre-production adjustments? I spent a good 20 minutes getting my hair and make-up perfected before they even considered taking me into the proper studio (for lack of a better word) part of the ‘studio’. Yes, they opted for a fairly natural look (upon request), and they let me bring my own clothes. So, I suppose the final photograph could be considered a fairly realistic representation of who I am. But, what is troubling is knowing that had I uploaded this picture (see below) instead, I’d probably be sitting on a solid, oh, five Likes, if I’m lucky. And they’d most likely be from my nearest and dearest who fit the ‘take me as I am’ brief.

Photo on 18-12-2013 at 3.24 pm

We’re constantly being bombarded by Photoshopped images of celebrities, by messages of the ‘ideal’ body type, skin colour, hairstyle. We’re told, heck, dictated to, what’s ‘hot’, what’s ‘in’, asked ‘who wore it better’, shown so-and-so’s ‘biggest blunder’.

To be honest, it’s all fucked.

And I can only say this because I play into this culture of externally-identified ideals of perfection and sources of assurance. I’m a victim and an offender but it’s perpetual, it’s enthralling, it’s insane.

We, as a society, have an addiction to judgement. We draw conclusions from un-evidenced or unsubstantiated data. We take thing at face value and buy into advertising, media reporting and gossip without stopping to consider our deeper values or attitudes.

Even when just taking that photo above on my computer’s Photo Booth, I took a couple. I wanted to look my best ‘in a bad situation’ (read; day at home, no make-up, dirty hair). Side note: omfg the temptation to edit that picture was enormous.

But, why is this? I’m not saying we don’t have the right to want to feel beautiful, to feel accepted and to want to be happy. Naturally, that’s an inherent aspect of building one’s self-esteem, something no one should be denied. It’s something principally deeper than that.

It’s more about how we source that emotion, and questioning why we value certain ‘sources’ over others.

And, it’s also about how much we rely on social media for quantified assurance and positive reinforcement.

211 Likes.

I don’t want to play the blame game anymore than I have, nor do I believe this culture has come about as a consequence of a single event/person/aspiration. It’s a process, it’s constantly evolving. And no one is immune (J-Law, case in point).

212 Likes.

I’m not anti-make-up, anti-media, or even anti-Photoshop.

But, if I – or you – can’t upload any picture of ourselves in equal self-confidence, and are dependent on external input to confirm or trash our mood and opinion of ourselves, I think there’s at least something to think about.

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.