LIVE4LIFE

Building a mental health safety net for young people in rural Australia

Photo: Lakshal Perera

Australia’s rural and remote communities represent around 28% of the nation’s population (ABS, 2019). For those who live and work in these diverse communities, there is the offer of a positive lifestyle through an abundance of natural resources, closeness to the land, community spirit and often a more relaxed way of life.

However, living in rural or remote Australia can have challenges, including geographic and social isolation, service accessibility, and natural disasters. These factors have the potential to create personal and community crises and can significantly impact mental health and well-being.

Live4Life partners with local communities to improve the mental health of rural communities – with a particular focus on empowering and supporting young people through Youth and Teen Mental Health First Aid Australia training. Live4Life is the only mental health education and youth suicide prevention model designed specifically for rural and regional communities, and its success has led to high interest from a diverse range of communities across Australia.

“We have a vision that all rural communities across Australia will be empowered to improve and invest in young people’s mental health and reduce youth suicide.

We do this by putting young people at the centre of our model, and creating local partnerships to embed a truly sustainable, whole-of-community approach to improving mental health outcomes for young people,”

Annie Rowland, Live4Life Community Engagement Coordinator and qualified Master Youth and Teen MHFA Instructor

Youth mental health and suicide prevention in rural Australia

When mental health problems or suicide become prevalent in rural areas it can negatively impact individuals, but there are also significant flow-on effects for families, schools, workplaces and whole communities. In comparison to major cities, age standardised suicide rates for rural and regional areas are higher, and the risk increases further with relative geographic remoteness (AIHW, 2021).

There are certain high priority populations for prevention and early interventions – among them young people in their teen years. Adolescents are at a critical point in physical, mental and social development, and may be exposed to additional pressures that can result in problems such as depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and self-harm. It was in response to a reported increase of youth mental illness and suicide within the Macedon Ranges in Central Victoria, that the concept for Life4Life began well over a decade ago.

“”Youth Live4Life was established in 2015 to build on this important work and share those rich learnings and experiences with other rural communities – replicating this model across multiple rural communities and increasing the capacity of rural communities to support young people with mental health problems,” 

Bernard Galbally, Youth Live4Life CEO

Film supplied by Youth Live4life

“Macedon Ranges did what local communities do best, banded together during tough times to support one and other, from there they developed a robust youth mental health model that would increase the local community’s capacity to keep young people safe.”

Bernard Galbally, Youth Live4Life CEO

Photography: Sandy Scheltema

The model differs from other mental health initiatives in its ‘development by rural communities, for rural communities’ – considering localised challenges, strengths and ways of interacting amongst rural teens of secondary school age.

“It puts young people, and the adults in their lives, at the centre of their own mental health support network, by giving them the skills and knowledge to help those who may not be travelling so well. By training local community members to become accredited to deliver Mental Health First Aid training, Live4Life is building the local community’s capacity to support young people, and this makes the program more sustainable in the long-term.” says Annie.

Youth Live4Life became a registered health promotion charity in 2015. They developed and honed a multi-faceted approach to mental health awareness, education and support with advice from experts, and co-design by young people. They now achieve a measurable impact by providing coordinated support and mentoring to Live4Life Communities to support them to:

  • Create local partnerships involving all schools, local government, health services and others to lead conversations about mental health that reduce stigma;
  • deliver MHFA training to teens and adults each year; and
  • a youth-led initiative called “The Crew”, in which young people become peer-to-peer leaders and ambassadors for positive mental health.

The Mental Health First Aid Australia program is an integral component of Live4Life program – as the mental health training of choice for young people and adults across the participating rural and remote communities. The evidence-based, community-driven approach of Mental Health First Aid Australia is perfectly suited to be adaptable for communities of different sizes, locations and socio-economic profiles. It addresses needs while building on strengths.

Expanding reach to where it’s needed

Starting small in just one community where there was a lived experience need, the Live4Life program is now active in nine rural Victorian local government areas. There is such high demand that a wait list of twenty plus communities wanting to implement the program now exists. Live4Life aims to get to all of them. Over the coming years, expansion efforts will focus on bolstering resources and expanding partnerships to enable rollout in more rural and remote communities.

“The need for evidence based mental health education, training and support in rural and remote communities is significant. It’s indicative of the often silent epidemic of mental health problems and suicidality across Australia. MHFA Australia is committed to working with community organisations such as Live4Life, to build a broader safety-net of community-driven mental health support.” says Fairlie Cottrill, Community Engagement Manager for MHFA Australia.

To date, over 5,600 young people and 1,300 adults living in rural communities, have received Mental Health First Aid training through Live4Life. This has been enabled by 37 locally based Instructors, and it is anticipated that an additional 20 Instructors will be accredited in new communities by 2022.

Prevention and intervention with proven impact 

The Live4Life model supports young people during their secondary school years, by engaging them at two critical points – Year 8 and then again in Years 10 or 11. During these periods they are provided with Mental Health First Aid training that enables them to: recognise mental health problems; undertake positive conversations about mental health; reduce stigma and misunderstandings about mental illness and suicide; seek help when they need it; and support their peers who may be going through difficult times. They are also encouraged to become leaders within their community  – normalising mental health discussions and reducing stigma.

While peer-to-peer support has been proven to have significant impact amongst young people, Life4Life also recognises the important role that adults play in supporting teens. Teachers, parents, and anyone in the community working with young people, such as those in recreation clubs, community organisations and workplaces (employing teens), are encouraged to participate in the Youth MHFA training.

“We take a scaffolded approach to youth mental health. This means recognising the power in young people themselves and the critical role they can play in supporting their friends to reach out for help. Our approach also involves ensuring that the adults in their lives have the right knowledge and skills to play a supportive role, when it’s most needed.” says Annie. 

Lakshal Perera

Funding from the Victorian Government recently enabled a two-year independent evaluation of Live4Life in the Benalla and Glenelg Shires. The evaluation demonstrated positive results such as:

  • 9 in 10 young participants having more conversations about mental health;
  • 1 in 4 participants going on to seek support; and
  • qualitative results that suggest increased empathy and kindness among students – including 1 in 10 students seeking mental health support for a peer.

The adults engaged in the program have also seen marked results, with 82% of adults far more confident to support a young person with a mental health need (82% feel confident after the training, up from 32%).

“This is exactly how Mental Health First Aid training adds value. It increases knowledge, skills and confidence around mental health conversations. Conversations between real people about real problems, at a local level. Conversations that can be life-changing and even lifesaving,” said Annie.

If you would like to learn more about Live4Life you can visit their website here.

If you would like to discuss the benefits of MHFA training for your local community, please contact the MHFA Australia Community Engagement Team: community@mhfa.com.au

Film supplied by Youth Live4life

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