Lennox Head based young men’s mental health group The Healthy Minds Club is growing fast and saving lives. Formed recently by four lads worried about the spate of suicides and other mental health emergencies in the region, the club already has 350 members, and counting.
Jackson Connellan is one of four founding members. He told Echonetdaily, ‘Lachie Jones approached me about three months ago, and the formation of the group was ten weeks ago.
‘It stemmed from quite a lot of teen suicides, and young men as well, people we’ve been linked to. Lachie in particular has had quite a number of people he’s lost in the last eight months. Friends basically, all young men. We saw this happening and we saw nothing being done about it.
‘I was lucky my parents were quite conscious and aware of the importance of mental health, so it’s always been something that resonated for me, but what we’re aiming to do is try and educate people more about the importance of the communication channels and actually how easy it is for men, if there’s a supportive network there.’
Mr Connellan said he and his friends formed the online group so guys who were struggling with mental health could discuss their problems in a safe place, and then get together to do physical activity.
‘With the organisation, there’s four board members,’ Mr Connellan explained.
‘I’m the treasurer, Lachie’s the president, Harry Fettell’s the vice president and Douglas Brown is the member representative, so we make up the board, and we have a board meeting every Wednesday at the bowling club.
‘We encourage members to come down and voice their opinion. We’re not the only people that will dictate what goes on. We’re an open board, and we listen to the members.’
‘We’re only accepting people from the local area, who are male,’ said Mr Connellan. ‘We have quite a strong social community here, and we outreach to other places; Byron, Ballina and Lismore, even down to Coffs Harbour. We’ve just received so much support.’
Physical health helps mental health
Mr Connellan said, ‘A lot of the time with mental health issues comes an unhealthy lifestyle, so we’re trying to encourage not only community sports, and getting together to socialise, that aspect of sport, but also the endorphins that are released, and the positive physical attributes that come from exercise.’
Jackson Connellan is a professional tourist guide and sea kayaker, but says the young men in Healthy Minds Club have a wide diversity of interests.
‘We’re surfers, rugby players, soccer, backgrounds all over. A few of us study as well, there’s plenty of mix on the board in terms of job diversity and character.’
He says he’s always found physical activity is a great help personally. ‘I have a clearer train of thought, more energy, and I feel once I complete physical exercise it gives me a bit of satisfaction, and puts me in a better mindframe to either take on the day or unwind and enjoy with friends.’
Echonetdaily asked Mr Connellan if he felt young men were under-supported in the community?
‘100%, he said. ‘This is where we’re noticing a lot of suicides are happening, and it’s increasing over the last twelve months, it’s been noticeable in our local community, so to target that age group, where we felt there was minimal support services and minimal education, that’s what’s driving us and making us passionate about trying to help.
‘It’s not just this community, but we got struck quite hard here, and that’s what pushed us to then go on and say, we need to at least try to do something. We didn’t think we would come anywhere near to the community we’ve already created. We thought initially it would only be us Lennox lads, but it was accepted so well we kept reaching out.
‘The young fellas self-organised the group and did it off their own bat. Lachie’s 26 and I’m 25, and Harry and Jack are both 21 or 20 years old I believe.’
Has COVID made the mental health situation worse?
Jackson Connellan says he thinks it has.
‘Lennox is pretty lucky – being on the coast we’re nowhere near as adversely affected as being cooped up in the city, but I definitely think that minimalising social interaction is not good for society, and to be shut away from things that you love doing would start to play with your mind, definitely.’
With suicide already the biggest single killer of young men in Australia, a further worsening of the statistics would be disastrous.
Mr Connellan said The Healthy Minds Club is grateful for the support of mental health professionals, as well as people who have had professional help and are able to share what they’ve learned.
He says there are some people who might not see someone professionally, at first, if they have a problem, but they will talk to a mate in the right setting. ‘Yeah, and if that mate can say “you’re better off going and seeing someone,” it’s just trying to start that conversation.
‘We do socialise but we don’t get together like females I imagine would, and talk strongly and deeply about feelings. So just to be able to start that talk is a huge leading point to preventing someone from going down that path.’
Lots of things happening
Mr Connellan said, ‘Lachlan and myself are in contact with a lot of different groups in Lennox, we’re organising a little private triathlon we’re going to run, we’re going to have a suicide awareness prevention/comedy night, tie them in together. That’ll be towards the end of November.’
The group has already been running regular breakfasts on the beach. ‘Yeah, we abide by social distancing rules of course, but we’ll chuck a post up on our page the night before, telling people to come down. We take some footies down there, play some touch footy. We supply breakfast, put some eggs and bacon on, basically cook up a feed and get everyone down.
‘We try to do it on a Saturday to start everyone’s weekend on a positive note, and try and encourage everyone to have an active and healthy weekend.’
The Healthy Minds Club has also found some novel fundraising ideas. ‘Yes, funnily enough, now I would consider myself a professional hairdresser!’ said Mr Connellan.
‘I’ve cut about 80 mullets I’d say in the past eight weeks. Just alone with my cutting me raised $1100, and then one of the lads raised $800 from the haircut I gave him at work.
‘When we do get together for the BBQs and that kind of thing we’ve raised probably about $1000 just by people chucking in donations.
‘We’ve also done a range of hoodies and we’re going to do a range of T shirts and caps.
‘Now we’ve got a bunch of money together we’ve applied for a few more grants, and we’ve started distributing funding.
‘This month we selected The Black Dog Institute, that’s where all the mullet funding will go, we also chose Beyond Blue and A Ride For Suicide, which is a charity started in honour of one of our mates who passed.
‘We’re working with local artists like Sam Fitzgerald. He’s been really great with drawing up artwork for us and helping us out with designs. The next range of artwork will be focused around Lennox, Ballina, Byron, and just encapsulating the community vibe, and all the positives of each area.’
Spreading beyond the region?
Jackson Connellan says it’s something the group has thought about but they’re not in a rush to do. ‘We haven’t perfected it in this area yet, there’s so many things we want to do. But once we’ve established some local support channels in the Northern Rivers, and we know how to run them well, then we’ll look to move it to different areas of the state and the country.’
He said they’ve also been contacted by young women in the area who are planning to set up similar groups in the area for females. ‘The problem is not just a male thing, for sure.’
Echonetdaily asked Mr Connellan what he thought was driving the massive mental health problem under the surface of this beautiful region. ‘I guess there’s probably a big party scene, and there is quite a lot of drug abuse in this area,’ he said.
‘Society and the structure we live in isn’t quite as regimented, routined, so I guess people are more inclined to take a few more chances, and live a bit more of a risky lifestyle.’
On the positive side, The Healthy Minds Club experience shows there can be a helpful role for much-maligned social media in mental health, with the group using Facebook as well as Instagram extensively.
Mr Connellan said, ‘That wasn’t the intention of what we were doing, to make social media look good like this, but yeah it’s got so many positives, social media, in terms of trying to reach out to people and marketing things.
‘I’m not sure how we would have been able to create the group in such a short amount of time and on such a large scale without the use of social media. It’s not all bad!’
Get in touch
Jackson Connellan says that unlike traditional government mental health services, ‘There’s always an active member on the community page. You can log on, post your problem and ask for help, and within a matter of seconds you can have a reply. Someone knows that you’re in trouble and will look to give you help.
‘If you’re not already a member, you’ll be accepted within an hour.’
Mr Connellan said the members of the group are organising further mental health education and training with Lennox Head’s Trent Chapman, who runs a mental health first aid course focusing on suicide prevention, symptoms and signs, and how to react.
Twenty young men from the club are going to attend the next course, and Mr Connellan is hoping that’s just the start.
‘Lachie and I are very active in our engagement with the Facebook group.
‘We want to start a movement of men talking a lot more openly about this stuff. It’s nice to get the awareness out and tell people to jump on Facebook. We’re so connected these days with our phones. Jump online and check us out!’
Their email address is: [email protected]