Mental health: inside young people’s minds

Date: 31 August 2021

Portrait of Martin JohnsonMartin Johnson is a YMCA Change Agent from Australia and has been working on mental health advocacy. His video series “Inside Our Minds” is running for the third year. Let’s meet the man behind the camera.

Martin is 29 and is a volunteer for YMCA Australia. His love story with the YMCA started early: “I have touched base with the YMCA at many points in my life”, he says. “Growing up, my mother would take me to activities and vacation care run by the YMCA which allowed her to work more to support my brother and me. In 2017, I joined the Human Resources department of the YMCA, with my focus on Learning and Development of staff”.

Martin became a YMCA Change Agent after he had worked on a proposal on how YMCA could reduce its environmental impact: “Being a Change Agent was one of the best experiences of my life. As a Change Agent, you are recognised as a leader and someone who can influence change. Inside the YMCA, we use it so young people are allowed a free pass to break down potential barriers. I used my Change Agent status to have conversations with people that I would have thought would not be interested by my ideas”. Martin is quite nostalgic of this period as he shares: “I have so many amazing memories. For instance, sitting around a bonfire in Southampton with people from over 30 different countries and laughing and sharing stories that were all so similar but all so unique – that was incredible”.

From Change Agent to changing mindsets

In 2019, Martin Johnson started the ‘Inside Our Minds’ series: he filmed young women and men opening up about their mental struggles and challenges. These videos are intimate and yet they raise subjects to which many people relate. Martin explains: “This project came about from my personal experience with a mental health issue. After struggling for too long, I finally opened up to a close friend who told me he had a similar experience until he went and got help and support. It made me truly wonder why I had never spoken about it before and why I felt so alone. And I did get help”.

He continues: “The ‘Inside Our Minds’ programme is used to empower young people to speak up about their mental health. This continues to de-stigmatise others opening up and allows us to educate the older generation into young people’s thoughts and feelings”. More than 900,000 people were reached across all social media channels. The project includes media training, storytelling mapping, support and mental health first aid training through an accredited provider. Posters were distributed to a dozen important locations across Perth. Videos are shown in most universities and colleges across Western Australia.

Mental Health is a key topic that young people should talk about, and yet it is not easy to break the fear of judgement and misunderstanding. Martin Johnson says: “Just as everyone has physical health, everyone has mental health. If someone has a broken leg, they can find support and assistance. When your mental health is poor, it can be harder to see. Organisations like the World YMCA and big companies need to encourage people to be more transparent about how they are feeling. They need to promote that other people provide care and support to those who may be struggling. Always remember it’s OK to not be OK”.

After running the project for two years, Martin secured funding from Mineral Resources Limited (MRL), a Western Australian Mining Company, to carry it on. He is now mentoring the new ‘Inside Our Minds’ Coordinator, who is connecting to indigenous communities. The next series will be released in Mental Health Week (10-17th October 2021) and Martin hasn’t lost any of his enthusiasm: “I am very excited to see where it will keep going”.

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