When I was 20, I lost the ability to write.
I sat down to write my Uni essays and no words came out. My thoughts were jumbled, as though they were in another language. I’d sit in front of a blank computer screen and have debilitating panic attacks. Since I was five I’d been a writer. That’s how I expressed myself and it was a major pillar of my identity. Out of nowhere, I just couldn’t do it.
Well, it wasn’t completely out of nowhere. I’d struggled with bouts of anxiety and depression since childhood. I remember saying to my sister when I was in Year 4, “It feels like for the last six months I’ve been stuck in a bad dream. I can’t feel anything and all the days just run into each other. Do you ever get that?” It turned out she did.
But at 20, it hit me like never before. Some days I didn’t get out of bed. Other days I would, but only to lie under my bed in a state of terror. I hated myself, I hated the world and everything was grey. I felt like an absolute fraud, entirely undeserving of a place at Uni.
After sitting in front of a computer for eight or so hours, desperately trying to get a word out, I’d attempt to email the lecturer to tell them the work would be late. But I couldn’t even type out an email. Words and letters came out in the wrong order, and nothing I wrote seemed to make any sense.
Sydney University provided an excellent counselling service, at the cost of $10 a session, to which I owe the completion of my degree.
Graduating from Sydney Uni. Image supplied.
But at 23, when I'd finished uni and thought my mental health issues were behind me, they came creeping back.
It was the feeling in the pit of my stomach that something really, really bad was about to happen. I was plagued by unexplained guilt. I was convinced there was nothing to look forward to and I was in a cycle of perpetual bad luck.
I felt physically sick due to the constant pounding in my chest and churning in my stomach. I had returned to hell and it was even scarier than the first time.
But this time I wasn't enrolled in university. In fact, I was in that horrible limbo stage between finishing Uni and looking for a job. I had hardly any money in my bank account.
I went to the doctor who referred me to a psychologist. I then made an appointment and went along. The 50 minute session cost me $140. I could claim some of it on Medicare, but not much. I didn't have private health insurance because I was virtually unemployed.
These are the signs that mean you should seek help for your mental health. Post continues below.
I remember walking out of that appointment and feeling really angry. I couldn't afford those sessions. And I couldn't get a job until I got better. I was stuck. I was so angry with the system that I thought, "Do I need to walk in front of a bus to make my point?"
That's when I found headspace, the national youth mental health foundation. And it unequivocally changed the course of my life.
I couldn't count how many sessions I've had, but every single one contributed to me becoming a healthier, happier and more productive member of society. For generations our family has suffered from depression and anxiety, and I am the first to have this kind of access to treatment.
The help that headspace provided extended far beyond a psychologist. When I expressed that I was having issues with my medication, I was referred to a headspace psychiatrist. Free. When I explained the fatigue and stomach issues I was suffering, I was referred to a headspace GP. Free. When I voiced my anxiety about getting a job, I was offered a session with a careers adviser. Again, free.
Many a time, I sat in a session and cried my eyes out. But I felt like, at 23 years old, someone cared. That the government - who funds headspace - were investing in helping me get better.
I now have an incredible job, with incredible women. Image supplied.
Headspace was founded in 2006 under the Howard government, as a mental health foundation dedicated to improving the wellbeing and mental health of young Australians.
Last month, the foundation's first and only CEO, Chris Tanti, left in frustration.
The Turnbull government has decided to overhaul the mental health system, meaning that funding no longer goes to headspace itself, but instead to 31 Primary Health Networks.
There is enormous debate about whether this will make a significant difference to the services that headspace provides. Mamamia spoke to headspace's Media and Communications officer, Michael Bennett, who insisted that there is no cause for alarm. Bennett said that the resignation of numerous board members has been misreported by the ABC, and that the organisation is fundamentally unchanged.
However, Mr. Tanti tells a different story. He says that the changes, effective as of July 1st, will mean that headspace's national office will no longer have oversight of clinical standards, hiring of staff, consistency of care or a say in which centres remain open.
Under these changes, individual headspace centres will have to apply for money from their relevant Primary Health Network.
Tanti went as far as to say he was "very sad that what we have created in this country, which is the envy of the world," will suffer devastating cuts. He maintains that what has occurred will mark the end of headspace.
The Daily Telegraph interviewed dozens of mental health experts and reports that "every single one" believes this restructuring means "the likely death of headspace". They also report that the government has reduced its headspace budget from $19 million to $8 million per annum next year, and $5 million the following year.
Without significant federal funding, headspace will cease to exist.
The headspace model, which is indeed internationally revered, has been exported all over the world.
You've heard the statistics. For Australians between the ages of 15 and 44, the leading cause of death is suicide. I repeat: For 20 years of our lives, our single greatest threat is our own mental health.
Since its inception, headspace has treated over 40,000 young Australians. It is not only their lives that have been improved beyond measure, but their families lives, and the lives of the people they touch. We cannot even begin to quantify the significance headspace has had on Australia.
At this moment, I'd argue that mental health is one of Australia's most pressing issues. And we know that it disproportionately affects Australians of low socio-economic status, who can't afford to see a psychologist privately.
Awareness is one thing. We place an enormous emphasis on campaigns like 'R U OK?' day.
But what we need, more than anything, is somewhere for young people to go when they're not.