Sunday, May 27, 2012 at 2:44PM
Jason Berek-Lewis Creator, Healthy Startups
Many Australians encounter a black dog at some point in their lives. I don’t mean pets or stray animals,
but being affected by a mental illness such as depression.
Depression is the most common mental health problem for young Australians. About one in every four
people aged 12 to 25 will experience depression (headspace.org.au) and studies suggest that men are
less likely than women to seek help for their health problems (beyondblue.org.au).
Now there are new ways of reaching out to people suffering the same illness and fighting off the same
animal, courtesy of startups such as Soften The Fck Up, founded by Ehon Chan (see http://softenthefckup.com.au).
Chan, a former depression sufferer himself, questioned the lack of resources available for men suffering
from mental health issues. Suicide is the leading cause of death for men under 44 and Chan wanted
to send a message that it was OK for men to ask for help. He wanted to broadcast that sometimes you
can’t fight the black dog all alone, and sought to give men the resources and community with which they
could get help.
Soften The Fck Up works to reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues amongst young men,
and operates through the platform of social media to get the message out there. Stories are shared,
blogs are written and videos are recorded. A digital manifesto has also been written and you can throw
your support behind the cause by signing it online (see http://softenthefckup.com.au/get-involved).
Something so simple has had the power to challenge common perceptions of what is a “real man”. It
has spread across Facebook and Twitter, gaining 1,470 likes and 717 followers respectively. Social media
platforms such as these have proven that more and more “real men” are finding the courage to step
forward, and in turn are finding a wide support network that works under the instant virtual meeting
place of social media.
An important platform in the development of Chan’s idea was PlanBig (see http://www.planbig.com.au), an initiative that nurtures the seeds of big ideas and watches them grow via an online community. Chan put his idea on PlanBig and caught the attention of supporters, ambassadors and most importantly, men going through mental illness.
PlanBig works so that anyone and their idea, as small as it might be, can work towards something big
with the help from others. Anyone can put their own idea up on the interactive site and anyone can
support it. It brings together “a community who is passionate, engaged and eager to lend a hand or an
ear” and sometimes, it’s that hand or ear which can make all the difference.
Youth ADHD Bipolar Initiative (YABI) (see http://yabi.org.au) is another organisation which has utilised PlanBig to help support young people suffering from ADHD or bipolar disorder. YABI organises events and experiences and is also focused on taking the stigma out of mental illness. One in fifty young Australians live with bipolar disorder and one in twenty live with ADD/ADHD. YABI seeks to provide a system of support for people suffering from these mental health conditions as well as their carers.
YABI was founded by Michael Mant-Smith who has personally experienced mental illness. After losing
his mother in a tragic accident, Michael experienced an onset of ADHD symptoms which forced him to
stop work as a paramedic. Also, director of YABI, Jordy Heis, has seen the dramatic effects of mental
illness after a family member was diagnosed with bipolar disease.
One of YABI’s recent plans on PlanBig was to create beach volleyball teams at St Kilda (a seaside suburb in Melbourne, Australia) and this initiative has helped sufferers of ADHD or bipolar disorder build strong, lasting relationships through social inclusion. Initiatives such as this demonstrate the positive results that startups can have on those they reach, and how online communities such as PlanBig can help facilitate this.
The dogs won’t stop chasing, but with online community initiatives like PlanBig, startups such as Soften
The Fck Up and YABI are finding a place to unfold and ultimately help those in need.