Macedon Ranges Shire (Victoria) is a thriving community nestled in beautiful natural surrounds and with a strong commitment to community connection, well-being, and support. Since 2010, this commitment has extended to council’s municipal mental health strategy to keep young people safe.
Like many Australian regional communities, Macedon Ranges Shire began to struggle with rates of mental illness and suicide amongst its population of young people. Problems such as depression, self-harm and suicidal ideation were reportedly rising – particularly in the adolescent age groups. Adults and young people in the community collectively sought a practical response that would help save lives by encouraging positive protective behaviours, peer support networks and community-based interventions. A key to this solution was the implementation of Mental Health First Aid® (MHFA™) training across the community.
Macedon Ranges Shire Council (MRSC) lead the charge with the implementation of the Live4Life mental health education and youth suicide prevention model, gaining active engagement of local services, schools, clubs and families. Their initiatives focused on mental health training and wrap-around supports that would have a measurable impact on well-being outcomes. At the ‘pointy end’, these efforts would save lives and reduce the need for clinical interventions, while as a prevention and intervention tool, they would build the capacity for community connection and skills.
“We wanted to create more supportive networks that young people could rely on. This meant providing MHFA training to adults in key community roles, such as teachers, sports coaches, and local service providers. It also meant providing MHFA training to empower young people to play an active role in peer-to-peer mental health support”
Coordinator of Youth Services at Macedon Ranges Shire Council (MRSC)
Building grassroots mental health capacity:
Now in 2022, Macedon Ranges Shire is being recognised as a Mental Health First Aid Champion Community. The Mental Health First Aid Champion Community Program acknowledges the concerted efforts of communities around Australia for their dedication to the delivery of MHFA training. It celebrates training in action at a grassroots level, as a means of improving local capacity for mental health literacy and community care.
MRSC acknowledges the importance of the Mental Health First Aid Champion Community recognition in keeping up momentum.
“This recognition will support the ongoing implementation of Live4Life in our Shire and promote the value of MHFA training for adults connected to young people throughout our community and for young people themselves,” says Vishal.
MRSC now include the Live4Life program and MHFA training in their annual budgeting and localised resources on an ongoing basis. They see a return through tangible community impacts. Some of the benefits that have been recognised through feedback and evaluation include:
- Reduced frequency of crisis level interventions among young people and other residents.
- Increased confidence within the community for people to support one and other.
- A shared language about mental health that demonstrates an improved mental health literacy among participants.
- Reduced levels of stigma around mental illness and suicide.
- Increased community resilience for coping with challenging times.
“This recognition will support the ongoing implementation of Live4Life in our Shire and promote the value of MHFA training for both, adults connected to young people and for young people themselves.“
Coordinator of Youth Services, Macedon Ranges Shire Council (MRSC)
Empowering young people and adults
MHFA training for students, parents, carers, teachers, coaches and first-contact professionals, has been an essential ingredient for turning a curve with local youth mental health in the Macedon Ranges. Since it was established, the program has delivered Youth MHFA training (training for adults supporting young people) to over 700 adults locally. This is a significant mental health safety net in a region with a population of almost 50,000.
In addition to this, the program has trained over 2,400 young people in Teen MHFA training (training for secondary students to support their peers). This has been achieved through a partnership group with representatives from the council, secondary schools and local health providers. This includes MHFA training delivered 10-12 times a year on schedule that meets new student, teacher and family cohorts in the later years of schooling. This rolling calendar of training grows community wellbeing assets now and into the future.
This strategy responds to youth mental health issues at a critical time. In Australia, around 20% of young people aged 11 to 17 have experienced either high or very high levels of psychological distress (AIHW, 2020). Adolescence is also a peak time for the emergence of mental illnesses of diagnosable adult mental health problems (AJGP, 2018). Sadly, suicide also remains a leading cause of death for young people under 25, and the statistical risk of attempted or completed suicide is often over-represented in Australia’s rural and regional communities (ABS, 2020).
“By equipping young people with the knowledge, skills and confidence to recognise, talk about and safely respond to mental health problems we can empower them to help themselves and their friends. By further encouraging empathy and reducing stigma, we create more connected and supportive communities,” says Caillin Moore (Community, Schools & University Engagement Coordinator at Mental Health First Aid Australia).
Extended community benefits
While the safety and wellbeing of young people was the initial spearhead for the implementation of the Live4Life program and MHFA training in the Macedon Ranges, the benefits have now been extended across the community. MHFA training is now delivered to community groups and clubs including men’s sheds, employment networks, the local Country Fire Authority, and Rotary Club (to name a few). Local Council staff also have the opportunity to undertake training.
“We started out with a mission to keep our young people safe, but we quickly saw the benefits for adults supporting other adults too. When we empower many people with skills for life in terms of their own well-being and the mental health of those around them, we create a more happy and healthy community overall,” explains Vishal.
Moving forward MRSC through the Live4Life program has a robust plan for extending the benefits. They plan to continue reaching out to young people and adults in the community with a focus on younger secondary cohorts, while ensuring all Year 11 students across the Shire have access to training. They will also maximise their reach with teachers through blended courses that are flexible for busy schedules. They have further identified a need to bolster local training resources with more accredited MHFA Instructors – an important strategy for embedding Mental Health First Aid within communities for the long-term.
Macedon Ranges Shire provide another shining example of what can be achieved when communities place a real value on mental health – putting evidence and positive community spirit into action. Mental Health First Aid Australia believes in showcasing the inspiring work of these Community Champions, as a way of highlighting real, on-the-ground impacts.
Looking to the future:
To learn more about the Macedon Ranges Shire you can visit their website here.
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To learn more about Youth Live4Life you can visit their website here
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Find out more about the Mental Health First Aid Champion Communities Program here
If you are interested in recognising your community’s commitment to MHFA training through participation in the program, please contact the Mental Health First Aid Australia Community Engagement Team: email@example.com.