Kendall Whyte, Blue Tree Project Found and CEO.
  • Mental health has been a growing challenge, particularly through the pandemic
  • Lifeline is available on 13 11 14
  • Suicide Call Back is available on 1300 659 467

Being part of a connected community can play an important role in supporting our mental health and wellbeing through providing a sense of belonging and social connection.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in the early stages of lockdowns and strict isolation requirements, many people’s mental health suffered with people feeling more anxious, stressed and worried.

While the pandemic has had a significant impact on people’s mental health in a range of ways, it has also been a catalyst for increased awareness of mental health issues and encouraged more people to check in on each other.

According to CEO and Founder of Blue Tree Project (BTP) Kendall Whyte, the topic of mental health is at the forefront for a lot of people but unfortunately, individual capacity to respond or support others is extremely stretched now.

“For many, COVID has only increased workloads and pressure therefore we are struggling to keep up with ourselves, let alone our loved one’s mental health,” Ms Whyte said.

“This doesn’t mean people don’t care about others’ mental health, it just means our capacity to care for others is at an all-time low because our self-care has been so compromised during the pandemic.”

While capacity might be stretched, Ms Whyte says that support for BTP remains strong and due to the increasing focus on mental health during the pandemic, people are actively engaging in these types of initiatives.

BTP was initially started after Ms Whyte’s brother, Jayden Whyte, sadly took his own life in 2018. The organisation aims to spark difficult conversations and encourage people to speak up when battling mental health concerns.

By painting blue trees across the landscape and spreading the message that “it’s OK to not be OK”, BTP is helping to break down the stigma that’s still largely attached to mental health.

“We have been working hard to try and kick the stigma of mental health but education is key for making a lasting impact,” Ms Whyte said.

“We have been encouraging individuals as well as businesses to take on the Mental Health First Aid Course. This helps develop the skills to have those harder conversations more confidently.

“I think it’s important for businesses to focus on workplace mental health, particularly as we transition back into the office.”

Youth and mental health

When we discuss the impact of mental health, it is hard to ignore the statistics in relation to young people.  According to Beyond Blue, over 75% of mental health issues occur before the age of 25.

Youth Focus is a for-purpose organisation that aims to create brighter futures for young people in Western Australia by offering a range of mental health services and mental health support has never been more important for young people according to CEO of Youth Focus Arthur Papakotsias.

“In 2021, the University of Sydney forecast an increase in suicides of young people by 12.4%, at worst 18.3% over the next five years, largely due to the pandemic,” Mr Papakotsias said.

“Naturally, this is of great concern. Sadly, the 2020 Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows that this forecast is accurate, with 58 young people aged between 15 and 24 dying by suicide in 2020 in Western Australia in comparison with 49 in 2019.

“As a not-for-profit organisation with limited capacity and funding, we continue to build innovative strategies and implement new initiatives to support demand management now and into the future.

“Youth Focus and headspace collaborate with several community-based organisations to achieve excellent outcomes for young people with mental health issues.

“Some examples of these partnerships include the headspace Midland Consortium which consists of several community-based partners such as the WA Police, Helping Minds, Swan City Youth Service, RISE Community Service, Mercycare and more,” Mr Papakotsias said.

Neighbour day connects residents

At a community level, Relationships Australia launched Neighbour Day in Melbourne in 2003 as an opportunity to ‘check on your neighbour’.

The day began in recognition of the impact loneliness, and lack of social connection has broadly on an individual, as well as community.

Over the last 20 years, the day has grown into an ongoing, year-round social connection campaign that seeks to address loneliness across Australia.

“Research shows that those who are socially connected and have numerous respectful relationships in their lives, have better mental health and well-being outcomes, and that those people are generally more resilient against the ill effects of loneliness,” Nick Tebbey, Relationships Australia National Executive Officer, said.

“To celebrate the 20-year milestone, we have launched an updated brand for Neighbour Day as well as creating an interactive map, where Australians can find information about events near them and register their own events.

“In 2022, the groundswell in activity has been inspirational. Local Councils, Community Organisations, businesses and passionate individuals across Australia have joined the call to action and we have over 100 public events registered nationwide.”

For all of these organisations, the support of sponsors, partners and members of the community enables them to continue to expand and provide their services and initiatives.

“Community support helps us to ensure vulnerable Western Australians who need mental health services have the very best chance of receiving them,” Mr Papakotsias said.


This story was originally published in The Urbanist magazine, an official publication of the Urban Development Institute of Australia (WA). It has been edited for republication by The Property Tribune. 

The Property Tribune thanks the UDIA WA for the opportunity to republish the work, and share thought leadership in relation to urban development and community creation with our readers.

Read the original copy of The Urbanist by heading to UDIA WA’s website under the News tab.

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