Rainbow Waves festivalTalking about mental health and emotional wellbeing can be difficult, but that is exactly what WayAhead – Mental Health Association NSW has set out to tackle with the Mental Health Matters Awards.

Each year, these awards find and celebrate individuals and groups creating change in their communities through improving understanding, awareness, service provision and the general mental health of communities in NSW over the previous year.

One of these groups is the collective of organisations and individuals behind Rainbow Waves, a pride festival on the beautiful Far South Coast of NSW, to celebrate the local LBGTI community and acknowledge the unique challenges they face in rural and regional areas.

The organisers wanted to create an inclusive event for everyone to come together in a safe space and show there is support on the broader community regardless of what sexual or gender issues a person may be struggling with.


Mental Health Matters Rainbow Inclusion Award

This pilot initiative won the Mental Health Matters Rainbow Inclusion Award, sponsored by ACON, for creating an inclusive event that brought people from across the Bega Valley together, including organisers like the Pambula Mental Health Service and Headspace Bega, along with other community volunteers.

“This was absolutely a team effort. We have this incredible tribe of people who brought this whole thing together and it was a lot of young people. We had about 30, 40 young people turn up, and they volunteered their time and helped bring it together,” says Jennie Keioskie, the Rural Adversity Mental Health Coordinator in Pambula.

“We would have done without an award, but it’s great just to acknowledge all the hard work that happened and send the message out there to the wider community that this is award-winning stuff happening in rural and regional areas. It’s not just about what happens in cities.”

Mental Health Month

The presentation of the Mental Health Matters Awards marks the start of Mental Health Month, where communities around the state will be running events and raising awareness of the importance of connection for good mental health, demonstrated by how the Bega Valley community came together for Rainbow Waves.

“This year’s incredible winners showcase the amazing work being done across New South Wales to create communities and connections that support people going through difficult times and enable everyone to have the best possible mental health,” says WayAhead CEO Elizabeth Priestley.

“The theme for this year’s Mental Health Month is ‘Share the Journey’ to highlight the importance of connection to giving people a sense of security, support, purpose and happiness.”

“It can be easy to forget to look after our mental health, which is why Mental Health Month is all about focusing on our own mental health and the mental health of others. Research shows that an effective strategy for supporting mental wellbeing is meaningful and positive connections with others.”

WayAhead, with the support of hundreds of organisations and individuals throughout NSW, is sharing this message through showcasing award winners, a calendar of events and downloadable resources that anyone can use to start the conversation, connect and support mental health and wellbeing.

“Many Australians report feeling lonely and we believe loneliness is increasing in Australia. For those experiencing or living with mental illness, loneliness can have an even bigger impact, especially with the added experiences of social exclusion and stigma,” says Ms Priestley.

This year, WayAhead is looking at connection both in terms of ways an individual can connect and also the things we can all do to create communities where people feel safer and more connected. They are also calling for community members to share their thoughts on mental health.

‘Sharing the journey’ can mean many things:

  • Telling your loved ones about both your successes and difficulties
  • Reaching out to people who might be withdrawing from others
  • Working with someone to find and access services or support
  • Asking for help with day-to-day things when you need it
  • Getting involved in group activities, like sports or book clubs
  • Sharing a cuppa with a mate

“I encourage everyone to get involved in some way this Mental Health Month. Building positive social connection is something we can all try and do, whether you reach out to someone who might be feeling a bit lost or find a way to connect with others when you need some help,” finished Ms Priestley.

The group in the Bega Valley feel similarly about the importance of reaching out and talking to each other. For Ms Keioskie, it is vital.

“The best thing that you can do for your mental health is actually talk to each other and be happy and celebrate. This is the most radical thing you can do – to try and be happy and amplify that to the rest of the world. It’s such a positive message,” says Ms Keioskie.