A Path To Follow strives to enhance mental well-being of young people and keep them meaningfully connected to their community.
It hopes to contribute to the reduction in stigma associated with mental ill-health and increase community awareness of the challenges faced by young people and their families via providing mentoring support, well-being resources and participating in a Suicide Prevention Network.
A Path to Follow was created by Kirstie Edwards, inspired by her experiences with mental ill-health, both personally and professionally.
Kirstie experienced depression as a young person and then again as a new parent. She says of her experiences:
‘My journey mirrors thousands of others. It includes stories of immense support, of immense love and encouragement to get better. But also of battles against stereotypes – those about depression, about medications, about what people living with mental illness can actually achieve, feel and experience in life.’
Kirstie works for a local community health service, managing a team of professionals in mental health and allied health services for children, young people, adults and their families. Every week she is responsible for overseeing the work of her clinicians in terms of risk to self, risk to others, family violence and protection of children. Kirstie is the organisation’s Child and Young Persons’ Safety Officer and holds the Family Violence Portfolio.
Kirstie has been outspoken and candid about her own journey. She would like to see a world where there is no stigma associated with mental ill health. She would like to see a world that prioritises prevention and early intervention for youth mental health.
In 2010 Kirstie held a celebration fundraising event to thank those around her for their support in her recovery from depression. With the support of family and friends $1000 was raised for SANE Australia.
Since that event, Kirstie has focused her passion to create change regarding youth mental health. This was borne from Kirstie’s personal desire to ensure her boys and others like them, with a predisposition to experience mental ill health, will grow up as part of a community where professional and personal support is readily available.
Kirstie was further impassioned since her middle son, at the age of 16 in 2017, lost two classmates to death by suicide within 12 months, experienced severe anxiety and depression himself and was hospitalised. Their experience of all aspects of the mental health system; acute, sub-acute and community arms, left their son further traumatised and set out for them a battle they are, as a whole family, still fighting today.
In 2014 Kirstie raised near $10,000 for the Early in Life Mental Health Services (ELMHS) at Monash Health. ELMHS is a service where young people who are experiencing emotional, behavioural or mental ill health can receive service. Unfortunately, like most public health services, ELMHS remains constantly under funded. The key fundraising activity was a ‘Heal thru Art’ exhibition and art auction supported by local artists who donated their works. It was held at the Breslin Gallery, via the generous support of Anthony Breslin. The money was used to provide necessary sensory equipment to support the recovery of young people receiving service from ELMHS. See https://apathtofollow.wordpress.com/2014/05/01/inside-your-head-an-amazing-afternoon/ for more on this event.
Kirstie’s long term goal has always been to host a Mentor Program; motivated by the long wait lists for those very few mentor programs we have in our area, the current limitations of our mental health system and the unique needs of young people when it comes to mental well-being support, that our current system doesn’t really cater for.
After the exhibition Kirstie needed a well earned break and completed very little formal A Path To Follow work between that time and launching the mentor program in 2018.
2017 saw Kirstie launch the APTF Mentor Program in partnership with Ormond Junior Football Club (OJFC), thanks to the support of their President and Vice-President at the time. 2016-2017 also saw Kirstie’s family continue to face challenges; her son’s ongoing mental ill-health challenges, diagnosis of bowel cancer of her husband and dealing with the death of her father. Despite this, the desire to contribute to the mental well-being of her community was too strong to delay the mentor program further.
The 2018 Mentor Program pilot was a success, within its allocated resourcing; piloting mentoring opportunities for young people as young as 11 years. Evaluation of the program has set the scene for a positive 2019 season with the Ormond JFC and Kirstie is currently setting up a sub-committee to implement a detailed 12 month action plan. It will host mentoring within club teams again and more purposefully set up a pilot for one-to-one mentoring partnerships within the club and the community. See the evaluation link below. https://apathtofollow.wordpress.com/2018/12/02/the-mentor-program-pilot-evaluation/
The other exciting initiative APTF will be a part of in 2019 is work in the area of Suicide Prevention. In partnership with Connect Health & Community and a passionate parent who lost a son to suicide, Kirstie will lead a Suicide Prevention Network in our local area. Two activities will take place: A memorial for those local people we have lost to death by suicide and our second Awareness Forum, helping local community members to use the language they need to talk about suicide with their loved ones and people who need such help.