Youth is a formative stage when we develop our identity and chart our courses. It is also the transitional stage into adulthood with unknowns, a period of tremendous psychological distress. Studies have revealed that the levels of depression and anxiety are the highest in the 18-34 age group. However, only one in four of those in need would seek professional help in 2017. Patients are either deterred by the lengthy waiting list for psychiatric services, or reluctant to voice out their troubles due to stigma.
As a matter of fact, many of us may not know how to cope with a troubled friend. “Comforting” words like “think on the bright side!” or “others are worse off than you!” only induce counter-effects and more frustration. There is a need for effective mental health education to eliminate social prejudice, as well as ways to strengthen the public’s mental resilience.
Prompted into action by the recurrent youth suicide incidents, Prof Winnie Mak formed the social action group StoryTaler in 2015, telling mental illness stories on social media platforms with a fresh and clean format. StoryTaler stands out among mental health awareness groups with its strong research basis, and more importantly, the spirit of co-production among its members — regardless of your background, you can freely write and even create graphic content to share your lived experiences, without having to worry being discriminated. Their online and offline activities, such as anti-stigma campaigns, well-being courses and storytelling workshops, celebrate diversity while spreading the power of compassionate listening and company — that we can all be a “counsellor” to one another.
StoryTaler has now ripen into a social enterprise to provide systematic training and community events, gradually building a natural support network where the need for professional intervention is minimal.
The StoryTaler team has been popular at workshops in schools and corporates alike, with very personal sharing and training on stress management, communication and listening skills. Participants with mental health struggles are empowered to speak up and connect with each other. The innovative and eye-catching posts on their social media page have attracted nearly 40000 followers. Their interactive online course (under development) will be showing more public members the ropes of communicating with empathy in workplaces, schools and homes. Storytaler is working towards a mentally healthy community, where people talk less and listen more, respect differences, and carry each other through the lows in life.
– Individuals suffering from mental health issues
– Youth and young working adults
Winnie has been promoting well-being and fighting against stigma in the community through translating her research into scalable practices. Her research covers stigma reduction, mental health promotion, and personal recovery. In May 2015, she established StoryTaler, which was made a social enterprise in June 2019, with a group of individuals enthusiastic about mental health promotion and have lived experiences of mental illness. Through the years, she and her team developed evidence-based training materials, protocols, and workshops for public education on well-being.