“I don’t know how many times I’ve been told ‘it’s just words’,” said Janine Kemp, as we chatted over coffee.
‘It’s just words’ was the response from both teachers and the police to threats on her daughter’s life.
It was still ‘just words’ when her daughter was physically threatened, and it was still ‘just words’ when she developed an eating disorder and became suicidal.
But by watching her daughter become the subject of ruthless bullying all through high school and into college, Janine knew it’s not ‘just words.’
“She’d call me screaming from within a toilet cubicle because girls were on the other side banging on the door to get her,” she told me.
Now in the equivalent of year eleven, Janine pulled her out of school, saying it’s a lot better for her at home. In fact, it’s been her best year yet.
But Janine is a women with one big mission – overhaul Tasmania’s youth mental health system.
“I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve worked in enough areas to understand the system, but many people don’t have my knowledge, and you shouldn’t have to be in certain positions or places to get any help.”
She works tirelessly, outside of her day job, to create a much better youth mental health system in Tasmania. She’s working with app developers in Canada to launch a state-wide app called ThoughtSpot, which provides a virtual guide to available mental health services, as well as walking tracks, support groups and resources such as helplines.
Created by David Wiljer in Canada, Janine is driving the Tasmanian rollout of the app. The app, which is highly customisable to local jurisdictions to the needs of individual users, can empower young people and allow them to take control of their own health, she says.
“Youth don’t want to be told what to do, and we don’t give youth enough control over their own lives. This gives them the power to do that,” Janine said.
And that’s not the only way she’s taking on what she says is a ‘failing system’. She’s in talks to produce a documentary on the stories of Tasmanian young people and their struggles with mental illness, with the hope of having completed it in time to present it to a delegation of over 400 national and international mental health advocates and experts at the National Mental Health Commission conference next March.
“It’s the best opportunity to tell the stories of young people and to demand change,” she said.
However, that won’t happen without volunteers.
“I need brave young people to come forward and share their stories. There’s this perception out there that young people are feeling pretty good about themselves, life, school, and that’s not the case.”
“It’s about time youth had a voice, and their own voice is the strongest, so I thought this was the best way to do it.”
This piece was written for Fairfax Media’s newspaper, The Examiner. It was written for a youth audience as part of their Youth Network initiative. It was published on 23/9/16. A link will be provided once the story is posted online.