Whitlam Institute

What Matters 2019 Shortlist

What Matters 2019 Shortlist

Modern Fairy Tale

Modern Fairy Tale

Libby Hoyle

Year 10

Let me tell you a story. It starts with a modern young princess; her life full of family, friends, group chats, exams and late-night YouTubing. Life in her castle was just as it should be.

Then one day a dragon creeps in, whispering insults day and night. It begins to destroy everything good in her life. There are panic attacks, lots of tears, breakdowns... scars. She stares death in the face more than once. For a while it looks like the dragon has won.

This reads like a fairy tale, but the story's all too real. The dragon is real, and it has multiple names: depression, anxiety, bipolar... take your pick. And this story is a lot more common than we'd like to think. One in four young people have had a mental health issue in the past 12 months - more than in any other age group.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for young people, accounting for one third of all deaths in 2016. The numbers are even higher for indigenous and LGBTI young people, who are twice as likely to experience anxiety, three times more likely to have depression and up to 14 times more likely to attempt suicide.

Every one of us knows someone affected by mental illness, but it's not always obvious. The dragon takes many forms. And the princess looks like your bus driver, your grandmother, or your sibling. She looks like my friend, who almost committed suicide last year.

We thought she was okay. She'd been unwell for a while, but she got treatment, she looked like she was better. But she wasn't. Of course, she never gave us any reason to think otherwise, but maybe we just wanted to believe she was okay. Maybe I didn't look hard enough.

Maybe none of us look hard enough. It takes a lot to see past the generic 'I'm fine' in our busy lives. But we need to look harder, and when something isn't right we need to act. And the best news is that we have options now: Headspace, R U OK?, Black Dog, Beyond Blue, the list goes on. Programs like these give us ways to do more - they help us see the person who is in trouble, and then empower us to have discussions that might save a life. Lord knows these conversations aren't easy - but the cost is too great to ignore.

If you just change a few of the details, that story I told could be you, or anyone you love. And who would know? The story of that princess was the story of my friend. But it's also mine. Last year, I faced the dragon, I am the one in four. But I'm also one of the lucky ones. Not everyone gets to stand up and say that they recovered. Not everyone gets help.

Stories like this matter - not because it happened to me, not because it happened to my friend, but because it's happening to someone else right now. In the time it took to read this, 5 people have killed themselves. More will follow. Stories like this matter, because they show us that we're not alone, not ever. The dragon is fierce, but it can and will be defeated.