Mind Blank founder Ally Kelly showed enormous courage this week when she told her own story in public for the first time.
Ms Kelly spoke of a betrayal of trust when she was six years old, and her long-term anguish as she tried to overcome that. She was aiming to help people understand why she started Mind Blank and to help find sponsors for the organisation. It was only when she started to sing at the age of 14 that she found a way to express herself through creative arts. When depression hit during her university years, she sought help and found people to talk to.
"Coming out of it, I learned the biggest thing was empathy," she said. "Now for anyone who has had a mental health issue, I acknowledge the struggle that it takes day in and day out to get through. Mind Blank exists because I honestly believe that no-one needs to suffer in silence. I believe we need to do something different about the way we educate [about] mental health topics."
Mind Blank, established three years ago, uses interactive theatre to educate youth about mental health topics. The not-for-profit organisation helps break down barriers and engages children in important issues by using humour and their own language. It has already reached 7000 school children in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven. The challenge now is to introduce the program nationally over the next five years, Ms Kelly says.
"Already research shows the dialogue goes far beyond our shows," Ms Kelly says. "We subconsciously give them permission to seek help and for those around them to seek help for themselves and others in their time of need." Ms Kelly is now seeking corporate, government and community support.
Patrick McGorry, Professor of Youth Mental Health at the University of Melbourne and the 2010 Australian of the Year, has endorsed Mind Blank's national expansion, which is expected to reach half a million young Australians.
"It is an incredibly creative and dynamic approach to teaching young people issues to do with mental health," Professor McGorry said. "It cuts through all the usual barriers we find when we are trying to promote mental health awareness with young people. It gives them some control over the way things actually evolve."
Mind Blank also participates in research with the UOW School of Psychology and the local area health district. The opposition spokesperson for mental health and ageing, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, has also congratulated Ms Kelly on what her organisation has achieved. The national expansion will start in western Sydney and the ACT before moving into regional NSW, Queensland and Victoria.
Mind Blank Incorporated will soon be replaced by Mind Blank Limited. Ms Kelly said the initiative had been achieved so far with only limited resources. Her team worked multiple jobs to support themselves, so they could perform in and develop the resource. But that needed to change, she said.
Ms Kelly is now seeking corporate, government and community support. Along with a naming sponsor, Mind Blank needs a car to help the team get around, federal government funding, event sponsors, individual donations, mentors, volunteers, endorsements and free office space.