Last Wednesday September 1st, four of our Year 10 and 11 Student Councillors (Tia Martin-Peterson, Jessica Birrell, Audrey Keenan, and Paul Price), along with Student Council Coordinator Mr Richards, attended the Zero2Hero annual ‘In Your Head’ forum.

The ‘In Your Head’ forum is WA’s only Mental Health Forum for Young People featuring keynote presentations and breakout sessions from industry leaders. In Your Head is designed to provide young people with a greater understanding of adolescent mental health and practical skills to support their own well being.

Here is what Paul (Year 11) had to say about the event:

“The focus of the discussion was mental health, both the difficulties it causes and the problems that attribute to it. During the event, there were three keynote speakers and three smaller lectures. We were all led into the main theatre, where we were met by Giles Roberts, the event’s main host. During this time, we encountered Ashlee Harrison, the CEO of Zero2Hero, who revealed why she founded the organisation which was after she lost her stepfather to suicide. She expressed how she felt driven to act immediately in response to that issue of which it’s impacts devastate so many people. Ashlee channelled her determination and concentrated on bringing people together to host events and fundraisers that promote the message of suicide prevention, and thus Zero2Hero was created in 2009. Following our meeting with Ashlee, we were welcomed with traditional Aboriginal dances by the incredible Wesley College Moorditj Mob, who spoke about their initiatives for Indigenous students, which assist them learn their culture rather than having it forgotten by future generations.

Shortly after they finished their performance, we were greeted by our first keynote speaker, Karen Young. She was an expert on adolescent anxiety, and she not only explained the science behind it, but also why we feel the way we do. She was informing us, for example, that when we reach adolescence, the first area of the brain to develop is the rear of the brain, which also houses the amygdala, the part of the brain that regulates our fight or flight responses. This means that during adolescence, teenagers are compelled to think with the amygdala rather than the front of the brain, which is where all adult-level thinking occurs. This means we, as teenagers, are always stressed out about exams, friendships, and the need to be popular due to the fact we are in a constant fight or flight response. It was a relief for myself and the other Student Councillors to learn about this and that we were not alone in our feelings. She concluded her presentation with suggestions for coping with anxiety, such as practicing mindfulness.

Brian Councillor, our second keynote speaker, spoke on the significance of family and connection in Aboriginal communities, as well as his own personal struggles with being separated from his family. Hearing about his childhood tragedies was heartbreaking, but it was inspiring to hear about how he now supports Aboriginal adolescents avoid the same traumas he did.

After a short break, we attended our breakout sessions. There were many excellent seminars to pick from, but we were limited to three. We chose Kristi McVee’s presentation on ‘Surviving Your Teen Years Online,’ Breanna Melville’s presentation on ‘LGBTQI+ Allies and Advocates,’ and Olivia Vivian’s presentation on her ‘Olympic & Ninja Journey.’ Kristi McVee’s presentation on ‘Surviving Your Teen Years Online’ was an informative lecture on the significance of cyber safety, how to deal with cyberbullying and how to adapt and stay safe from a constantly evolving online world. Being a former Detective Senior Constable, she devoted her life dealing with instances of cybercrime to teenagers. The lecture was very informative, especially to us councillors who must deal with and interact with the online world on a regular basis.

The second presentation we attended was Breanna Melville’s talk on “LGBTQI+ “Allies and Advocates,” which was dedicated to making our society and schools more inclusive of LGBTQI+ individuals. An important lesson from this discussion was how we can use more gender neutral terms to be inclusive of everyone in our community and at our school.

Finally, Olivia Vivian, the last keynote speaker and, incidentally, the last breakout session lecturer, shared with us about her “Olympic and Ninja Journey.” She commented on her early love of gymnastics, and her desire of competing in the Olympics. She went on to say that when she was chosen for a specialised gymnastics facility, she was repeatedly talked down instead of being given constructive feedback, and that at first the organisers told her parents that she could continue, but that she wasn’t the “model” gymnast. She overcame these obstacles for the most of her youth and even went on to win world championships, compete in the Olympics and securing a scholarship to an American college. After seeing how Americans teach their athletes with compliments and constructive criticism in the shape of a “compliment sandwich,” which consisted of two compliments on either side and a small amount of feedback in the middle, her perspective on gymnastics shifted. After her father passed away with terminal cancer Olivia didn’t compete in any sports until she received a call from the show “Australian Ninja Warrior.” She attempted to compete in the first season but was unable to overcome the warped wall. She put in months of training to finish it, reverting to the Australian mentality of focusing on the wall rather than the entire game. She has since conquered not only the wall, but the entire show as well. This taught her an invaluable lesson that she shared with us on stage: to not allow others to drag you down, to look past the obstacles and over to the finish line.

Overall, for me, the Zero2Hero In Your Head forum was an amazing experience, and I would definitely go again another time or recommend people to go since it was a learning experience for not only myself, but the other Student Councillors as well. I learned so much from this experience, and I will attempt to use some of the lessons I have learned in the future.” – Written by Paul Price.