Elisa, Roving reporter

Headspace - Green men and mental health

The GreenMan - Headspace reprazentIn 2010 someone dressed entirely in green Spandex ran the Melbourne Marathon. You couldn't tell whether it was a guy or a girl. You couldn't make out anything except for the gigantic white question mark on their face.

It was the GreenMan.

Who is the GreenMan?

The hidden identity. The appropriately superhero-sounding name. The crazy costume. It's no surprise that the GreenMan was an instant hit. He didn't win the marathon, but he did go on to meet Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and TV host Ruby Rose. He even has his own Facebook page (new window)

But before you get too excited, the GreenMan isn't saving damsels in distress. He's doing something way more important. He's helping save the lives of young people suffering from mental illness and showing their families and friends where they can get the support they need.

If you haven't guessed already, the GreenMan is the mascot for the Southern Melbourne representatives of Headspace, the National Youth Mental Health Foundation.

The story behind the GreenMan

The GreenMan is the brainchild of Nick Sharrock, 22, and the other young people who volunteer at the Southern Melbourne Headspace centre in Balaclava. A bit of a superhero himself, Nick is studying medicine and somehow still manages to find the time to volunteer at Headspace.

"I was in my second year at uni when I saw a sign for the organisation. I've always been interested in mental health studies and thought I'd check it out," he says. "It was immediately such a rewarding role. I love getting involved with the different events and fundraisers and working alongside other equally passionate young people."

The GreenMan is only one of the things Nick has worked on since becoming a volunteer at Headspace. He's also been to national conferences and gotten his voice and opinions on youth issues out there to the right people. He's learnt new skills and met new people, but his favourite project is still the GreenMan.

"We spent so long just planning and organising the GreenMan. Getting his costume and deciding which fundraisers he would appear at and what message we wanted him to convey, but it was all worth it just to see him on the day. He was a total success."

A complete of mystery, the GreenMan strives to be unconventional and eye-catching. The young people who thought him up wanted him inspire conversation not just about his identity, but about mental illness.

"Mental illness is something young people still feel awkward talking about, which is where Headspace comes in," Nick says.

What is Headspace?

Since 2006, Headspace has been helping young people deal with everything that comes with growing up.

The organisation has 30 clinics across Australia (new window) that anyone aged 12 to 25 can go to whenever they like for health advice, information about alcohol or drugs, and tips on getting a great education or job.

Headspace specialises in providing mental health counselling. Its staff are experts. They don't judge, they don't preach and they don't use all that medical jargon.

Whether you've already been diagnosed with a mental illness or just feel sad, angry or a bit down, they're there to figure what's wrong and help you get better.

"It's not easy being young and we all feel sad sometimes. Headspace is so fantastic because the staff is dedicated to improving young people's lives and giving them the support they need," Nick says.

Headspace also has a great website (new window) where you'll find plenty of information and advice, as well as real-life stories from other young people who have experienced a mental illness.

There's a section for friends and family too. A mental illness isn't just hard on the person experiencing it, it's also pretty difficult to watch someone you know suffer, so Headspace has lots of tips on what you can do to support your friend or family member and how you can make a difference in their lives.

"In everything that Headspace does, it's always striving to remind the world that a mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. Most young people will experience it. You're not alone," Nick says.

"The first stop towards getting better is getting help. Whether that means going to one of the Headspace centres or checking out the website, no problem is too big or too small and everything can be fixed."

A healthy Headspace

Even if you've never experienced a mental illness, Headspace is still there to help. The website has fantastic advice on how to live a healthy and fulfilled life (new window).

"When we're young, it's easy to feel discouraged or to start to think a bit negatively, but being well informed on how to improve your mental health and wellbeing can make all the difference," says Headspace ambassador and youth psychologist Dr Debra Rickwood.

As well as tips on how to get a good night sleep, the Headspace website also has pages on building up your self-esteem, creating positive relationships and coping with stress.

"There are things we can do to make our lives easier. Good friends and a good family are great, but we have to work on ourselves too so we don't get stressed and stay positive and happy. That's the key to being mentally healthy no matter what!"

So what are you waiting for? Hop online and check out Headspace or pop into your nearest centre for a chat. If you'd like to help them out, they're always looking for volunteers like Nick. It's a chance to make a real difference.

For more articles about Health & relationships, check out our Articles archive.

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