Featured photo by Pat Stevenson for junkee.com
In Canberra, a place I had no idea was Australia’s capital until I moved here, media outlet Junkee.com brings 200 of the country’s “young changemakers” together every year in a three day foray of ideas and discussion.
It’s an “unconference”. Each attendee is given the opportunity to pitch their idea for a session, which will then be allocated to one of 60 available slots. 10 sessions take place at a time and participants are encouraged to get involved, move around and have their voice heard. Nothing (well, relatively little) was pre-scripted and the space felt very organic.
When invited, I was very excited and also felt humbled to have been selected as one of these influencial young people. I have colleagues who were not accepted and so it did feel relatively exclusive. I also thought this sounded like one of the most hipster things I’ve ever heard, but I am super open-minded and I was definitely willing to give it a go.
There’s been a bit of a backlash by the vocal minority (perhaps 2 of 200) that Junket was more ideas than action; more of a political circle-jerk than really setting the agenda for Australia’s future. I can certainly see how that could have been a possibility, and of course I was only able to attend 6 sessions out of 60 (one of which I ran), so I cannot begin to generalise about the whole event. There’s also a a huge involvement of observer bias and perhaps some confirmation bias – expecting to be politically underwhelmed and cynical, attendees may find themselves drawn to sessions which will reinforce their attitude by their very nature.
I’m a doctor, and for the most part I attended sessions which focussed on healthcare. Perhaps that is why my experience was so dissonant from these outspoken journalists’, or perhaps I am an inherent optimist. Either way, I found it fascinating, inspirational and incredibly useful.
For a start, it was wonderful to see mental health focus so strongly amongst the other important issues. There are some very talented and passionate people flying the mental health flag (I’m looking at you, Joel Pilgrim), and making the bold statements about being open, receptive and non-judgemental that will eventually stamp out institutionalised stigma.
I started my day with a session on Drug and Alcohol in Australia, led by Hello Sunday Morning founder Chris Raine. They work with young people to educate and support a change in alcohol culture. He asked, “What can Hello Sunday Morning do within the next 12 months to improve the drug and alcohol issues in Australia?” To which, a group including doctors, occupational therapists, farmers, charity founders, counsellors, journalists and more, discussed the changes they had seen work in addressing young people’s substance use. For example, early intervention at school age, with group work that is consistent and long enough to provide continuity of care. Another attendee suggested gamifying the abstinence process, and informed us of his app in development to help people quit smoking. The suggestions kept coming in. And they were being received with open ears by a person who can actually make a difference.
After this I had a little break before moving on to a session on Charity and what we can do to make it more sustainable. Genuine curiosity combined with experience from a variety of backgrounds, including charitable people, charity founders, and a member of the board of Oxfam, Alan Wu. We discussed lowering the barrier to entry, convenience charity, and local community initiatives in comparison to those abroad. Following this I remained for a session on how we could improve the situation for the public healthcare system, within the restraints of inflexible government policy. We discussed rural medicine and how technology could be used to reach those who cannot access hospitals, whether it be through distance or the lack of physicians. The wonderful Jess Duncan led the session and works in a remote indiginous community in Moree who only get visited by a Psychiatrist once a month or less. With that unlikely to change in the immediate future, we explored solutions that could be implemented sooner rather than later, to connect this vulnerable population with the mental health care they deserve and sometimes desperately need (the suicide rate in Aboriginal males is dramatically higher than population baseline).
Before my own talk, on (obviously), mental health and video games, I followed Adelle Clements into a darkened room, and in a small group we did a guided meditation before discussing alternative health. From the evidence-based mindfullness and the still ambiguous acupuncture, to reiki, crystal healing and even ASMR, we talked deeply and insightfully around how these remedies are practised and if there is a role for implementation into modern medicine. As a doctor I was dubious, but it was incredibly interesting to explore the perceptions of others, including an alternative health practitioner who admitted, “I believe in it, but it could be placebo. If it is, what does it matter? The placebo effect is an effect. I would never stop someone from seeing a doctor.” She also introduced an interesting concept I hadn’t considered – that she feels sometimes that her clients debrief or unload onto her about their psychological issues, something she has had no training in dealing with and felt particularly out of her depth. I wondered aloud if we could do anything to help alternative health practitioners learn how to take this imposed role as counsellor, and if it would be apt to educate them about when an issue requires further input.
Yes, there was corporate sponsorship. That sponsorship will help my new friends and allies to further their agenda and implement actual change, like, now. OneWave will be able to provide a surf course to two people for several weeks, an experience which could change (or save) their lives. Underrepresented people, victims of oppression, are gaining confidence in having their agenda heard and inciting positive and proactive change. I genuinely don’t see how that can be a bad thing and I for one am excited to see what these new connections will bring for the future of CheckPoint, and mental health in Australia and abroad.