The founder of a mental health organisation that teaches students how to care for themselves and their peers has shared her toughest life lessons with local young people.
Speaking at this year’s Goldfields Youth Forum last Friday, zero2hero founder and chief executive Ashlee Harrison said her organisation had been warmly welcomed in Kalgoorlie-Boulder over recent months.
“We as an organisation work all over Western Australia and we work in a lot of regional and remote communities — and we have never been welcomed into a community like (we have in) Kalgoorlie,” she said.
“We exist solely to support young people in getting help that already exist in that space (or town) and to help young people feel empowered to support themselves and their friends and peers.”
Ms Harrison said she was 21 when she started the charity, and did so “accidently” after the death of her stepfather following a struggle with mental health that found her reaching for her youngest brother.
“I grabbed my little brother with both arms — literally and metaphorically,” she said.
“I remember watching my brother struggle with that. I remember thinking to myself I need to do a better job for my little brother and I need to create a better world where he can access help, and he can get some support.”
She said her struggles growing up — from being exposed to drugs, alcohol and tough living situations — shaped her into who she is today.
“I think people look at me and they hear me speak and they kind of meet me and they think I’ve got myself together — which I do now because I’m 34 and I’ve been to a lot of stuff to get to where I am,” she said.
“Most of my upbringing was challenge after challenge after challenge.”
Ms Harrison said the first lesson she wanted to share with young Goldfields leaders was that the people they spent time with affected the kind of person they became.
“You are the average of the top five people you hang around, so you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with,” she said.
“For a lot of young people I work with, they’re like ‘oh I don’t want to be like that’ or ‘I don’t want to do that’ or ‘I don’t want to go there’ and then they keep being like that, going there and doing that.
“So if you want to change, and you want to grow and develop, sometimes it means you have to change who you’re with and who we’re around because your vibe will attract your tribe.”
Ms Harrison said her second lesson was sometimes harder to accept for young people and that is that both struggles and joy are guaranteed in life.
“Life is up and down, and you grab a board and you ride because you can’t control at what point you might struggle or at what point you’ll experience joy,” she said.
“One of the big things that I’m noticing in young people today and a big concern for me is that they’re not prepared for failure — they don’t know how to fail forward, and they’re not supported in failing.
“It feels really s… when you’re in the failure but if you can learn from it, life gets a lot better after that failure and you realise in hindsight — because it’s a wonderful thing — that the failure is what made you who you are.”
Her third lesson was that leadership can “suck” and that difficult decisions are needed, but more often than not, it’s worth it.
“The higher you go, the bigger you get, you have to continually find new role mentors, new role models and new support for the new level that you’re at,” she said.
“Often standing up for what’s right means standing alone, but you do it because it’s right and you do it because you want to sleep at night and you do it because you have this little voice inside of you that is this bizarre moral compass.”
Ms Harrison told young people that sometimes that included leaving friendships behind that no longer made them feel like the person they wanted to become.
“The role friendship is to empower, to love and support and if you leave feeling lesser and low, and like you can’t take on the world, then they’re not your tribe,” she said.
She said her fourth lesson was to work out what you value, and then spend time on those things.
“What you spend time and money on is what you value,” she said.
“Once we know what we truly value, we can make decisions based on that.”
Ms Harrison’s final lesson for young people in the Goldfields was to not be afraid to ask for help.
“I always viewed asking for help as like a weakness and it meant that I couldn’t do it when in actual fact it just makes stuff happen a lot faster,” she said.
“There is no way that the work we do with zero2hero and the impact we have would be possible without an incredible team.”
Ms Harrison said she now worked to educate others on where to find help, and how to support loved ones in accessing professional and effective mental health support.
“The kind of advice I was giving (my stepdad) was not the kind of advice you should be giving someone that has a mental health problem,” she said.
“I was telling him to do self-development courses because they really helped me, to take time off work, to stress less and all the crap.
“If I had of known then what I know now, I would have got him the right help and the right treatment.
“And I didn’t know that, and that’s OK. But I know now and I’m making it my mission that other people know that.”
Lifeline 13 11 14, Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636