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    AWARENESS: Horsham College Outreach student Caitlin Bennett will host a mental health afternoon tea and fundraiser at Wimmera Trade Training Centre on August 21. She hopes to raise awareness and understanding of mental illness, as well as money for Australian suicide prevention charity ‘R U OK?’. Picture: LOTTE REITER

Teen reaches out for mental health

BY Lotte Reiter

It takes guts to put fear aside and confront your biggest demons. But Caitlin Bennett, 16, is in pursuit of helping others, and a small comfort zone will have to wait.

The Horsham College Outreach student has organised a ‘Mental as Anything’ mental health afternoon tea and fundraiser at Wimmera Trade Training Centre on Wednesday next week.

The event, from 1pm to 2pm, was the product of a simple mock-exercise in her schooling, which she quickly extended to create a very real awareness-raising event.

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Caitlin is acutely familiar with the struggles of mental illness. But said she was also aware that for many people, the topic could be ‘alien’.

So, in the past two months, she challenged herself and confronted an issue very real for both herself and her family, in the hope of being able to help others and raise money for Australian suicide prevention charity ‘R U OK?’.

“More people need to be aware of mental health,” she said.

“Most people will say, ‘you’re just faking it’, they don’t believe that people do suffer from mental illness.

“Mental as Anything will be an afternoon tea where people can talk, learn and think about mental health. It’s about raising awareness.”

Caitlin lives in Dimboola and travels to attend Horsham College two to three times a week. 

She said organising the event had been a challenge, because it had forced her to tackle issues that she struggled with herself. But at the same time, it ‘transformed’ her. 

Caitlin said she noticed she had become more encouraged to go to school, and happier and more engaged with work.

Teacher PJ Armstrong said her willingness to step out of her comfort zone was one of the reasons why the college was so keen to support her.

“It’s been a huge step for her. From being a shy, retiring person, all of a sudden Caitlin is out speaking to and negotiating with a range of people to try and engage them and help them understand mental health,” he said.

“Right from the start she’s had the goal that she was going to try and help other people that might have the same issue and we’re supporting that.”

Mr Armstrong said it was exciting to watch Caitlin grow and overcome her personal issues in a way that also benefited others.

“When you have someone like Caitlin who says ‘I want to do this, I want to organise a mental health day’, it is one of the rewarding aspects of being a teacher,” he said.

“You want to be able to see people overcome their issues. But to see her overcome it in such a positive way where she is reaching out to other people to help, that’s really encouraging.”

The event will include guest speaker Sandi Telfer and Vocational Education and Training Kitchen Operations students will provide food.

Caitlin said she has also organised to sell wristbands for $1 and lanyards for $2, with profits and any additional donations going towards ‘R U OK?’.

The entire August 14, 2019 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!