Mental health champion

Educate! award winner Ashlee Harrison.
Educate! award winner Ashlee Harrison.

The 25-year-old founded not-for-profit organisation zero2hero four years ago after identifying a need in raising awareness of mental health issues within the community.

‘I lost my step-dad in 2008 to suicide and at the time I had no idea the issue was as prevalent as it was so my first aim was to raise the awareness of the issue, therefore reducing it,’ she said.

‘At first zero2hero did this through hosting events and raising funds for charities working in suicide prevention: Suicide Prevention Australia, Lifeline and Youth Focus.

‘Then In 2012, we shifted our focus to early intervention, we figured if we dealt with mental health among high school students it would ultimately decrease the suicide rates and could also result in a mentally healthy country where each individual was accountable for themselves.’

The former Greenwood College student said zero2hero was responsible for increased communication within schools and families through its zero2hero day and Youth Leadership Camps.

‘Some students have even reported that through the work we have done with them they no longer experience anxiety and have stopped self-harming,’ she said.

‘I love sitting with a student and seeing their face go from heavy and worried to happy and free after a simple conversation where they were really heard and get that this is just one day in the scheme of their long life and their concerns now won’t be around forever.

‘I love it when a family phone me and just cry for an hour about the bullying their daughter is experiencing, but leave the conversation with hope after hearing their daughter speak to someone about her feelings for the first time.’

Ms Harrison, who also runs her company Social Say, said zero2hero day provided young people with a space to communicate, challenge themselves and their assumptions about life and who they were.

‘The day encourages open communication regarding the potential effects of bullying, anxiety, depression and suicide,’ she said.

‘Whilst this type of open conversation has previously been rejected, healthy communication about these topics is now being viewed as an excellent preventative tool, giving students and teachers the freedom to express their thoughts on these issues, and therefore reducing the stigma associated with them.’