Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What is wrong with me!?

Seriously, I'm heading off to Port Hedland in the middle of summer for 20 days? Cyclones, minimum 40 degree Celsius temperatures? You betcha.

It's all about trying to get some more experience writing, and is part of an ECU initiative (along with some other unis) to get us coiffed urban yuppies out there into the country to see what the real deal with aboriginal health is.

If you're from Australia, you'd know that it's one of our greatest shames that the life expectancy of an aboriginal is less than half of the Caucasian counterpart. So every year a bunch of nursing and journalism students go up there as part of a work experience program where the nursing students help out with the hospital up there and the journalism students write for various rags up there for about 20 days.

While there, the students learn about working with aboriginal communities and get to see first hand the conditions in which they live. It's a fantastic initiative to get the journos of tomorrow to see first hand the most unreported story in our culture. They also figure that one or two journos and nurses are going to 'fall in love with the place' and never want to leave (I don't see myself staying, but anything's possible).

So starting on January 4 I'm heading off for 20 days to do some work experience and avoid sunstroke, I'll try and post from there but I'm not too sure about internet access up there.

Anyhow, the other big journalistic story concerning me is my freelance piece for The West Australian.

About two months back I was contacted by one of the lecturers at ECU, along with four other students (the creme de la creme of the print students...or just the one's the lecturers could remember) about possibly doing some work experience for the health and medicine section of the rag. If my article does end up getting published, it'll be good to put in the portfolio and I get paid a whole $150 for my 900 words (shitty rate, but what the hell do I care?). In fact there's a story in today's edition about the dangers about barbecued meat which I'm pretty sure was done by one of the students selected.

I got a story about mobile phones and how Gen-Y are using them to talk about mental health issues rather than 'traditional' mediums such as face to face communication and such.

Here's the copy I sent off to the West, and the copy which was okayed by the editor I'm working with. Take a look, and maybe see where I went wrong, where I went right and what I need to improve on.



By James McGrath

The internet and mobile phones have been accused of distracting drivers when they’re in traffic, raising the risk of tumours and being responsible of causing a decline of literacy rates amongst an entire generation, but for once mobile phones have received some praise–for having a positive impact on health.

A study published in the Australian Psychiatry journal in October found that young people are using technologies such as SMS–the messaging tools for mobile phones– and the internet to discuss mental health issues with their peers and trained professionals.

Participants in the study, which looked at mental health literacy rates amongst adolescents in rural areas said they preferred SMS and the internet over traditional avenues for seeking help because they felt safe thanks to the relative anonymity the technology offers users.

Authors of the study, Dr Lydia Scott and Associate Professor Anna Chur-Hansen from the University of Adelaide, said while traditional avenues such as face-to-face and using the telephone were important, SMS is encouraging more teenagers to talk about their problems.

The importance of people being able to share experiences with peers is well-recognised. However this is possibly even more significant during adolescent years when their self-identity is continuing to evolve and change,” Dr Scott said.

The teenagers involved in the study felt that contacting a friend by SMS may be easier and less confrontational than approaching them face-to-face.

“This is significant as the decision for a young person to seek help may be delayed due to fears of social stigma, which can delay appropriate treatment and affect long term outcomes.”

Health professionals around the world have latched onto this idea, and have started to offer SMS services for those in need.

In South Africa, an SMS helpline was set up in 2006 by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, to help depressed teenagers in an effort to curb the high rates of suicide in the country, and they received an overwhelming response from participants praising the service.

In India, an SMS information service was launched last year to combat the rising epidemic of HIV/AIDS in the country, where teenagers could SMS their questions about the disease without the stigma of having their peers knowing that they were asking about it. Within a month the service had received 25 000 texts.

Closer to home, mental health groups beyondblue, Headspace and Reach Out! have all launched SMS information campaigns in the past in an attempt to reach at-risk youth, and regularly use the internet to reach a new audience.

Reach Out! launched an online forum service in 2005, in which people can come and talk to each other and health professionals in a safe and anonymous setting.

Interactive manager Marianne Webb says that by using an online service, Reach Out! have been able to allocate its limited resources more effectively given the low-cost nature of the project while reaching teens in a brand new way.

The advantages of reaching at-risk young people online are that you are engaging young people in an environment where they have a sense of control, they feel comfortable and are able to remain anonymous” she said.

“Young people are often worried about their parents or friends finding out, especially if they are considering going to a school counsellor or live in a small rural community.

“Knowing where and how to access to help is another reason that the internet and services such as the Reach Out! forum is the first step young people take in getting professional help”


*Please note this is not the version which will appear in The West Australian and should be considered such*

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