Jason Ball on building resilience in young people
Why is focusing on mental health and wellness in young people so important, particularly for the LGBTIQA+ community?
Evidence suggests three in four adult mental health conditions emerge by age 24 and half by age 14, which means it is crucially important that young people are able to get support if they are experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety or other mental health issues.
Just like when we exercise or play sport to keep our bodies fit and healthy, so too are there steps we can take to ensure that our brains are resilient and able to cope with the emotional challenges that life throws at us. Eating healthy, getting enough sleep and practising mindfulness are just a few of the things young people can do to make sure their brains are in tip top shape.
LGBTIQA+ young people are far more likely to experience issues with their mental health because of rejection from friends, family and their community. Even just the fear of being rejected because of who they are can have serious consequences on an LGBTIQA+ person’s mental health. That’s why it’s so important to be proactive and send positive and affirming messages to all young people about embracing diversity.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were younger?
If I could tell my younger self one thing, it would be to have courage and be proud of who you are. When I first realised that I was gay, I thought it was the worst thing I could possibly be. So many people used the word gay to mean ‘bad’ or ‘disgusting’. I thought this was what they would think of me. But in the end, when I did come out, the people who mattered most didn’t think less of me. My friends accepted me, my family accepted me and even my football teammates accepted me. I wish I knew that then, because at the time it really didn’t seem possible. If it can be OK for a footy player to come out in country Victoria, I think there is hope that it can be OK anywhere.
How can organisations, businesses and sporting clubs be more supportive and inclusive?
It’s important to understand the power of language, and ensure a culture where homophobic or racist words and phrases are unacceptable. Far beyond just not saying racist or homophobic things, however, it’s also important to be visible and practice in embracing diversity, whether diversity of cultural backgrounds or diversity of sexuality or gender identify. The use of the rainbow, the international symbol for LGBTIQA+ pride, is a great way to show your support as an ally. A culture where people know they can be proud to be themselves without fear of discrimination is one that thrives and succeeds, whether in business or on the sporting field.
What’s your favourite thing about your dad?
In over 20 years of playing footy, my Dad has not missed a single game that I have ever played. When I was a candidate in the Federal election, he helped put up over 250 signs of my face in people’s yards during the campaign. He had never before voted for the party I was running for (The Greens). So I think my favourite thing about my Dad is that he has always supported me no matter what.
Jason Ball is an ambassador for beyondblue, the Co-Founder of Pride Cup and the 2017 Young Australian of the Year for Victoria.