SEBASTIAN ROBERTSON. BATYR.
‘If you share your story, other people will feel comfortable in sharing their story as well. You can be an inspiration to others by sharing your experiences of how you got into a medical health problem, what you did to get out of it and how it changed your life. The more you share, the more you can give back to your community which not only is a great experience but brings inner peace as well.’
Sebastian Robertson at the ‘Youth Rising for Peace Summit (hosted by The Shift Network)’
Depression. Mental health issues. This sounds worse than a running nose or tooth ache and we sure don’t want to suffer from such a health issue. It reminds us of the shrink, and funny farms.
But let’s relax. Healthy, unhealthy, … this is when we are well, or unwell. And feeling unwell about certain things, let’s be real, is natural and okay. Especially when the environment is rigid, has negative vibes and imposes pressure. And that’s the least to say about the circumstances we grow up in today! Be it environments of poverty, trafficking, violence, gender violence, work pressure, the ridiculous “superficial good looks” norms invented some fifty years ago, the abominable social cold in cities… hey, this doesn’t give me a good feeling. It makes me feel bad. Because I’m not a robot.
And when this bad feeling is caused by worries, mental stuff, fears, than we are mentally unwell. That’s a mental health issue. No big deal. It can be changed. It doesn’t mean we need an operation or are dumb and useless. It rather means, we need some wellness and cleanse out some thorns and muck that bother our emotions and memories. Sometimes, it does mean we have to change place, for “fresh air” or “space”, just like a holiday is good for us. And sometimes, really to change unhealthy habits that got stuck with our system.
When I think about the ways we live today, I know that this far from how the human species has lived for a hundred thousand years. And for sure it’s not how I want life and society to be. No way. Basically, all the bad things mentioned above are variations of “lack of love”. I like Love. I want it back. All the time. And I grant it to everyone. At times, I have a solid gut feeling that it’s a solution for all sorts of problems. Maybe all of them.
So, are you ready for taking on the mental well-being of 25% of the population? We can all have a better time then. And if we’re down, there ain’t much to lose. Let’s go, mates!
Our Teenage Years
Each experience transforms us. During these unclear and tough times, many of us look for guidance and solutions. We talk about our concerns with parents, friends and peers. But on several challenging matters, numerous youths remain discreet and struggle alone. Time has come for a change where we need to address the situation; a change where mental health is not to be treated as a syndrome, but an acceptable aspect of life that can be healed. And assisting in these formative years so that nobody fights alone is Sebastian Robertson, a social entrepreneur and the founder and CEO of the non-profit organization ‘Batyr’. In an interview with YL volunteer Payal, Sebastian Robertson talks about his noble endeavour of encouraging young Australians who have experienced hardships to share their difficult moments, and educate, empower and motivate others to speak up through his organization – BATYR.
As Batyr implies: Giving a voice to the elephant in the room.
It’s been in the obscurities for way too long now. Difficult mental and social issues like depression, anxiety, suicide, stress, losing a friend/family member, sexual assault, grief, eating disorders, bullying etc. hit numerous individuals in their early life. Most youth live with it not knowing that it’s universally prevalent. The inhibitions and the social stigma attached to it prevent them from not actively seeking help. This results in an increasing number of complications and further- deaths. Teen suicides are on the rise. Hence it needs to be dealt with as soon as it is experienced. Communication is the key.
Sebastian’s journey with Batyr started with his own experience of depression. After overcoming it, and re-connecting with a world of bliss and goodness, he felt the drive to open the same opportunities to others… So, whenever he speaks at workshops, he shares his own story, about his troubled times and steps to transformation. His first message of encouragement is that whoever suffers from depression, – they are not alone. Not at all. Up to a quarter of teens suffer from this, in silence, and no less adults. It’s a dramatic experience while one is in it, – but one can make it! Actually, there are ways of making quick and significant progress, quickly.
If you’re ready to make some tweaks to your habits and life. “After all you wanna change something, so be ready to get real.” That’s an essential part of reclaiming your life and feeling good! If you live on Autralia’s East Coast, and are having one of those really dark times, Sebastian’s organization ‘Batyr’ helps you get through the muck!
Sebastian’s drive stems from a personal passion about youth. He loves sharing his story, helping other people and ‘giving his experience back to the community.’ He believes that this process can bring about a behavioural change in the mental health problems in Australia. In his own words Sebastian is “encouraging young people to speak out and openly discuss issues that so many face but so few seek help about.” Sebastian Roberson has been recognized at Ku-ring-gai’s ‘Time to Shine Youth Awards’ for hard work, talent and dedication.
“We wish to realize the dream of a happier and healthier generation of young people.” Batyr
Batyr targets school and college going students who suffer from mental health problems but don’t speak about it. This organization engages young speakers to discuss their personal experiences with other young people and educate and empower them. Knowledge of available services and support networks encourages the participants to speak up and share their story without any inhibitions.
So what’s Sebastian’s peace message to youth?
‘You have got to be bold, and if you really want to fight for something, go ahead and do it. Put your hands up and say, this is what I advocate for and bring about a change and have a positive impact on the community.’ He adds, ‘This is the greatest experience. Where you can put your hand out and take on the greatest challenge and push for it and take all the support you can. You will then see lots of young and inspirational people and you’ll see that change happening.’
He emphasizes that getting the young generation to do something is supported by communities across the globe. Some help from parents, friends and communities is required to push for the greater changes across society.
The name ‘BATYR’ comes from an Asian elephant that lived in a zoo in Kazakhstan and could speak 20 human phrases, hence known as the ‘speaking elephant.’ It also means ‘person of courage’; rightly denoted here as it gives many an opportunity to share their personal success stories in dealing with the challenges of mental health, thereby ‘making a difference’ to many lives.
Moving obstacles and walking through challenges requires courage: a trust in yourself, your powers and tenacity. The power of the elephant as a totem, a spirit, or the Indian deity Ganesha, is to remove obstacles on the path to inner and outer abundance. Elephant teaches you to move obstacles out of the way. But – listen up – sometimes, to simply take a turn and walk around the obstacle. Got it? Elephant may also teach you how to ride on his or her shoulders, being at ease, on top of things, knowing that no matter what buzzes below you in the grass, you are well carried by your spirit helpers or guardian angels. Can you feel up on his shoulders? This feels good. You can connect to Ganesha when you feel your heart’s urge for abundance by thinking of him and chanting his mantra. “Om GanGanapatayeNamoNamah” 108 times. You can find it on youtube, too. Observe what happens. Why wouldn’t s/he come? You are comitting your most precious. Your sincere heart and your lifetime. Wouldn’t you respond? As with any muscle, you can strengthen your spiritual muscle of connecting with the in-tan-gi-ble (= immaterial, = spiritual) through practice.
Mental health is central to the welfare and effective functioning of society. In Australia, it is a major issue, despite fantastic beaches. It teaches us a lot. Hoslitic sustainability requires us to heal inherited social norms and re-learn healthy community, including the biological family. We are lucky today. There has been a lot of research about it, the solutions exist and young people are helping their peers. We can start constructing the new, healthy family patterns we wish to live! Having gone through it ourselves, we can all be experts!
‘Look, Listen, Talk and Seek Help.’ — is Batyr’s philosophy.
Batyr fosters a nurturing and healthy environment in which young people are sympathized with, encouraged and supported to speak about their mental health matters. Often, the speaker is a youth who has undergone mental illness himself and speaks about it publicly, thereby empathizing with other young people.
This process can be amazing and feel so liberating! After one story got out, one’s own pressure can shrink, unexpectedly. You’ll be surprised what other people have to put up with. Oh, and yes, sometimes, it’s good to cry. We knew when we were little, that the right kind of tears are good for something. Some flow inside, some outside, some clear the sky of dark clouds, others flood out debris, others again… and some are like a sprinkling fountain of joy! Those are hot ones. Try it!
Batyr provides the platform to engage, educate and empower youth with the knowledge that there are support systems available for help, where mental health concerns should be discussed and dealt with.
- Batyr Anonymous Training: This training is imparted to those young people (18-30 years old) who would like to share their experience regarding mental health with others. They are trained on how they can speak about it ‘publicly’ and have a positive healing effect on those who have chosen to keep silent about their problem for way too long. They may have had good reason to keep silent! But now with Batyr, their time has come. Batyr believes that this sharing can provoke the participant to then speak about his story openly and seek professional help if required. This sharing can also save millions of lives where breaking the stigma has become extremely important.
- School Presentations: Batyr’s speakers share stories about their difficult times. As they are all under 30, they relate well and create an engaging and compassionate environment for all participants. The participants are educated by organizations such as Kids Helpline, Youth Beyond Blue and BiteBack (Blackdog Institute) and support points in their own schools. This not only helps the participants to speak openly about their matters, but they can also go ahead and help a friend who might be suffering from a similar mental health problem. Batyr believes that as the young speaker discusses his struggles openly, the young participant too will learn to deal with his problems and speak about them knowing that s/he is not alone, and that his story can make a huge difference to others.
- University Presentations: A step ahead of school presentations, the university presentations cater to a more matured audience. There is more interaction, with more questions by participants , thereby enhancing the overall impact of the presentation in terms of atmosphere, impression and experience.
In an interview by YL volunteer Payal, a female female participant, 26, who had suffered from anorexia (an eating disorder often connoted as a mental illness) during her school days, speaks about her experience with Batyr. She says that Batyr turned out to be the shining light which removed the black cloud in her life.
Batyr helped in her quest for answers to inner peace questions of ‘What is the meaning of life?’, ‘Why am I here?’ ‘What is my purpose?’ She adds, “I was convinced to join as I thought my experience has happened to me for a reason. And if I can help someone, just one person, with my story then it would mean I have achieved even more than leaving behind my own depression, anxiety, heartache and tragedy. The experience was wonderful.
The power of this group was that everyone was young. Even though they may have reacted to their situation differently (violence, drugs, alcohol) we are all bonded over the fact that we need to control our emotions, feelings and behaviours in more healthy ways, so we can let go off the addictive behaviour and mindsets we adapted as some form of reaction or compensation. It was also great not to be in a room of girls with eating disorders, only, but rather a mix of sexes. We could laugh at the insanity and cry at the tragedy, courage and sadness experienced by each talker. It was also inspiring to see how other people had responded and what had helped them. The experience was emotional and difficult, but uplifting and invigorating at the same time.”
This says it all. Hi5 to Mrs 26 year old, and everyone involved!
Millions of students suffer from depression, stress and anxiety at a very young age. This is usually due to schoolwork pressure and peer pressure about idolised lifestyles . Many are able to deal get through these pressures, some with the support of their parents and friends. Some start afresh. But a dramatic 25% of youth do not have a supportive environment to withstand these pressures, and do not reach out for help. They are at serious risk of tipping over and entering a serious condition affecting their life’s course, to the point of suicide. These issues are becoming a cause of concern for parents and teachers worldwide. While Batyr is there to help in Australia, we all can do our part to lessen the anxiety and suicide bursts.
Be a friend to your child. There is no need to let him/her undergo unnecessary pressure. You have to understand that each child is different and unique in their own way. It’s not necessary that your child will be the best in every thing he/she does every time or be a master of all disciplines. We all specialise some day, and the kids’ personal and professional path can unfold in 500 other avenues than our own. Also, the supposed oh so cool professions of doctor, lawyer or boss today come with excessive working hours, unhappy relationships and heart stroke at thirty. Are these the priorities for our kids? This will only build unnecessary pressure.
Is it about status, degrees, a job? A passionate artist can live a richer life than you can imagine. A social activist can live a more fulfilling life than you can ever hope for with your business partners. An adventurous traveller and nature photographer will live non-stop what you cannot even afford in an expensive holiday before you have to go back, slave for your boss. And your gaming addicted kid may soon navigate nano tech medicine vessels. The world is changing so fast, we all know only 1% of possibilities. Trust in life. Your kid’s passions, talents and nature will open all they wish to see. Just provide them a nurturing environment and let them roam free to live their creative, curious and loving self.
Sit with your child, relax and work out on their difficulties with them. Reassure your child at every step and guide them all through. And work on yourself!
Teachers complement parents in this important task. As teachers, you need to understand each child and give them their space and time to learn and react to the vast knowledge they receive in class. Be open to suggestions and when you see a child who has been continuously going down in grades or seems to be on a different tangent, talk to the parents and work the child’s way through with the help of counselling and other support services available. Teachers and counsellors can conduct regular sessions in their schools, thereby assisting students in gaining a healthier learning environment and brighter future.
Think of Finland. They are the world champions in the international PISA assessment for education. In Finland, all schools are as good as other nations’s best schools. When a student fails in tests, the school principal asks the teacher: “How come this student has difficulty acquiring the required knowledge in your class?”
As friends and peers:
Pretty much everyone experiences challenge and crisis at some point of their life. Doctors may even call it a mental illness. Whether there is a medical definition for it or now, when you are unhappy or really down about something, it’s important that you speak with friends about it. They may be experiencing similar challenges and it may well help both of you to better make it through depressing situations.
Payal had the chance to ask Sebastian about his journey with Batyr.
Payal: When was Batyr founded and what inspired you to start this novel idea?
Sebastian Robertson: Batyr became a reality in 2011.
Batyr is a product of my experiences with battling depression and suicide when I was studying at university, and of my determination to fight the negative stigma attached to mental illness. When I was suffering from depression I didn’t feel educated on where I could find help or empowered to take the brave step of asking for help. However, I was lucky to overcome my battle and I am now determined to do everything I can to make sure no young Australian will ever fight their mental health issues alone again.
That’s why I started Batyr – to engage with young Australians, educate them about the help that’s out there and empower them to take the next step and seek help when needed. I’m very proud that in 2011 Batyr held 30 presentations, reaching over 2,100 young people at schools, universities and community events.
Payal: What challenges did you face when you began and how did you overcome them?
Sebastian Robertson: Initially the greatest challenge was securing a reliable income stream. I was fortunate to have received great support from a number of contributors such as Macquarie Bank and Henry Davis York whose financial and pro bono support has greatly assisted Batyr to engage with young Australians.
Payal: What changes do you see in the students/youth before and after the sessions? If some students don’t communicate in one program, do they come back for another session?
Sebastian Robertson: The feedback from students has been extremely positive. They often approach me afterwards with encouraging words about how good it is to hear from someone young who is sharing their ‘success’ story. It’s often because they personally relate to the story, or they know a family member or friend who is experiencing an issue I have touched on, I think it makes them feel like they are not alone, educates them about where to go for support and empowers them to reach out.
One group of university students decided to raise awareness and funds for Batyr and ran from Canberra to Sydney, over 330km in 7 days, after hearing a Batyr presentation! We also have seen amazing change in the young people who have been through the ‘Batyr Anonymous’ training and learnt how to share their story. They have overcome incredible challenges and feel so empowered to be given the chance to share their success story with other young people knowing that it could help save someone’s life.
Payal: Is there any one mental health issue which is highly prevalent in most students/youth? What are Batyr’s activities/suggestions for students once a presentation is over?
Sebastian Robertson: There is no single mental health issue which affects young Australians. The issues are as diverse as the individuals they affect. The message we send to students after a presentation is to look, listen, talk and seek help. It’s about looking out for one another and acknowledging when you might need help yourself, and to be proactive about finding it.
In Australia, in a Year Twelve classroom with 30 students, 7 will have experienced a mental illness, only 2 of those will have sought professional help and sadly 1 will have attempted suicide. We need to create a culture where seeking help and addressing our mental health is not only acceptable but encouraged and supported. I think the youth of today can, and will, drive this change in culture – we need to give a voice to the elephant in the room.
Payal: How does Batyr reach out to students and youth and convince them to be a part of Batyr’s programs? Do the students/youth also volunteer to be a part of such programs themselves?
Sebastian Robertson: Batyr relies 100 per cent on individuals who are willing to share their story and make a difference to the lives of others, to come forward. To date, the number of individuals willing to do so has exceeded expectations. This is a tremendous reflection on the determination of Australia’s youth to fight the stigma attached to mental illness and to make a real difference.
Payal: In your opinion, how does inner peace and community peace relate to mental health?
Sebastian Robertson: Inner peace and community peace play an integral role with mental health. Being at one with yourself, displaying resilience and implementing daily activities helps an individual to manage life’s challenges.
Payal: How do the organizations such as SANE, R U Ok?, NCPIC, 1800 Respect, Tune In Tune Out etc. partner with Batyr? Do the students, after attending Batyr programs, reach out to these organizations for counselling, clinical help and treatment?
Sebastian Robertson: We have a big focus on developing and strengthening our relationship with these organisations and many others. Batyr strongly advocates and promotes a range of services throughout our presentations. Batyr’s role is to educate students about what services are available and we recognize that these organisations are only some of the options. Some students may prefer to speak with a family member, a friend, their GP, a school counsellor or local community service provider. Batyr engages with students to educate them of the assistance available and empowers them to ask for help.
Payal: Are there any future plans of Batyr in terms of new programs or conducting sessions in countries outside Australia?
Sebastian Robertson: We are constantly developing programs and presentations to ensure we engage with communities right across Australia. There is a serious lack of mental health resources in rural and regional Australia and Batyr is very keen to address this need.
Payal: Would you like to share something with us about your journey with Batyr?
Sebastian Robertson: The greatest thing about starting Batyr has been the realization about how important it is to follow a passion. It’s been an amazing 15 months and I honestly can’t wait to find out what’s ahead.
Payal: As Youth-Leader is a magazine on youth empowerment, please give a message for today’s youth…
Sebastian Robertson: As youth we are given some amazing opportunities, some are obvious and some you need to find yourself and it’s those that are the most rewarding! Find a passion, and do something about it. After all, we are the youth, we’re allowed to be bold but just make sure you enjoy it, have some fun along the way.
What is life’s lesson of going through hardships? It makes you stronger and it gives you the medicine to help others. Keep this thought with you whenever you face hardships. And believe that the Universe HAS given you the power in your spirit to MAKE it. Sometimes, this requires connecting with others for help. This is not weakness. This is love and trust. We have not come alone to the planet for a reason. We are here for unity and togetherness. The experience of receiving help teaches us humbleness and gratitude. And the power to take care of others and pass on, grant them the grace that you have received when someone helped you.
Think of how much gratitude there is in today’s urban societies.
Or should we say how little? Every more, more, more. And not sharing.
Holistic psychologists and healers know that this is for compensation. Compensation of a lack of (self-)love.
The majority of cases of depression is not medical but psycho-emotional in nature. Where do we see depression? Not so much in splendid natural environments or the African bush, that’s for sure. It is the high civilisations that have lost the mastery of expression of true love. For reasons of behaviour codes, dominance and all sorts of unhealthy memes. But here, we focus on ways out.
“The grand personalities have it more difficult in life. They do not enjoy the protection of the herd. But the magic of their own fantasies. And if they overcome the hard years of youth, they will one day carry big responsibility.” Hermann Hesse
Sebastian Robertson on Batyr in a video…
View a presentation on Prezi.com: http://prezi.com/3qt0hc3chlea/batyr/
Batyr Civic2Surf Day 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMp6SQELrAQ&context=C390f016ADOEgsToPDskICz5QFuYVUP51E8MORk4fw
Video made at Queensland Youth Forum- No access makes me mental: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D4fNLmQtiik&context=C390f016ADOEgsToPDskICz5QFuYVUP51E8MORk4fw
Read more about Sebastian Robertson: http://www.smh.com.au/business/new-breed-of-entrepreneurs-turn-profits-to-social-ends-20110423-1ds1r.html
If you wish to volunteer/work @ Batyr, get trained as a Batyr’s speaker (18-30years old) or be a participant:
My mental health?
I’m ready to clean it up, strengthen it, pamper it. With Love Galore.
Are you joining?