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As Australia’s cosmetic surgery rates surpass America’s, our obsession with social media and the current COVID-19 pandemic creates a minefield for those who struggle with disordered eating and body image issues.

 So far, 2020 has been a lot to process. In what will most likely be a once-in-a-lifetime historical event, the world has been totally affected by COVID-19 – a virus which has so far killed more than 264,000 people.

As Australia combats this, most of us have found ourselves on leave, unemployed or working from home. As the lockdowns have progressed many businesses have shut down and the nation’s gyms have not been immune.

In recent weeks, there has been a lot of content online focused on exercising from home, especially on Instagram, which has become flooded with posts about ‘body goals’, losing weight and becoming ‘healthier’ in quarantine.

The COVID-19 pandemic offers numerous triggers for those who are struggling with an eating disorder or those with distorted body image and low self-esteem.

“We understand that the prevalent discussions around stock-piling food, increased hygiene measures, food shortages and lock-ins can be incredibly distressing and triggering for people experiencing disordered eating or an eating disorder,” states The Butterfly Foundation in relation to COVID-19. 

When you combine these triggers with an increase in spare time to spend scrolling social media, such as Instagram, this can create the Perfect Storm.

Instagram and its tribe of entrepreneurs and models is no stranger to criticism from body positivity advocates, largely because the app is focused on images, a majority of which are highly edited. The concept of Instagram is the ideal social media app- share images and see images of your family and friends – plus your favourite celebrities, bridging the gap between fan and friend.

Instagram launched in 2010 and had 1 million users within two months, it has since been purchased by Facebook and become one of the largest social media platforms in the world.

The New Yorker journalist Jia Tolentino has talked extensively concerning the phenomenon of Instagram models, and their strikingly similar looks in ‘The Age of the Instagram Face’. 

She writes, “The gradual emergence, among professionally beautiful women, of a single, cyborgian face. It’s a young face, of course, with pore-less skin and plump, high cheekbones. It has catlike eyes and long, cartoonish lashes; it has a small, neat nose and full, lush lips.”

The commodification of women was once selling the products to make us beautiful, but as ‘Instagram Face’ rises and social media continues to excel, cosmetic surgery becomes more commonplace than it ever has been before.

Presently Australia’s cosmetic surgery numbers have surpassed America’s; in 2017 Australian’s spent more than 1 billion dollars on plastic surgery, surpassing America’s procedures per capita numbers, a feat considering America is often considered the ground zero for enhanced beauty.

Since when did this new prototype of a woman, a mish-mashed version, a high light reel built to bend over; a tiny waist, big lips, no blemishes- become the new standard of beauty, and how achievable is this?

Claire Finkelstein has been a clinical psychologist for fifteen years and is co-founder and co-director at Nourish.Nurture.Thrive, a multidisciplinary practise based in Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula that specialises in helping young people who struggle with eating disorders and body image.

Claire and fellow clinical psychologist, Ainsley Hudgson, started Nourish.Nurture.Thrive after years working in the public health system and seeing how overwhelmed it had become with a “growing population with eating disorder concerns,” says Claire.

Isolation, quarantine and an increase in social media can be very triggering for not only those who struggle with eating disorders but anyone who finds themselves feeling out of control in this stressful time.

“Everybody is showing their exercise routines at the moment, everybody is making those jokes about putting on weight during lockdown and I think it’s just incredibly triggering even for people with a fairly robust sense of self-confidence and body image but particularly for people who are in the eating disorder space,” says Claire.

The showing of exercise routines is found on Instagram amongst other social media, promoting diet culture.

Diet culture is defined as a system of beliefs that worship thinness and oppress people who don’t meet this beauty standard and idea of health. The one underlying fact for nearly all diets and wellbeing programs is that thin is best, demonizing certain food groups and body types, all while promoting the most important idea of them all; if you weren’t so lazy you’d have the body of your dreams.

“It feels like you can control your weight, so in a time when you feel out of control you try and control your weight and what we know is that your weight is biologically determined within a set point and that’s one of the difficulties – all these messages around ‘this is something we can do’ and if you’re not doing it successfully you’re inadequate and that is such a damaging, damaging story that is part of diet culture,” says Claire.

The infamous ‘beauty is pain’ mantra handed down to young girls from their mothers has a whole new meaning, the pain having grown from a waxing strip full of pubic hair to a surgery scar or a vigorous training regime.

Earlier this year glamour magazine Girls Girls Girls collaborated with Sex and the City’s Cynthia Nixon to create a video titled ‘Be a Lady they said’. The piece included various clips from movies, news, and glamour shots to tell the story of the myriad of requests and expectations women are meant to be adhering to, ironically the women featured in the video are beautiful, thin and passive.

One of the most impactful lines reads,

‘Be a size zero, be a double zero, be nothing, be less than nothing.’

Cynthia Nixon spits these words at the screen as it turns dark and the sound of someone’s heart flatlining takes up the darkness. It is powerful commentary on the notions behind our desires for female perfection and the gruesome control it creates.

As Naomi Wolf states in her classic, The Beauty Myth, published in 1990, obsession with beauty and thinness is a form of control and oppression.

“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one,” says Wolf.

The US health and weight loss industry is worth an estimated $72 billion and Australians are estimated to spend $452.5 million on weight-loss counselling services (and the low-calorie foods and dietary supplements that go with it) in 2019-2020.

These figures show what has been in the shadows all along – this business is big money built off the back of diet culture. A truth hid underneath the bright lights of Instagram, the ‘life updates’ and the relatable posts – the influencers who make you feel like a family, like you could look like them if you had the grit – when you’re just a customer.

 Resources and coping mechanisms

For those who are spending a lot of time online and feel triggered by the change in routine, there are ways to seek help, guidance and support.

The Butterfly Foundation suggests that stretching, light exercise, talking to a loved one, drawing, being creative and mindfulness techniques can help you support your health and wellbeing during this crisis and stop negative body thoughts.

Their Helpline is also open on webchat, email or phone from 8am-midnight, 7 days a week.

Claire Finkelstein from Nourish.Nurture.Thrive admits boycotting social media is unrealistic, especially as it is one of our main sources for communicating with the outside world, however, she does recommend an ‘audit’ of who you follow.

“Use social media to connect rather than compare, use it to engage with people who are important to you, who you feel supported by, who give you a laugh who make you smile, who make you more connected and less alone and try to engage less with social media that leaves you feeling terrible afterwards,” says Claire.

Unfollowing accounts that make you feel inadequate or leave you feeling unhappy and starting to follow body positive accounts instead can stop that downward spiral of self-loathing many of us find triggered by social media.

“Research shows if you have a diverse imagery, diverse bodies, diverse beauty, or other images like architecture, animals or whatever makes you feel good – that that can really dilute the impact, the negative impact of imagery that doesn’t make you feel good,” says Claire.

Below are resources for those who need help.

The Butterfly Foundation:

T: 1800 33 4673

W: https://thebutterflyfoundation.org.au/

Beyond Blue:

T: 1300 22 4636

W: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support/national-help-lines-and-websites

This is a story about lost love, grief and the strength of one mother to keep going on after losing her husband the the father of her kids in a sudden and fatal accident.

On Saturday 25 June 2011, Graham Santich kissed his wife and two young children goodbye and left for work. He never returned home. A tragic accident on Perth’s Mitchell Freeway left a family shattered and struggling to find a new sense of normal without him.

The Santich family were in a state of bliss with their tenth wedding anniversary celebrations quickly followed by the birth of their second child Darcy, a much loved brother for three year old Charlotte. Sadly, their time together as a family of four was to be brief. Just eight weeks.

Michelle, still recovering from the caesarean delivery, vividly remembers the phone call from police telling her Graham had been in a car accident and how her world stopped in an instant.

“I have thought back many times to things that happened that day,” she recalls. “I was at the shops with the two kids when the police called and told me Graham had been in an accident and I needed to get somebody to drive me to Royal Perth Hospital as soon as I could. All I could think was that he was not going to make it and had horrific images going through my mind of what he might look like when I finally got to him.”

Her parents rallied to her aid, and soon they were met by uniformed police at the emergency department doors and led to a small conference room.

He was perfect. His eyes were closed. He looked like he was sleeping. There looked to be nothing wrong with him.

“It was then that I really knew,” she says. “I knew he was gone and the police confirmed my worst fear.”

Reliving the events, Michelle recalls seeing Graham for the first time after what seemed liked an eternity, on a hospital bed, in a hospital gown, with not a scratch on him.

He was perfect,” she says. “His eyes were closed. He looked like he was sleeping. There looked to be nothing wrong with him.

“I am grateful he looked the way he did but it was also very confusing, because what was in front of me didn’t match the images in my head.”

The details surrounding Graham’s death quickly raised more questions than answers. Police explained their suspicions that Graham had passed out while driving. It was a relatively minor accident, with minimal damage to the car. He became a case for the Coroner. And so began the long wait for answers.

The question of organ donation was raised and consent was given to retrieve his corneas. DonateLife quickly became the liaison between Michelle and the Coroner because, despite the retrieval, a transfer could not be made to a recipient until a cause of death was found.

In the weeks after the accident, as Michelle and her family struggled to come to terms with their loss, DonateLife offered counselling and information packs which included Bunnings vouchers to purchase a tree to grow in his memory. Michelle now utilises the free counselling service, which also provides some counselling to young Charlotte, and attends support groups.

Michelle describes one of the things that plays constantly on her mind is the memories the children will have of Graham and how the organ donation services have offered them ways to make special connections to him, including adding his name to a memorial wall at Lake Monger honouring all Western Australians that have made the ultimate gift and donated their tissues and organs.

“Since Graham passed we have always told Charlotte that her daddy is magic and lives amongst the stars,” she says. “So when DonateLife adopted a star for WA Donors, it gave us a place to send our goodnight wishes. Charlotte is always so eager to see if her daddy’s star will be the first one out.”

“As time goes on I know I am going to become more my own person and less the person I was with him. I don’t want to but I can’t stop it. I hate this new sense of normal.”

“For me, putting his name on the wall and having the coordinates to a star gives us more connections to him, more than just our memories. The kids will always know their daddy was someone special and did something wonderful. It gives us places to go and prompts us to tell stories about him.”

But it is the lack of personal memories the children will have that causes Michelle angst, in particular that Darcy will never have memories of his own and eventually Charlotte’s will fade.

“While family and friends will tell stories and teach Darcy about his dad, the difference will always be that Charlotte will have three years worth of photos with him, while Darcy has very few,” she says.

“I still go over the accident in my head and ask why him, what could I have done differently, worrying he was alone and if he suffered, and my anger that no one stopped to help him.

“I hope Darcy will develop a strong connection with Graham through our family, our love and our memories. I know that Charlotte will always feel close to him, she was his little girl and they thought the world of each other.”

Michelle has tried hard to establish traditions in his memory such as taking the kids to the beach and collecting shells on Graham’s birthday, something he loved to do with Charlotte. On his anniversary there is the Crackerjack Cup lawn bowls tournament at the Fremantle Bowls Club, the place of his wake and where he spent many hours as a keen player.

Meanwhile, balloons and rainbows have become symbolic with balloons often released in his memory and rainbows bridging a connection to his unforgettable grin.

“Any chance I can get to keep remembering him, I do it. I want to feel like he is still part of our family and to include him in our lives even if though he isn’t here,” she says.

The question of organ donation was raised and consent was given to retrieve his corneas. DonateLife quickly became the liaison between Michelle and the Coroner because, despite the retrieval, a transfer could not be made to a recipient until a cause of death was found.

Listening to Michelle describe how she is learning to live with only half a heart without her soul mate, it is obvious the love and adoration this couple shared. Michelle describes Graham as loyal and loved by many.

“He was one of those people who made friends wherever he went,” she explains. “He always had time for his family and was passionate about sport and music of all genres, and he was exceptionally dedicated to his landscaping business. But above all he was thrilled to be a dad, uncle and godfather and was always full of life when he was with the kids.”

Michelle recalls how she often had to pull the reins to get him to hurry along putting Charlotte to bed after numerous songs, books and giggling, and how at birthday parties he was termed King of the Kids, usually swamped by a pile of ankle bitters vying for his attention. But for Graham, it was never a chore. He saw it as a privilege and revelled in it.

“As much as I still expect him to walk through the door each night after work and sometimes still pick up my phone to send him a text, I have settled into this new life and it is hard to accept, especially because it is starting to feel normal without him. As time goes on I know I am going to become more my own person and less the person I was with him. I don’t want to but I can’t stop it. I hate this new sense of normal,” she says with a heavy heart.

An answer to his death finally came almost five months after the accident. The Coroners Court ruled that Graham died from choking. Michelle still finds it incredibly hard to accept this simple answer.

She, like many others, suspected the Used car, which he had owned just two days, had played a part in his passing. But other than perhaps isolating him from vital assistance, three independent mechanics ruled the car played no role.

“I have had lots of appointments with police, DonateLife and even the Coroners Court to try deal with my ongoing confusion about how he died,” she says. “I still go over the accident in my head and ask why him, what could I have done differently, worrying he was alone and if he suffered, and my anger that no one stopped to help him. More recently I have struggled with the terminology used to represent his cause of death.”

As horrible as the circumstances, Michelle marvels at the love and beauty she has discovered exists in the world through the seemingly endless lengths of support and friendship offered, at times from complete strangers.

As horrible as the circumstances, Michelle marvels at the love and beauty she has discovered exists in the world through the seemingly endless lengths of support and friendship offered, at times from complete strangers. She explains there have been donations to a trust fund for the children, grocery shopping and cooked meals, Graham’s business suppliers wiping their bills, his favourite football team signing a card and the drummer of one of his favourite bands visiting and having a mini jam session with Charlotte, and everything in between.

“I know people often didn’t know what to say or do but somehow they got the balance right. And clearly the willingness to help me and the kids is a testament to the person Graham was and the influence he left on the world,” she says.

And so the saying goes, and never rings more true than here, if love could have saved you, you would have lived forever.

 

For more information on becoming an organ donor with DonateLife visit www.donatelife.gov.au

“If I can’t find my perfect job, then I need to create it.”

This was the catalyst that encouraged 33-year-old Perth mother of two, Chevon Semmens, to launch Little Land, an interactive role-play centre for young children to play and learn.

 

From a young age, Chevon had a passion for play, she aspired to work with children and own a childcare centre. Despite these dreams, Chevon opted for a career in marketing and advertising.

 However, her interest in play and learning persisted. Chevon volunteered for over 10 years with Radio Lollipop, providing entertainment to children during their stay at Perth’s Princess Margaret Hospital. Chevon recalls always finding a way to integrate play and learning, even if they were “just playing Uno.”

While on maternity leave with her first child, Chevon stumbled across a photo of a little girl with a child size shopping trolley at a role play centre in the UK. Chevon was excited by the idea of a role-play centre, “I knew this concept would come to Perth eventually and was looking forward to being able to take my own children.”

 

Prompted by a desire to transition into a different career, Chevon used the opportunity of maternity leave to consider her options and compile a list of priorities, “I wanted it to be a business that involved working with children and it had to be something creative”.

Photo credit: Lanie Sims

“I knew my ideal job probably didn’t exist, so I had to invent it.”

Inspired by the image of the little girl with the shopping trolley, Chevon announced to her husband Kayne, “I am going to open up a role play centre. He thought I was mad.”

With unyielding determination, Chevon took on the challenge of convincing her husband she could make this dream a reality.

Chevon’s family and friends became sounding boards for her new venture. “Many thought it was a good idea but probably never assumed I would go through with it, while others felt the idea was too gimmicky.” Undeterred, Chevon used their constructive feedback as encouragement to eradicate potential flaws.

“I knew the concept could work and I knew I would enjoy taking my kids there, but would others?” Chevon put together an advisory group, consisting of Paediatric Occupational Therapists, Paediatric Speech Pathologists, Early Childhood Educators, Primary Teachers and professionals who worked with children with autism. Chevon used their expert knowledge in conjunction with her marketing expertise to educate parents about the benefits the role play centre would bring.

Despite Chevon’s confidence and robust business plan, the process from conceptualisation to delivery was anything but quick. Two years of extensive planning included a painstaking search for the right premises.

“I did not want to settle for a half option. The location needed to be central, close to families, with plenty of parking and onsite facilities.”

In the midst of the search, falling pregnant with her second child threw another “amazing spanner into the works.” Financially, Chevon also needed enough money to launch the business. Rather serendipitously, she was offered voluntary redundancy from her existing day job. “It happened to be the exact amount of money needed to get the idea of the ground.”

The dream was about to become a reality.

Chevon opened the doors of Little Land in May 2019. “We were fully booked for the first three months” and the success has continued, with some ebbs and flows in the mix, as they approach their one-year anniversary.*

What can someone expect from a trip to Little Land?

Little Land offers a welcome break from the usual loud colours and noises you expect of a childcare centre. “Many parents comment on how surprised they are at how calm the environment feels.” The welcome area is filled with calming pastel colours, while the sound system plays modern songs in the form of lullabies.

Beyond the welcome area, you will find Little Land’s ‘little town’, complete with a shopping centre, school; home; doctor’s surgery; café; hairdressing salon; construction zone and veterinary practice.

Role-play is at the forefront of play between the ages of 18 months and 8 years and so each area is uniquely designed to meet the needs of children within this age range. The numbers are kept to a maximum of 30 children per session with a total of four sessions per day to avoid overwhelm for the children.

Children are given the opportunity to explore formal settings in an informal way, enabling them to take control of the experience. Many children were recently role-playing evacuations and ‘safety first’ procedures following recent bush fires. Parents who visit the centre express how valuable it is for children to be able to visit these locations on a small scale and at their own pace.

What does the future hold for Little Land?

Chevon is proud to announce Little Land have worked with the Autism Association in Western Australia to launch weekly ‘Sensory Sessions’. “We reduce the number of people who attend, change the format and provide a story book for children to read beforehand of what to expect, we also use a timer instead of a bell to mark the end of the sessions.”

Chevon’s dream is for play and learning to be accessible to all Australians. “We currently have people travelling over an hour to see us, so I would like to possibly open a second location to make it more accessible. We have also launched several pop ups, including four stalls at local events and shopping centres to help spread awareness of the benefits of our centre.”

How to balance motherhood and business

As a mum to three a half year old Zack and 16 month old Archer, Chevon admits life can get busy.

“Someone said to me recently, maybe it’s not so much as trying to find a balance between being a mother and business owner, perhaps it’s finding a blend of the two.”

“I am fortunate that I have a great husband who helps pick up the slack, whether that’s with our children or the business. We try to eat well and get as much sleep as you can with a 16 month old.”

Chevon and her husband make time for themselves separately to re-energise, “I try to get up earlier a couple of days a week to go for an hour long walk, this gives me the energy I need for the next couple of days.”

Chevon also has a day that is non-negotiable, “I always have Mondays with my boys, to play and just spend time with them, it revitalises me and reminds me how we never stop learning.”

Photo credit: Lanie Sims

Despite the huge success of the business, Chevon has realised it’s the small wins she celebrates, “I found in the initial stages of Little Land, we were so busy ‘doing’ that we didn’t stop to appreciate what we had achieved, so now we make an effort to regularly pause and express gratitude for what we have accomplished.”

Keep up to date with the latest Little Land news, @littleland_perth

Thank you to Photographer, Lanie Sims for all images supplied in this article.

 *Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Little Land has closed for the unforeseeable future. During this time, we’re determined to continue inspiring play and learning for the community and we hope it isn’t too long before we see the return of big smiles on little faces as they run through our big and little doors to wander and explore the magic.

 

The novel virus known as COVID-19 started as a collection of similar cases emerging from Wuhan, China-  a city with a population of over 11 million.  

Australia was in the process of healing from a devastating fire season when the Coronavirus (soon to be titled COVID-19) became national news, with the World Health Organization (WHO) having heard the first reports of COVID-19 on the 31st of December 2019.

In the months that have followed the pandemic has spread across the globe, encompassing Australia and leaving millions without work, or at the very least financially affected by the virus and the subsequent lockdowns it has caused.

These are uncertain times, and as many of us wait for news of government aid, job opportunities or when our old lives will get back to normal, many are left without an income.

Below are some practical ways to lessen the financial stress during the disaster movie scenario we have found ourselves in.

Monitor what comes in and out of your bank- and eliminate the non-essential items

For many of us, we have multiple cards and multiple entertainment platforms, programs and everyday expenses that are direct debited.

This is convenient usually, but if you are now left with no income, that outcome needs to be cut down. Have a look on your outgoings on your banking app and make a list of what you pay every month- do you really need to be spending $25 a month on a live sport platform when all sport is postponed? Or could you be using that $25 on food and utilities? Unfortunately, the time for luxuries is not right now, so cut your expenses accordingly.

Call and ask for extensions/account freezes/pause in payments

Do not be ashamed to ask for help, we are all in this together. Many corporations and businesses are being very understanding in this time and providing extensions and pauses for payments.

Afterpay for example can give extensions/pauses in payments if you contact them and discuss your situation, the same could go for various other payments you may have coming up, so don’t be scared to ask! The following link discusses electricity companies that will be providing extra help for their customers during this crisis. https://www.finder.com.au/financial-hardship-programs-utilities

Live that vegetarian lifestyle

Meat is expensive and perishable, and with supermarkets losing the battle against panic buying shoppers, meat and other basics are hard to find. Do not panic or bulk buy– it is unfair on everyone, especially the most vulnerable.

Buy beans, lentils, grains- these are cheap, filling and last a long time- check out this lentil dahl recipe that is perfect for meal prepping and super tasty! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4pDLh11nmA

Keep up to date with the government’s response to the pandemic and if you are eligible for Centrelink payments

There is a lot of information regarding the COVID-19 in the media that is constantly updated, and the same goes for details of government assistance and how to access Centrelink payments if you now find yourself out of work. The below article by ABC shows a step by step guide to applying for Centrelink if you’ve never used the system before and is updated regularly as the situation progresses. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-24/coronavirus-how-to-apply-for-centrelink-jobseeker-newstart/12083948

Think of others and act accordingly – stay inside! 

Stay inside and practise social distancing, this won’t last forever, but it is important we all do the right thing and act with everyone in mind. We will all get through this by acting as a community, spreading kindness and thinking of our most vulnerable.

I have a son called Jackson, and Jackson is an entrepreneur.

– A letter from a father to his son.

Jack came up with his first business idea when he was about 4 years old. We have a massive macadamia nut tree in the back yard. He knew macadamia nuts were expensive but what he didn’t know is that they are so damn expensive because they are so damn hard to get out of the shell.

But that didn’t stop him – so one day he collected about 60 or so nuts. He put 5 nuts each into a small paper bag and wrote $2.00 on each bag. He then put the paper bags into his little red wagon and took off by himself going door to door selling his nuts to the neighbours. He came back in about 20 minutes with $24.00 and no nuts.

One business idea led to another. His big break came when he was about 14 years old – selling waterproof iPhone covers. He shipped in hundreds of these covers for about $5.00 each and sold them on eBay for $30.00.

He water tested each one and he was making thousands!

I would come home and there would be a new PlayStation 4 on the table, an Apple computer or there would be a couple of technicians putting up a plasma TV on his bedroom wall.

His big thing though is making his own rockets. He researches and builds his own jet propulsion systems and makes rocket fuel from fermented potatoes.

One of the ingredients he needs for rocket smoke is potassium nitrate. He managed to find some online one time and shouted out from his laboratory one night, “Dad, we need to go meet this guy!”

Being the supportive parent that I am, I’m like, “OK.”

So I find myself standing in a Burger King carpark in the middle of the night handing over some cash to a stranger in exchange for a plastic bag full of a white powdery substance.

The things you do for your kids.

I find myself standing in a Burger King car-park in the middle of the night handing over some cash to a stranger in exchange for a plastic bag full of a white powdery substance.

Apart from being a great entrepreneur, Jack has an amazing generous and loving nature. He was happy to be the only 16 year old at a 4 year old‘s  birthday party after he was invited by a boy next door. He is the type of person who would line up at 7:00am to get the toilet paper, only to give it to someone more needy once he walked out. He does anything you ask and is happy to do it. He is one of a kind.

 

On August 11 2016 I was coming back from a business trip in Coffs Harbour.  I phoned Jack at about 4:50pm. He was in his laboratory and we had the usual conversation about dinner:

“What do you want for dinner Jack?”

“I don’t know, what about you?”

“Don’t mind.”

“You want take away?”

“Sure, if you do?”

“OK. What do you want?”

“Don’t mind. You?”

“I’m easy…”

 

40 minutes later I received another phone call. Not so good this time. Jack was in hospital and in bad shape. Although I didn’t know it, I instinctively knew. I calmly asked, “Suicide?”

The officer said yes. And a few days later Jack passed away.

It was short and sharp and sudden and totally unexpected.

I calmly asked, “Suicide?”

How has this affected me? Time helps. And I know you have to make every moment count. I get up early. I do something straight away. I embrace the day as you never know what tomorrow will bring. I find I complain less and do more. As that is what Jack wants.

It’s hard, but you need to keep living.

Jacks business name is “Vaknisa.” If you google this the only thing that pops up is Jacks name (spelt in German as this is Jack’s preference) and a link to his video play lists (or at least it used to).

The first one on the list is a science video about electricity entitled: “It’s not the volts that kill you, it’s the amps.”

I would like to think there is something profound in this statement. That the message is you can go out and do thousands of amazing and adventurous things and most of the time they won’t hurt you. But one thing just might. But you don’t know what that one thing is – so just live. Take the risk. The only things in life we regret are the risks we didn’t take. There is nothing to be afraid of.

Some people say I don’t know how you cope or how you keep going. And I say: It’s the love that keeps you going. It’s the love that keeps you connected. Grief is knowing that person is still around you, but you can’t see them or hear them or touch them. That is the love that keeps you and them alive. And Jack is alive. He may not physically be with us but to me, he is more alive than he has ever been. He lives in everything that I see, touch, and feel.

And that is why I will never say I had a son called Jackson. I will always say I have a son called Jackson.

Happy 21st Jacky. Love you xx

If you or a loved one is experiencing feelings of depression, suicide or need someone to talk to, you are not alone. Contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.

When Australia was dark and blackened from the recent bushfire tragedy, the spark of community empathy and human goodness sought to lighten it.

All of Australia seemed to halt this summer when devastating bushfires swept across the East Coast, razing towns and houses to the ground, devastating native Australian wildlife populations and causing unimaginable heartache for families who lost loved ones.

There was little celebration in the air on the eve of the new decade; the sky filled with smoke where there should be fireworks and sirens sounded instead of countdowns. Bushfires that started in September 2019 continued blazing with gusto across New South Wales and Queensland, with no sign of abating.

With over 42 million acres burnt, almost 2,000 homes lost and 32 people killed (as of 24th January), the dawn of 2020 was not shaping up to be the fresh start for which many had desired.

In the wake of such devastation, victims were left with little optimism and hope. However, strangers from around the globe were eager to pick up the slack and provide hope for them. Instead of locking their homes, bunkering down and thanking God it wasn’t them, people far and wide rallied to help those suffering.

Neighbours and strangers alike travelled to fire-stricken areas to help rebuild and serve in relief efforts. Contributions were diverse; some doled out water bottles and words of encouragement whilst others offered their own homes for those without accommodation.

One such person was university student, Erin Riley. Riley initially offered up the paddocks behind her home in southwest of Sydney to those without a place to stay which eventually evolved to forming the organisation FindABed, connecting those without accommodation to people ready to provide it. According to The Guardian, more than 3000 people volunteered lodgings for displaced victims within the span of four days.

Harrowing images of koalas with singed fur and gruesome injuries were accompanied by photographs of locals scouring the burnt woodlands to search for injured wildlife, tales of temporary adoption and emergency veterinary relief.

The federal government estimates over 6000 registered charities are operating in the affected regions, ranging from food providers, emergency wildlife care and disaster relief.

Those who could not physically help, gave money generously. The many charities and volunteers operating in the area were supplemented by financial efforts, with the sheer amount of money donated to bushfire relief funds dwarfing other campaigns of the season.

More than $200 million has been donated to relief funds, according to the Australia Financial Review (as of 10th January 2020), excluding the $150 million raised by the Red Cross Disaster Relief funds. Donations were not limited to spare change, with corporations, philanthropists and celebrities all pitching in to help.

In a highly impressive and record-breaking Facebook campaign, Australian comedian, Celeste Barber, raised $51 million to support fire-fighting companies.

From the few million donated by the likes of Commonwealth Bank and Chris Hemsworth, to the $20 I contributed, a huge number of people across varied socio-economic brackets have sought to alleviate some of the pain the country has endured.

The true heroes of the cause, however, were the volunteer firefighters. Displaying vast amounts of bravery, giving up family time and risking their own lives, in attempts to contain the fires, with no abject benefit to themselves or selfish motivation, fire fighters showed true heroic spirit.

Former captain and current lieutenant of Stoneville Volunteer Bush Fire Brigade and victim of the 2014 Western Australian bushfires, Greg Jones, knows exactly the sort of selfless courage demonstrated, reiterating not only the community driven motivation, but the inexplicable guilt firefighters often feel from the devastation.

“Most [volunteer fire-fighters] just want to serve their community, as a positive thing they can do,” Greg said.

“We’re used to fire. Once you’ve done your training and have been to a few events, you become comfortable with it. You get used to standing in the fuel and feel what’s normal.

“You become very clinical about it. You haven’t got time to be emotional. Save the ones you can save but you can’t protect everything. That’s a big problem for firefighters, they feel they failed because they couldn’t save everything. Standing on the side of the road watching homes burn, standing next to a fire truck that’s run out of water. Although they’ve achieved a lot, they didn’t save everything.

“When you see human life and the millions of animals we’ve just lost, that has an impact too. It’s never good, there is never a time you don’t feel guilty for what you couldn’t save.”

When asked if he had witnessed acts of kindness and empathy in the aftermath of bushfire tragedy, Greg did not have to think for long.

“Countless examples. Countless. People bond together and in times of trouble like that, the community comes together. You’ll also see the worst in some people, but overwhelmingly you’ll experience the best in humankind.”

“There are people out there scamming donations, but also those donations themselves have been in the millions. People from all walks of life do whatever they can to help, whether they’re baking scones, raffling chooks or putting on a concert. It’s something unique about Australia I think,” said Greg.

These efforts, ranging from the massive to the minor, have been done selflessly, generously and all smack of a fundamentally human trait – empathy.

Whether it manifests stronger during adversity or simply shines brighter against such a dark back drop is unknown, but empathy appears to be a B-side to tragedy.

Amidst the deep wounds caused by a mass scaled disaster is the salve of human compassion and community. Empathy and hope are foundational human traits that bely the idea that, despite our many flaws we are an innately good species.

In an increasingly connected world, we find ourselves inundated with scenes of tragedy and disaster. The media is constantly providing a new dose of human suffering to insight our malaise over.

Does this over-saturation cause us to distance ourselves and become apathetic?

Sometimes, yes.

However, as soon as a real human face, story and plight is brought to the forefront of a disaster our empathy comes rushing back in. The recent Australian bushfire tragedy exemplifies this marvellously. Although an outpouring of support has come from across the world, the ones closest to those affected seem to feel it a bit deeper.

Proximity is a key cornerstone of empathy and Australians at home and internationally seem to have removed all barriers of difference and bonded together to help in any way they can.

In a study of the social media outcry following the Boston bombings from 2013, Professor Yu-Ru Lin noted stronger feelings of solidarity, sympathy and pain had a direct correlation to those who had a personal relationship with the city; whether it be they lived there, knew someone from there, or through social media.

This strongly suggests that through globalisation, a more connected world is a more empathetic one.

If local community empathy and kindness serve as a balm to horrific incidents, surely a more globalised, connected world-wide community has the power to brighten even the darkest of times.

 Shedding a light on hearing impairment within Indigenous communities.

Aboriginal people are 10 times more likely to suffer from ear diseases than non-indigenous people, and only seven per cent of Aboriginal children in remote communities have healthy ears.

Australian Ear Nose and Throat Specialist, Dr Kelvin Kong recalls a remarkable encounter; “In a community in central Australia I visited, the health worker was baffled by a patient, a little girl. She called me over to have a look and it was a normal healthy eardrum. She’d never seen one before.”

What is otitis media?

The Department of Health defines otitis media, as the term used to describe all forms of inflammation and infection of the middle ear. Infections can present with middle ear fluid or persistent discharge, and can be chronic or acute. Unless corrected by surgery, chronic infections can lead to long term, and in some cases, permanent hearing loss.

The report published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, highlights otitis media as the key condition contributing to hearing loss among Indigenous children. A condition that is treatable and preventable.

How is otitis media treated?

There are generally two ways to treat otitis media; one is through an operation called Myringotomy, whereby surgeons make an incision in the eardrum to relieve pressure caused by excessive build-up. Alternatively, surgeons perform a Tympanoplasty, which is reconstructive surgery used to treat a perforated eardrum.

What causes otitis media?

Data from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey of 2014-15, highlights how poor socio-economic factors may contribute to an increase in ear infections. Over nine per cent of Indigenous children living in the most socioeconomically disadvantaged households had hearing problems, compared with just over six per cent of Indigenous children living in the least disadvantaged homes. Poor hygiene, overcrowded housing and inadequate access to clean running water and functioning sewerage, can all increase the risk of developing ear infections.

Many Indigenous families live in remote areas; this is associated with decreased access to key health services. A lack of coordinated, accessible and culturally sensitive health care services in remote areas can lead to delayed diagnosis and treatment for ear infections.

Research shows one in five indigenous children in rural and remote areas wait longer than the recommended period of three months for audiology testing.

Reduced awareness of essential health information has led to higher numbers of premature births, low breastfeeding rates and nutritional deficiencies, all of which increase the risk of otitis media in children.

Why should we be concerned?

The National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) explains that 0-4 years is the critical age range for laying down neural pathways relating to language and speech, it is therefore imperative children’s hearing during this period, is properly functioning.

Sadly, statistics show on average, Indigenous children having to wait until the ages of five and six, before having their first hearing aid fitted.

Hearing problems at such a young age can lead to poorer outcomes in areas of expressive language; vocabulary; language memory and speech intelligibility. Poor development in these key areas can increase the risk of behavioural problems such as irritability, disobedience and poor school attendance.

Beyond the education system, these problems are closely associated with higher rates of social isolation, limited employment options, low income and increased contact with the criminal justice system.

The final report from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1991) was the first to comment on the relationship between childhood ear disease, poor school performance and their connection to involvement in the criminal justice system. An alarming 90% of Aboriginal prisoners at Darwin Correctional Centre showed signs of hearing loss, while this figure increased to 95% in Alice Springs.

On a spiritual level, the art of story telling within Indigenous families forms a crucial part of their cultural identity. If children are unable to hear stories of their family history, they will not be able to share these with future family members, causing far-reaching inter-generational difficulties. A crisis of personal identity is strongly correlated with reduced self-esteem and an exacerbation of mental health problems.

How can improvements be made?

The key is prevention and early intervention. NACCHO suggests increased awareness of the importance of basic hygiene skills such as washing hands and faces can help reduce the risk of ear infections, along with timely immunisations and healthy food choices.

The Department of Health put forward recommendations to improve the training of health care practitioners to ensure Indigenous children who attend primary health care are appropriately screened or treated for otitis media and hearing loss.

Greater coordination of research and collaborative health and housing initiatives, developed with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander bodies is recommended to address the barriers and exclusion many Indigenous families encounter.

The Department of Health are also calling for education strategies to improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Such an initiative has been trialled in remote parts of Western Australia, whereby teachers are using microphones and speakers in classrooms to create a more inclusive learning environment. The teachers have reported increased attentiveness, reduced frustration and report that students appear much happier and confident in themselves.

What does the future look like?

Data shows that the proportion of Indigenous children with poor ear health has fallen in the last 15 years thanks to the introduction of a range of Government prevention programs such as The National Healthy Ears, Better Hearing, Better Listening program, which offers diagnosis, treatment and management of ear and hearing health for Indigenous Children and young people aged 0 to 21 years.

Outreach programs; such as the Northern Territory Remote Aboriginal Investment Hearing Health Program (NTRAI HHP) have also shown promising results. The results, following their delivery of specialist ear and hearing services to high risk Indigenous children and young people in remote parts of the Northern Territory have shown so far, of the children who moved through the NTRAI HHP, 51% had improved hearing loss and 62% had improved hearing impairment over time.

There is hope that improvements can be made, however there needs to be continued awareness, understanding and support if there is to be success in improving the health and social outcomes of Indigenous children across Australia.

What’s wrong with a father concerned about his daughter’s virginity? 

Rapper T.I has been in the news recently for comments involving his 18-year-old daughter, Deyjah Harris.

T.I, aged 39 and born Clifford Joseph Harris, has been a rapper and actor for decades, cementing his position as a R&B superstar in the early 2000’s.

The scandal gained traction in early November after T.I was a guest on the podcast  Ladies Like Us with Nazanin and Nadia for their episode titled ‘Life Hacks’.

In the episode, T.I discusses his daughter and how every birthday he takes her to the gynaecologist to check if her hymen is intact. Throughout the podcast hosts Nazanin Mandi and Nadia Moham laugh as T.I describes his obsession with Deyjah’s virginity.

The hymen is a thin membrane that covers the opening of the vagina, with the tearing of the hymen typically associated with the loss of virginity. In reality there are many ways a hymen can break that has nothing to do with sex (such as horse riding and tampon use).

“Look, doc, she don’t ride no horses, she don’t ride no bike, she don’t play no sports, man. Just check the hymen please and give me back my results, expeditiously” said T.I. in the now infamous interview.

Since the worldwide discussion of her virginity, Deyjah Harris has deleted all her social media, including her Instagram @princess_of_da_south that boasts a following of 1.5 million.

T.I’s daughter rose to fame through his family’s long time running reality television program T.I & Tiny: Family Hustle that followed the rapper and his family’s life after T.I’s prison sentence ended.

T.I’s comments sparked worldwide discussion over the construct of virginity, which is the idea that virginity is a construct created by society and the patriarchy, with patriarchal ideals as the foundation. The construct placing a large focus on commoditising women’s bodies and women losing their purity after sex.

T.I’s comments are problematic for multiple reasons, one of the most unsettling being how the rapper seems to believe he owns his daughter’s virginity.

This is still a common practice, with the concept of virginity stemmed in the idea that women’s bodies are not their own, they belong to their fathers and then are passed to their husbands.

The loss of virginity has also always been associated with heterosexual sex, with the loss of virginity for members of the LGBTI community having always been blurry.

As a society, sex, sexuality and virginity need to be discussed openly and regularly with young people. It is a pivotal part of a child’s growth and teaching children how to respect sexual partners and how to understand consent from an early age is crucial.

In Australia our sex education is heterosexual orientated and starts when children are aged 11 or 12 (depending on the state). The Victorian Government’s health advice and services focused website, Better Channel health offers advice for parents of young children for discussing sex and sexuality.

Parents should aim to be approachable to their children so they don’t seek sex education from other sources, such as their peers or the internet, states Better Channel Health.

In the Netherlands children as young as four are taught about sexuality, a sexual education program that is recognised worldwide.

The Netherlands has some of the best results of sex education, low teen pregnancy rates, high rates of contraception use and high rates of young people losing their virginity in a safe, fun and wanted way.

The T.I scandal raises many issues that in society we seem scared to raise and discuss, is it that over- protective fathers are a symptom of the patriarchy, or some would argue is this just feminism gone too far.

The Resilience Project holds speaking events and is a curriculum that is aimed at using gratitude, empathy and mindfulness to fight mental illness, with the program implemented in hundreds of schools Australia wide.

“If this book wasn’t written, my sister and I would have never actually sat down and had a conversation about our relationship,” says Hugh Van Cuylenburg, creator of The Resilience Project.

At three years of age, Georgia Van Cuylenburg had been playing alongside her brother, Hugh, when a man picked her up, took her out of sight, and sexually assaulted her.
Her innocence of childhood taken in one fell swoop, and a wound that bleed into many facets of her life for decades, was brought to life. This trauma explaining why the darkness of anorexia had chosen her as it’s host, stripping her down to skin and bones.
“I remembered it happening and when my sister told us as a family I went ‘oh right really’ I didn’t even say I remembered it, she continued to feel alone through that trauma, we never talked about it,” says her brother, Hugh.
Hugh was inspired to create The Resilience Project and write The Resilience Project: Finding happiness through gratitude empathy & mindfulness.   
During his time researching his book, Hugh read a lot about vulnerability and shame. “Shame is what locks us up, and really makes it hard for us to be happy and feel well.”
“My shame lied in my relationship with my sister,” said Hugh.
As Hugh showed his family the first copies of his book, he eagerly awaited their opinions and critiques. Georgia was devastated at what her brother had written about her. “She said, ‘when am I going to get that vulnerable side of you?.'”

For Hugh, his book became much more than helping millions of Australians who struggle with mental illness, it became a tool for healing his broken relationship with his sister, a shame he had carried for many years.

Hugh changed his book last minute and worked on his relationship with his sister, deciding that his novel was to focus on human connection and the people that have moved him.
Today mental illness has become an epidemic, taking our youth one by one – an insidious disease that has crept into our society and been given the freedom to flourish, due to stigma, lack of resources and communication. Even today mental illness is not treated the same way that other life threatening illnesses are.
Mental illness is very common in Australia, with one in five Australians experiencing mental illness in a year, meaning that 20 per cent of the population is battling a disease that their family, partner and employer cannot see and might not even believe.

Further statistics show indicates that 45 per cent of Australians will experience a mental illness at some stage in their life.

In 2008, educator Hugh had been teaching young teens in Melbourne when his then girlfriend asked him to accompany her on a trip to India. In India, Hugh taught at an under-privileged school in the Himalayan desert area and with approximately 150 children enrolled, his job was to teach English.
As he began to know his students better, many of whom were living in extreme poverty, Hugh became inspired by his student’s happiness, gratitude and lack of mental health issues that had become so prevalent in the Australian schools where Hugh taught. Returning to Australia, Hugh took with him the local children’s insights, practices and wisdom, and he slowly created The Resilience Project.
The Resilience Project began as a talk that outlined Hugh’s research and experiences with mental illness. Today, it is a school program and curriculum that reaches schools, sporting clubs and workplaces all over Australia and now New Zealand.
In The Resilience Project curriculum and speaking events, Hugh explains how incorporating gratitude, empathy and mindfulness (shortened to GEM in his book) can prevent mental illness and provide happiness.
As many parents know, the most influential years of a person’s life is their childhood,with studies showing that 50 per cent of all mental health conditions a person experiences in their life will have started by age 14.

During his time in India, Hugh noticed how the children were very grateful to be at school and practiced mindfulness every morning before their classes began, incorporating all this into his program for schools and youth, with the feedback having been phenomenally positive so far.
After years of implementing this program, Hugh wrote The Resilience Project: Finding happiness through gratitude empathy & mindfulness,releasing the book in November 2019.
Since the book’s release Hugh has had an influx of positive feedback, and is still as humble as ever; with a warm energy and healing nature, it is easy to see why thousands flock to hear him speak and line up afterwards, telling Hugh their troubles and how his words have helped them to heal.
“We have had incredible feedback, I just saw this morning that it is Number One on audio books, which I can’t believe.”
“I’ve had a few really beautiful personal messages from people.”
Hugh recalls one recent message he’d received from a reader who had been feeling suicidal and after reading the book felt so grateful and positive about his life, telling Hugh how his words had saved his life.

“Honestly if he is the only person that reads this book and that’s the only feedback I get, that’s a worthwhile six months writing,” Hugh says.

On a mission to promote gratitude, empathy and mindfulness, Hugh tackles the tricky topic of social media and parenting in his book, describing the rise of social media as only showing ‘the greatest hits’ of life, and how damaging this can be for young minds.
The Resilience Project: Finding happiness through gratitude empathy & mindfulness includes a lot of tips and ideas for parents, who have found themselves with children inundated with technology and social media that teaches them validation is found through a screen.

“The best way to help your kids is to start modelling better behaviour, you can’t say to your kids ‘stop being on your phone all the time’ then turn around and check your emails,” he says.

The book is full of strategies to help parents put their phone down with one of the easiest to grasp, yet hardest to implement, simply being to leave their phone at home.
Hugh states that this simple task can leave us more focused on others around us, increasing feelings of connection and togetherness, which are two big ways to fight loneliness and mental illness in this increasingly busy and digital world.
Hugh believes that the less a child is on a device the more aware they are to their surroundings and community, leaving more time to be grateful for the society we are lucky enough to have in Australia.
As for fostering GEM into daily life, Hugh says it’s all down to practice and implementing these small practises into your families every day.
For mindfulness, Hugh suggests going for a walk around the block and focusing on what you can hear, an exercise parents can easily make into family time. Hugh also suggests at the dinner table to reflect on the good in each family member’s day and to share what they are grateful for and looking forward to.
“Look out for opportunities to be kind to people, you watch how happy that makes you and if you do it in front of your kids, that’s the most powerful thing of all,” says Hugh.
“You will have an enormous impact on them because they’ll start to copy you, they will start to be someone who is kind to other people.”

Whether you’re trying for a baby or already pregnant, there are so many things you want to know. But how can you find safe and accurate advice?

When you’re trying for a baby or actually pregnant, there are so many things you want to know. What’s happening to my body? Should it be doing that? Just how is this baby going to get out?

The people around you may offer well-meaning advice, whether you asked for it, or not. The internet is also a place many of us go for information, but how do you know whether you’re reading safe and accurate advice?

Epworth Freemasons has been a leader in maternity services for nearly 30 years. Their midwives have decades of clinical and hands-on experience with mothers and newborns. Birth suite Nurse Unit Manager, Narelle Tunks, says that the vast majority of women search online for information.

‘The problem is that often what they find may not be safe or accurate. It can also lead to unnecessary concerns because what they’re reading doesn’t relate to their specific circumstances,’ she said.

‘We thought it would be a good idea to pool our knowledge and produce a series of short videos, covering some of the most frequently asked questions about pregnancy, birth and beyond. We’ve been thrilled to see our ‘Mobile Midwife’ series become a hit!’

‘Families can watch these videos when and whenever they need to. There’s information there on staying healthy during pregnancy, what to expect in hospital and when they go home. We run refresher classes for grandparents too, so these videos are also helpful for anyone who hasn’t bathed or changed a baby in a while!’

‘We know it can be pretty daunting leaving hospital with a precious newborn and hope that these videos can serve as a handy reminder, from a trusted source, on some of the things you need to know.’

‘If you do have any questions about your pregnancy, or after you’ve had your baby, please make sure you ask your midwife or obstetrician. There are no stupid questions. We want you to be healthy and feel supported through this truly amazing time in your life,’ Narelle said.

To discover the series of videos, head to https://landing.epworth.org.au/maternityvideos