Looking back:
A co-design project with young people

In 2019, Emerging Minds partnered with Artist Made Productions and the Satellite Foundation to offer young Australians the chance to directly tell their stories of mental illness.

The ‘Looking back project’ features four short videos created by young people with lived experience of either adversity, parental mental illness or trauma. In these videos, they ‘look back’ to tell a story about their early years: the challenges, memories, thoughts and feelings, all through the lens of their now-adult selves.

How did the videos come about?

Each video was written and created wholly by the young person, who worked with artistic mentors and the Artist Made team to realise their visions in a unique and creative way.

Participants were invited to think about what they would like practitioners to know or understand about their experiences: what helped them, made them strong, gave them hope; who noticed them; what positives could be found in their experiences.

The team then worked together in a number of writing and creative workshops to develop the story and creative brief. From the script to the soundtrack, cinematography to narration, participants were given full control over how their story would be told and the opportunity to learn new skills along the way.

Participants’ wellbeing was paramount throughout the project. The young people were supported with one-on-one check-ins and encouraged to develop and utilise their own self-care strategies. All were given the freedom to share only what they were comfortable with, and opportunities were provided throughout the process to remove content or withdraw from the project entirely.

Why are these videos important?

Emerging Minds produces educational resources to help practitioners focus on the social and emotional wellbeing of children, regardless of their role. The voice and stories of young people with lived experience are key to these resources.

Too often, practitioners and services focus only on adult problems or one aspect of a family, and the experiences of children are missed. In effect, these children become ‘invisible’. By ‘looking back’ and sharing their experiences, these four project participants have given a ‘voice’ to children with similar stories.

It’s an honour and a privilege to have contributed to the important work done by Emerging Minds. If you’re watching these videos, thank you. Thank you for caring about children, and all the people impacted by mental illness. The world is a better place because you are in it.”

– Laura Pettenuzzo

29 Threads
Claire Capel-Stanley

Claire unravels twenty-nine red threads, each representing a year of her life, as she recalls her younger years growing up with her sister and her mother. Claire explores the idea of being an ‘invisible child’ to a parent who experiences mental illness. She also shares what it was like for her to try to make meaning of her own experience, and to care for her mother.

“I hope practitioners take away the fact that the best way to support the child is for the parent to have empowering support that is relevant to them. This means choosing their own model of recovery.

“I also hope they will understand that a child acting like a superhero when their parent has a mental illness can be detrimental. Child carers are taking on roles that adults should be doing, whether that’s practical or emotional. Practitioners need to support the child inside the pretend adult.”

As you watch the video, take note of particular words, phrases or images that especially stand out to you.

Vimeo video: https://vimeo.com/367945821

Reflection

  • What feelings did this video bring up for you? Take a moment to sit with these.
  • What particular words, phrases or images stood out to you from Claire’s story? What do they have you considering in relation to your own practice context?
  • If you discussed this video with colleagues, family or friends, what would you want to talk about?
  • Claire states, “anorexia seems to invite a lot of judgement, but not a lot of support in the mental health sector.”
    • To what extent do you think the parents you work with have previously experienced judgement or stigma from service systems because of the adversities they have faced?
    • What are some of the impacts this might have had on them?
    • How might you address this stigma so that parents feel comfortable to discuss the adversities they face and their impact on their children?
  • Claire: “Mum has lots of other words for what’s wrong and she hates that word [anorexia].”
    • How might you be curious and respectful of a parent’s descriptions of their own experiences of adversity?
    • What might this also make possible in terms of engaging the parent around the effects of the adversity on their parenting, the parent-child relationship, and their child’s social and emotional wellbeing?
  • Claire mentions that when she told practitioners about her mum’s illness, they told her that it was up to her to “fix everything”.
    • Why do you think they might have said this?
    • What might be some of the unintended unhelpful effects on a child or young person of being told this?
    • What might be some alternative messages of support for children and young people?
  • Claire: “In all the confusion though, there is also love.”
    • What might be Claire’s intention in including these words in this video?
    • How would you support the parent-child relationship between Claire and her mother?
  • Claire states that there weren’t any health workers on the scene until she sought them out herself as a 22-year-old. What possibilities currently exist for you to engage with the children of parents you are working with?

Acts of Affirmation
Laura Pettenuzzo

Performed by Sophia Riozzi, Laura’s powerful video speaks directly to practitioners in the mental health field, giving voice to the young Laura and her experiences.

“I grew up not knowing that there were services available for people like me who have a parent with a mental illness. I also didn’t even really recognise that it was genuinely a difficult experience that I could talk about … If one GP or psychologist or teacher had introduced the idea that there was a whole world of young people going through something similar, and a whole world of organisations who could help me – well, I think it would have been a revelation. I want this video, and my story, to be that revelation to its audiences.”

As you watch the video, take note of particular words, phrases or images that especially stand out to you.

Vimeo video: https://vimeo.com/367935657

Reflection

  • What feelings did this video bring up for you? Take a moment to sit with these.
  • What particular words, phrases or images stood out to you from Laura’s story? What do they have you considering in relation to your own practice context?
  • If you discussed this video with colleagues, family or friends, what would you want to talk about?
  • Laura talks about the love that exists between a mother and child, and how that love is “amplified, strengthened, and tested by mental illness”.
    • To what extent were you surprised by this statement?
    • How might your curiosity reflect this sentiment when working with a parent or child facing adversities?
    • What might such a conversation offer them?
    • What dilemmas might you encounter?
  • Speaking as a young daughter Laura says to practitioners, “I could be your greatest ally, if you let me”.
    • To what extent do you currently engage children in conversations about matters that directly affect them?
    • What possibilities currently exist for you to engage with the children of adults you are working with?
    • What do you think might get in the way or make it harder for you to engage with the children of adults you are working with?
    • How might you overcome these barriers?
  • Laura: “At the very least you can change my world. I hope you will.”
    • How do you currently support the relationship between parent and child in your work?
    • What barriers might currently be making it hard for you to have conversations with parents about the effects of their mental health on their children’s wellbeing?
    • How might you overcome these barriers?
  • Can you think of times in your practice when you have been able to engage parents in conversations that are both child-aware and parent-sensitive?
    • What was it about those engagements that made it possible to focus on the child?
    • What changes to your practice could you make to ensure children remain in focus?

Trent’s Mind
Trent Katelas

Trent directs an improvised theatre scene between a mental health worker and a young Trent. As the scene unfolds, Trent recalls his childhood of verbal abuse and trauma, and mounts a case for authentic listening, rather than ‘questions from the textbook’.

“It’s just exciting to know you’ve been a part of a start of change. Whether it be small or large it doesn’t matter, but it’s a part of change in itself, so it’s quite exciting in that sense. Daunting at the same time, but very exciting as well.”

As you watch the video, take note of particular words, phrases or images that especially stand out to you.

Vimeo video: https://vimeo.com/367951784

Reflection

  • What feelings did this video bring up for you? Take a moment to sit with these.
  • What particular words, phrases or images stood out to you from Trent’s story? What do they have you considering in relation to your own practice context?
  • If you discussed this video with colleagues, family or friends, what would you want to talk about?
  • Trent: “I really hope they take away that sense of getting away from their textbook questions and get to know me before going into heavy work.”
    • How would a child know that you are interested in what interests them, as well as their capabilities and ideas?
    • What tells you that it may be the right time, or the wrong time to discuss challenging topics with a child?
    • How do you know when you have reached the right time to discuss something different?
  • What barriers might currently be preventing you from taking the time to develop relationships with child-clients, before beginning any ‘heavy’ work?
    • How might you overcome these barriers?
    • What support would you need?
  • Trent: “…then we can better put our heads together to actually work through things.”
    • How would a child know that their views are being heard, considered, and respected in your work with them?
    • What would they notice about your responses to them?
  • Trent points out that “not everybody can assert themselves.”
    • How do you ensure that the voices of children are heard in your practice, even if the child is non-verbal?

Flowers from the Ashes
April Harrison

April was eight years old when, on February 7, 2009, the Black Saturday bushfires raged through the township of Kinglake, where she lived. She sheltered in her home, taking care of her younger siblings while her father battled the flames.
There was no way out. Her mother and brother were in Melbourne and couldn’t get back to the family.

April first collaborated with Emerging Minds in the development of the Community Trauma Toolkit. She revealed at the time that it took many years before she could talk about her experiences on Black Saturday.

“This was an incredible opportunity, and I am so grateful to have been given the chance to share my story in a way that was important and special to me.”

As you watch the video, take note of particular words, phrases or images that especially stand out to you.

Vimeo video: https://vimeo.com/367939158

Reflection

  • What feelings did this video bring up for you? Take a moment to sit with these.
  • What particular words, phrases or images stood out to you from April’s story? What do they have you considering in relation to your own practice context?
  • If you discussed this video with colleagues, family or friends, what would you want to talk about?
  • April: “I want to share how I took care of my siblings, protecting them, when I thought we were going to die.”
    • Why do you think children might find these stories important to share in the context of addressing the impacts of trauma?
  • As an eight-year-old, April was not a passive victim during the bushfire.
    • What is one action you heard that April took to respond to the fire threatening her family?
    • What are you curious about in relation to these steps?
  • April: “I remember the fear and the despair, but I also remember the first new green, the first echidna, and the first red flowers, bringing hope and life back into our lives, which was so blackened.”
    • To what extent is it important in your practice to explore and develop both strands of memories when working with children who have faced trauma and other adversities?
    • How might you go about doing this in your conversations with children?
  • To what extent is your practice and service provision shaped by trauma-informed approaches when working with children and families?
    • Are there any barriers to working this way within your practice?
    • If so, how might you overcome these?
  • April was eight years old when the fire happened. Using your knowledge of child development, what signs of the ongoing impacts of trauma would you look for in the immediate, short- and long-term following the disaster?
  • In this video, April uses art (dance and painting) to help her to express her emotions and share her experience.
    • How do you currently work with children who may not be ready or able to talk about their experiences?
    • What could you add to your practice?

Further resources