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STRONGER TOGETHER: Harnessing Creativity for Mental Wellbeing

Last updated:
10/07/2024

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses how proactive mental health practices, such as those outlined in “Creative First Aid” by Caitlin Marshall and Lizzie Rose, can build emotional resilience and help manage crises effectively.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

Imagine a beautiful sunny day at the beach. Filled with families and lined with volunteer lifesavers. Suddenly a mother is screaming from the foreshore that her son is being dragged out to sea. Caught in a rip, the lifesavers know that the best thing to do is to swim with the tide with a calm sidestroke, instead of fighting against it. Yet this young boy is being pulled under and they can see that he is quickly becoming exhausted. Fortunately, they retrieve him from the water, check for responsiveness, and begin CPR while those on the beach call emergency services. In this situation, their swift actions and training are the difference between life and death.

Now, consider a different kind of emergency: a mental health crisis. A person is visibly distressed, perhaps experiencing a panic attack or severe anxiety. A trained mental health first aider steps in, offering reassurance and guiding them through breathing exercises until professional help arrives.

Two very different scenarios yet both depend on the training and assistance from others to determine the outcome. Always good to know that others are trained to respond and can assist to these types of crises when needed. But what about our personal responsibility when it comes to a crisis. Could we be better prepared to manage a crisis before it hits?

Let’s start again. Imagine a beautifully sunny day at the beach. You are reflecting on the argument that you just had with your partner. Fighting with heightened emotions in those extreme moments has left you feeling fatigued, exhausted and depleted as you begin to be pulled under by the emotional riptides that have become a daily part of your life. Becoming more regular, more consistent, these arguments are leaving you disorientated, and you are starting to lose sight of the horizon. While this is a very different scenario to the first, preparation and training can still play a key role. And you can be more in control of the outcome.

Since starting my psychology degree over 20 years ago, an aphorism attributed to psychologist Carl Jung stuck with me, ‘What we resist persists.’   It suggests that we actively avoid or fight against problems or fears – the reality is that it is just not in our DNA to embrace pain or painful thoughts. But what if we could build our emotional resilience in a proactive way, in a few minutes a day, while having some fun along the way?

Enter Creative First Aid, a concept explored in the book “Creative First Aid: The Science and Joy of Creativity for Mental Health” by Caitlin Marshall and Lizzie Rose. Creative First Aid is about nurturing oneself. It’s a proactive approach to mental health, encouraging individuals to engage in activities that foster joy, calm, and a sense of accomplishment.

Marshall and Rose explore how mindfulness, play, and creative expression can serve as powerful tools for grounding and emotional resilience. They delve into the science behind creativity and its profound impact on mental wellbeing. Creativity is more than just artistic expression; it’s a way of thinking and experiencing the world that can foster mental flexibility, reduce stress, and enhance overall life satisfaction.

“Creative First Aid” offers an array of quick and simple yet effective activities. For instance, the “Five Senses Reboot” is a fast and impactful grounding technique for moments when you feel overwhelmed. By tuning into each sense—sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste—we signal to our nervous system that it’s okay to calm down and slow our breathing. Verbally identifying five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste serves as a mindful regulation action that keeps you present and grounded.

Another recommended activity is “Blind Contour Drawing.” Choose something to draw, set a timer for about one minute, and sketch the object without looking at the page or lifting your pen. This practice brings us back to the present, quiets our inner critic, and with regular practice, strengthens our ability to embrace imperfections and become less attached to our work, making us more receptive to constructive criticism.

By incorporating creativity into our daily routines, we are intentionally and purposefully building emotional resilience. Instead of allowing the emotional riptide to pull us under, we can stop fighting against it. Whether you’re doodling, practicing mindfulness, or engaging in creative exercises, you can start to train yourself and be more prepared to release into that calm sidestroke before the crisis hits.

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses the futility of arguing with those who are closed to reason, highlighting the wisdom of choosing battles wisely and moving on from futile debates.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

A simple yet profound story from the animal kingdom offers a timeless lesson on the futility of arguing with those who are closed to reason or truth. The story goes like this:

One day, a donkey told a tiger, “The grass is blue.” The tiger, bemused, replied, “No, the grass is green.” Their debate grew increasingly heated, and they decided to submit the matter to arbitration, seeking the wisdom of the lion, the king of the jungle.

As they approached the lion on his throne, the donkey began to scream, “Your Highness, isn’t it true that the grass is blue?” The lion, seeing the situation for what it was, replied, “If you believe it is true, the grass is blue.” Overjoyed, the donkey continued, “The tiger disagrees with me, contradicts me, and annoys me. Please punish him.” The lion then declared, “The tiger will be punished with three days of silence.”

The donkey, triumphant, leapt with joy and left, chanting, “The grass is blue, the grass is blue...”

The tiger, perplexed, asked the lion, “Your Majesty, why have you punished me? After all, the grass is green.” The lion replied, “You’ve known and seen that the grass is green.” Confused, the tiger asked, “So why do you punish me?” The lion answered, “This has nothing to do with the question of whether the grass is blue or green. The punishment is because it is degrading for a brave, intelligent creature like you to waste time arguing with an ass, and on top of that, you came and bothered me with that question just to validate something you already knew was true!”

The key message of this story lies in its simple yet powerful moral: it is pointless to argue with someone who is uninterested in truth or reality, but only in the righteousness of their beliefs or illusions. When faced with such obstinance, intelligence is best demonstrated by moving on, not by engaging in futile debates.

In our daily lives, we all operate from our own set of beliefs, which shape our perception of reality. Recognising that our version of reality is based on our beliefs, which are inherently flawed and imperfect, can help us remain open to different views and perspectives. This self-awareness is not always easy to achieve and requires effort, compassion, and a willingness to understand others. However, it is a worthy pursuit, for it fosters deeper connections and a better understanding of ourselves.

The story of the donkey, the tiger, and the lion can be applied to various aspects of our daily lives. In a professional setting, we often encounter colleagues who are adamant about their opinions, even when evidence suggests otherwise. Engaging in endless debates with such individuals can be unproductive. Instead, focusing on constructive dialogue and solutions is a more efficient use of time and energy.

In our personal lives, disagreements are inevitable. However, recognising when a discussion is turning into a fruitless argument can save relationships from unnecessary strain. Sometimes, it is better to agree to disagree and respect differing viewpoints.

Online platforms are breeding grounds for heated debates, often fuelled by misinformation and rigid beliefs. Knowing when to step back from such arguments can preserve mental peace and prevent unnecessary stress.

Understanding that our perception of reality is subjective encourages humility. It reminds us to question our own beliefs and remain open to learning and growth. This mindset can lead to personal development and a more harmonious existence with others.

When addressing broader social issues, it is crucial to engage with those who are willing to listen and collaborate. Wasting energy on those who are fixated on their misconceptions can detract from meaningful progress.

Ultimately, the wisdom of the lion teaches us that not all battles are worth fighting. By choosing our battles wisely and avoiding futile arguments, we can conserve our energy for more productive and meaningful endeavours. Embrace the wisdom of the lion, and let intelligence guide your actions, especially when faced with the stubbornness of ignorance.

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses the importance of shifting the focus from individual to community and workplace responsibility in promoting inclusive wellbeing, advocating for environments that support healthy choices and a holistic approach that values every individual’s contribution to collective health and success.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

In the contemporary workplace, there has been a significant shift towards prioritising wellbeing, making it a central focus. I genuinely love the concept and practices associated with maintaining my health and wellbeing, however fear that it is being overly commercialised to create self-help empires that do not always put the needs of individuals at the core. Piggybacking on a multimillion-dollar diet, supplement and fitness industry, achieving wellbeing is presented as complex, complicated and unachievable for most of us – unless you have the money to invest in it.

Wellbeing is sometimes even sold as a ‘one-off treat that you deserve’ – imagine upgraded hotels that offer wellbeing spa packages or wellbeing retreats in remote locations throughout the world. The reality is that wellbeing is neither a modern concept nor a new practice. Since the beginning of civilisation, humans have sought out ways to understand and improve themselves, to find happiness, to do straightforward things like don’t smoke, don’t drink too much alcohol, eat a variety of food including fruits and vegetables, connect with friends and family and move your body.  If you followed in the footsteps of generations of yogis, they would tell you that wellbeing is cultivated with compassion as part of a non-obsessive daily practice. A little breathing, a little gentle movement. A short sit. They would pitch these simple strategies as the fundamentals of life, that sit at the core of a person’s wellbeing.  

The reality is that modern incarnations of wellbeing devolve responsibility for wellbeing on to individuals via a commercial market – influencers, celebrities, social media, spaces that create a wellbeing experience.

What if the environments that people lived in, worked in, played in, were better designed to support those straightforward decisions that reduced the friction when it comes to making positive choices that maximise our wellbeing? Turning our understanding of wellbeing away from individuals and instead focusing on the communities within which they live and the businesses within which they work.

What if we expanded this concept of wellbeing to be inclusive of all – what would that look like in practice?

When it comes to the workplace, inclusive wellbeing involves creating an environment where every individual, irrespective of their background, identity, or circumstances, feels genuinely valued, respected, and supported. It recognises the interconnectedness of physical, mental, emotional, social and financial aspects of wellbeing and seeks to ensure equitable access to opportunities and resources, while nurturing a culture where everyone can participate fully and authentically. Offering flexible work arrangements, time to manage childcare or attend specialist appointments, in addition to ergonomic workstations, automatic doors, height-adjustable desks, and wide hallways are fundamental to this holistic approach.

Supporting mental health is also pivotal. Providing access to counselling, mental health days, and stress management programs, along with training managers to recognise signs of burnout and mental health challenges, ensures timely support for employees. Promoting movement by hosting stand up or walk and talk meetings sets the tone that staff are encouraged to move throughout the day.

Social wellbeing is equally significant. Fostering community through team-building activities and open forums cultivates a workplace where everyone feels a sense of belonging. Financial wellbeing completes the picture. Offering financial education programs, fair compensation, and pathways for career growth ensures employees are not only healthy and happy but also financially secure.

Individuals are accountable for their own wellbeing. Don’t misunderstand me – I am100% in agreement with this. BUT communities also have a part to play in improving the wellbeing of the people. At IMPACT Community Services, we invest in creating inclusive wellbeing, believing that a diverse workforce brings rich diversity in perspectives and ideas, which drive innovation and competitive advantage. By cultivating an environment where all employees feel valued and supported, organisations unleash their full potential, leading to enhanced innovation, productivity, and overall success. And best of all, their people understand how all of this contributes to their own wellbeing.

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses the transformative power of creativity in enhancing the mental health and wellbeing of adolescents, advocating for its integration into education and community to foster engagement, emotional resilience, and a broader, empathetic worldview.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

Social media, academic demands, and societal expectations are just some of the pressures that weigh heavily on young minds today. These relentless stressors can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, and disconnection, particularly among teenagers. Creativity, however, offers a path to navigating these challenges. Art, music, and language provide more than just an outlet; they create a sanctuary for self-expression, personal growth, and social engagement, especially for those who may have disengaged from traditional avenues of connection.

Creativity is a powerful tool for wellbeing. Recognising its therapeutic value, can enable educational institutions to help students rekindle a passion for learning by integrating creative projects into their curriculum. Encouraging students to explore their creative interests—whether in art, music, language, or any form of self-expression—fosters a sense of autonomy and responsibility. This not only boosts engagement but also promotes a sense of independence and accomplishment.

For young people grappling with the complexities of adolescence, creativity can be a source of comfort and a means of processing emotions. For teens who have disengaged due to academic pressures or personal challenges, creative activities offer a non-threatening avenue for re-entry into the learning environment. The act of creating can be a powerful motivator, providing an outlet for expression that words alone may fail to capture, and instilling a sense of purpose.

Beyond the canvas, creativity can foster community and collaboration. When young people participate in group art projects, music ensembles, or language clubs, they form bonds over shared interests. These creative communities provide a supportive environment where they can experiment, fail, and succeed together. The act of creating something collectively reinforces the idea that they are contributing to something bigger than themselves, which is particularly beneficial for those feeling isolated.

Engaging with different forms of art and music also introduces teens to diverse cultures and viewpoints. This exploration fosters empathy and broadens their understanding of the world. Participating in cultural events or workshops can ignite a passion for learning and discovery, encouraging teens to step out of their comfort zones. This brave leap into new experiences often leads to profound personal growth and a more inclusive worldview.

Art, whatever the medium, is more than just a pastime; it can be a lifeline for anyone, but especially young minds navigating the complexities of adolescence. Encouraging cultural exploration sparks a journey of self-discovery and empathy, broadening horizons and deepening their understanding of themselves, as well as the world around them. Fostering creative expression can empower young people to find their voice, instead of simply relying on following the opinions and views of others. Supporting community creations allows them to contribute to a collective narrative, reinforcing their sense of purpose, belonging and agency, enabling them to find and recognise their personal value and, maybe even, to tap into and realise their potential.

Ultimately, creativity is not solely about the art produced; it’s about being what you will learn along the way. It’s about being flexible, adaptable, and willing to let go when things don’t go the way you expect. It is about committing to something upfront not knowing where you will end up. It is about embracing whatever comes next with an open mind and willing heart.

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses the importance of modelling a balanced digital life for our children by setting boundaries and valuing real-life interactions over constant social media engagement.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

In the digital age, the allure of social media is undeniable. With a collective investment of 720 billion minutes daily on platforms like TikTok, YouTube, Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram, it’s clear that these digital landscapes hold a significant place in our lives.

We often find ourselves mindlessly scrolling, unaware of the time slipping away. It offers an endless stream of entertainment, information, and social interaction. Yet what are we sacrificing?

As parents, we often worry about the impact of technology on our children. We are conscious of their screen time and online interactions to keep them safe, yet our own behaviour inadvertently becomes the blueprint they follow. It’s a cycle where the adage “do as I say, not as I do” loses its ground. If they see us constantly attached to our phones, they internalise this behaviour as normal and desirable.

To instil a balanced approach to technology, as parents, we must first model it. This means setting boundaries for ourselves: putting away phones during family meals, engaging in face-to-face conversations, and designating tech-free times and zones within the home. By demonstrating that there is a time and place for social media, we teach our children to value real-life interactions and the world around them.

In this pursuit of balance, we must also recognise the importance of unmediated experiences. Children’s first birthday parties, for instance, are milestones that deserve our undivided attention. It’s tempting to view these events through the lens of a camera, eager to preserve every moment. Yet, in doing so, we risk missing the essence of the celebration—the joy, the mess, the spontaneous laughter that fills the room. These are the elements of life that, though intangible, are the most precious.

The challenge lies not in abandoning our devices but in learning to coexist with them harmoniously. It’s about making conscious choices—deciding when to share a post and when to put the phone down and soak in the experience. It’s about understanding that not every major occasion needs to be broadcasted or recorded; sometimes, the best memories are those shared quietly, without the fanfare of social media.

On the weekend, we had to put our beloved family dog to sleep, the second one in six months. It was a sad and difficult occasion, but amid this heartbreak, I made a conscious choice to switch off my phone for the entire weekend. This decision allowed me to be fully present in the moment, sharing the grief and comfort with my family, free from the distraction of digital notifications. It was a poignant reminder of the importance of being there, truly there, for the people and moments that matter most.

In treasuring life’s raw, unscripted, and private moments, we find the essence of true connection. It’s in these unpublicised experiences that we encounter the heart of what it means to be human—to laugh, to cry, and to share in the full spectrum of emotions with those around us.

As parents, we have the opportunity, and indeed the responsibility, to model a balanced digital life, ensuring that the technology serves us, not the other way around. By choosing presence over posts, we not only enrich our own lives but also offer our children a priceless gift—the example of a life fully lived, beyond the digital realm.

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses the complexities of happiness, suggesting that true contentment may lie not in material possessions or achievements, but in living a life aligned with one’s purpose and values, and appreciating the small moments of joy.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

Happiness is the ultimate goal for many of us, shaping our choices, ambitions, and social circles. We chase it, hoping that certain achievements or possessions will make us happier. But is that really the case?

The World Happiness Report has been measuring happiness across societies and countries since 2012. People of different ages, gender, socioeconomic status, cultures, and backgrounds from 143 countries provide a subjective, self-evaluation of their wellbeing based on life evaluations, positive emotions, and negative emotions based on Catril's Ladder life evaluation question:

Please imagine a ladder with steps numbered from 1 at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?

Why does this report hold such significance? Happiness has emerged as one of the strongest indicators of a country's social progress. Australia is ranked tenth on the 2024 World Happiness Report (Finland was first; Afghanistan last), however the ranking drops to 19 when measuring only the responses from those under the age of 30.

For many, happiness is the measure of a 'good' life, often serving as our 'why', or the underlying motivation behind our actions and decisions. How often have you heard parents say that they just want their children "to be happy" above all else?

Why, then, are there so many unhappy people in the world today?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, happiness is a state of wellbeing and contentment; joy; a pleasurable or satisfying experience. While material possessions can ignite fleeting joy, they rarely pave the way to lasting happiness. The relentless pursuit of goals and achievements doesn’t hold the secret to sustainable contentment, either.

So, what if it isn’t about us and what we acquire for ourselves? What if instead, it is about sharing something important that is unique to us – our time, knowledge, friendship, experience. Doing things that light us up and are aligned to our beliefs and values – doing things that really matter to us. Could that be the real path to happiness?

People with a clear understanding of their purpose in life, and who feel that they are living their purpose, experience deep feelings of happiness and satisfaction. BUT this doesn’t mean that this journey of happiness is an easy one. It is filled with challenges, doubts, and the usual crappy stuff that happens in everyday life, but even on the worst day, it doesn’t mean that we can’t experience moments of happiness and joy.

Catching those fleeting moments of joy – that is the key. And hopefully over time, it stops being the goal and is instead replaced with a sense of peace, and deep contentment, knowing there's happiness in everyday, even if it’s not always immediately apparent.

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses the significance of National Reconciliation Week in Australia, highlighting historical milestones and advocating for active participation in reconciliation efforts, especially through meaningful workplace engagement and education on Indigenous cultures and histories.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

Every year, from May 27 to June 3, Australia's journey toward reconciliation is put under the spotlight during National Reconciliation Week (NRW).

These dates hold profound significance, representing pivotal moments in our shared history.

May 27 marks the anniversary of the 1967 Referendum, where over 90% of Australian voters chose 'Yes' in a historic decision. The landmark vote recognised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the national census and empowered the Australian Government to enact laws addressing inequalities. It was a powerful step toward recognition and justice.

June 3 marks Mabo Day, a tribute to Eddie Koiki Mabo, a courageous Mer Island man who challenged the Australian legal system to advocate for the rights of Indigenous peoples as the true custodians of their ancestral lands. After a decade-long battle, the High Court of Australia rejected the notion of terra nullius—the idea that Australia was unoccupied before British colonisation. This landmark decision affirmed Indigenous land rights, acknowledging their enduring connection to the land.

Today, National Reconciliation Week invites all Australians to learn about our shared histories, cultures, and achievements, and to explore how each of us can contribute to achieving reconciliation in Australia.

The theme for NRW 2024 is “Now More Than Ever”, a powerful reminder there is still more work to do when it comes to reconciliation. As individuals, we can be learning about culture, challenging discrimination, and working towards better outcomes for First Nations people to signal our commitment to connection, respect, action, and ongoing change. Now more than ever we must unite and raise our collective voice.

In the workplace, we must create safe spaces to have conversations about our history, the diversity within our teams, and opportunities to celebrate and individuality. In my workplace, we recognised that acknowledging country is not something that you recite, using generic language that can be found in a Google search. At IMPACT, we recognised the need to listen to the collective wisdom of our people, especially First Nations staff, who were willing to support our broader team to engage, learn and listen.

Together, we crafted a bespoke Acknowledgement of Country that resonates with the rich diversity and heritage of Indigenous lands. This includes respect for the land, significant local landmarks, the local mobs, their connections, acknowledgement of spirituality, and the spirits of the ancestors. IMPACT's commitment to this new Acknowledgement of Country is a heartfelt recognition of the land’s traditional owners and their enduring connection to it.

Now, more than ever, we must continue this journey towards unity and respect. Each of us can play a part by participating in NRW activities, educating ourselves and others about Indigenous cultures and histories, and advocating for policies that promote justice and equality for First Nations people. Now, more than ever, we need reconciliation.

Read IMPACT Community Services’ Acknowledgement of Country here.

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses the urgent national crisis of domestic, family, and sexual violence, emphasising its pervasive impact on society and the necessity for collective action and cohesive support systems.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Dear Reader

As I sit before this blank screen, pondering the recipient of this address, I find myself at a crossroads. Should it be the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese? Perhaps Queensland Premier Steven Miles? Or maybe a more generic “To whom it may concern”?

Yet, when I delve into the heart of the matter, I realise that this issue is, well, not just about getting the attention of politicians. This issue transcends gender, is more than planting barbs in online comments and will not be solved by pretending that the issue doesn’t affect us. Because chances are you know someone who has been a victim, survivor, or perpetrator of domestic violence, and therefore the insidious nature of this behaviour demands that we all take notice.  

Domestic, family, and sexual violence is a national crisis that requires immediate and unwavering attention. It is a scourge that erodes the very fabric of our society, sparing no demographic or community. And it's not just physical violence—DFSV refers to any behaviour that coerces, controls, or causes fear. 

Yes, the statistics are alarming. On average in 2022-23, 1 woman was killed every 11 days, and 1 man was killed every 91 days by an intimate partner. People – real people and their families have paid the ultimate price. People like Molly Ticehurst, Rebecca Young, Alison Baden-Clay, Hannah Clarke, Aaliyah, Laianah, and Trey resonate as reminders of the tragic outcomes of such violence. 

People like a mother in Lismore, who earlier this week handed over her two-year-old toddler to his father for an access visit, and she will never see her baby again. There was an apprehended domestic violence order (ADVO) in place.  

May is Domestic and Family Violence Awareness Month and in the leadup, both the Federal and State Governments have acknowledged the nation is in the grips of a crisis and something needs to be done. 

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has reiterated his commitment to the "National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children 2022-32" by extending the Escaping Violence Program and introducing the Leaving Violence Program, which offers financial aid to those exiting abusive relationships. Additionally, the government has broadened support for single parents, legislated 10 days paid leave for domestic violence, enhanced rent assistance, and is investing in crisis accommodation and affordable housing to aid women and children escaping violent situations. 

Likewise, Queensland Premier Steven Miles, announced significantly increased funding in this area with the Government's Plan for the Primary Prevention of Violence Against Women 2024-28 and the establishment of a new peak body for domestic and family violence, the Queensland Council of Social Services. This follows the introduction of new laws criminalising coercive control. 

Bravo Mr Albanese and Mr Miles. Thank you Minister Rishworth and Minister D’Arth. These announcements reflect a strong commitment from both levels of government to create safer communities and support those affected by domestic and family violence. This dedication is commendable and greatly appreciated. 

But here is the thing. Government’s often work in isolation without considering how their decisions will align to other stakeholders – even other levels of Government.  

What does this mean? Here is a real-life case study for you to consider.  

A woman and her child flee partner violence, are supported to leave their family and home in another state and move to Queensland. Due to the nature of the violence, the family are listed on the Evatt List, created to protect families and individuals at high risk of family violence. In her case, the perpetrator wants access to the child. He asked his lawyer to subpoena her records, and because the lawyer didn’t do the appropriate checks, the lawyer provided all of the confidential information about the woman and her child to the perpetrator.  

Puzzling isn’t it.  

The same woman also accessed the Escaping Violence Program’s aid to start anew and was then told that because she accessed the payment and she was working full time, she was unable to access Legal Aid or any other financial assistance. In comparison, the perpetrator has had all of his legal costs covered.  

Feeling perplexed about these situations is no longer enough. This story underscores the dire need for a more cohesive system that doesn’t force survivors to choose between safety and legal recourse, a choice no family should ever confront. 

Earlier this week, we joined forces with The Outback Mind Foundation, Small Steps for Hannah, Bundaberg Regional Council, and Queensland Police, for the screening of 'Boiling Point', a documentary that shares the stories of men who have previously used violence as a form of communication in their relationships but managed to turn their lives around. This was followed by a Q&A with an expert panel. 

At IMPACT we want to do more. We realise that we need to elevate the voices of people with lived experience so that we can advocate and work alongside them, ensuring their voices are heard and their experiences validated. 

Acknowledging the issue is merely the initial step; it’s sustained, collective action that leads to meaningful change. As ‘Domestic and Family Violence Awareness Month’ draws to a close, I urge you to continue the momentum of advocacy and reform. The path ahead is long, the work will be hard, but it is through our unwavering commitment to end domestic and family violence that we can ensure a safer future for all. It's up to every one of us. 

Yours sincerely

Tanya 

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses how evolving societal norms have empowered women’s financial independence. She emphasises the crucial role of financial literacy in enabling women to achieve autonomy and self-reliance.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

In the quiet corners of our lives, money remains a topic often left unspoken. Yet, in an attempt to shift this narrative, I recently sat down with Ben Neilson, a local financial advisor from Complete Wealth, for the latest episode of our STRONGER TOGETHER podcast, “Money Matters: Women’s Road to Financial Independence since the 1950s.” Together, we discussed the changing roles of women and the shifting societal norms that have historically influenced their financial autonomy, highlighting the importance of financial literacy as a means for women to forge their own paths of independence and self-sufficiency.

Now, step back into to the mid-20th century, where the Australian workforce painted a stark picture of gender inequality. Women, constituting a mere 23% of the labour force, were often relegated to part-time or casual roles, if they worked at all, and earnt roughly 75% of what men made for equivalent work. Education and career opportunities were scarce, as societal norms prioritised marriage and motherhood over professional aspirations.

Fast forward to the present, and the landscape has transformed significantly. Women now make up nearly half of the workforce, and while the gender pay gap persists, it has narrowed, with women earning about 88 cents to a man’s dollar. This progress is attributed to improved access to education, changing attitudes towards gender roles, and more inclusive workplace policies, fostering a rise in female entrepreneurship and leadership.

Consider the hypothetical scenario of Jane, a married woman in 1954. As a typist, her financial security was tethered to her husband’s income. Her aspirations were secondary to her domestic and caregiving duties. Her husband took care of the finances; there was no reason for her to learn.

At 59, Jane's relationship unravelled. Suddenly, she was homeless, without stable accommodation, and working part-time hours. Why? Because she left all of that to her husband.

Now, meet Aisha. Today, she is one of the approximately 71% of Australian women that are active in the workforce, contributing to household incomes and sharing domestic duties more equitably. She’s a tech entrepreneur, balancing work and family life with her partner. They share household responsibilities and finances.

This shift, from traditional male breadwinner models to dual-income households, reflects evolving gender roles.  However, women still face challenges in achieving financial parity and independence, particularly in superannuation savings.

Women’s average superannuation at retirement age stands at $146,900, compared to men’s $204,107. Despite equal pay being legally mandated since 1969, persistent societal, industrial, and organisational factors contribute to this gap, affecting earning potential from recruitment onward due to issues such as unequal pay and biases in progression and promotion opportunities. It also reflects the often-interrupted careers, and reduced hours, due to childbearing and caregiving responsibilities.

To bridge this gap, policies like extending superannuation to paid parental leave and increasing the Low-Income Superannuation Tax Offset threshold are in place. Women can also employ strategies like salary sacrificing to enhance their superannuation.

However, financial independence is not just about money; it’s about choice and dignity. It empowers women like Aisha to navigate life’s transitions with confidence, aware that life doesn't always go to plan, and curveballs are a matter of when, not if. Unfortunate events happen, and when they do, you’ll want to stand on your own two feet.

Financial literacy is essential for making informed decisions and securing a stable future. It equips you to handle life’s uncertainties with confidence. If you’ve never been supported to learn about money and financial literacy, such as in the case of Jane, start now. Engage in conversations, share knowledge, and work towards your financial independence. Knowledge is power, and understanding finances is a critical step towards lasting independence and resilience.

Listen to the full Episode 10 of IMPACT Community Services’ STRONGER TOGETHER podcast by visiting Money Matters: Women's Road to Financial Independence since the 50's

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses the growing national trend of school refusal, the factors contributing to this issue, and how a "wellbeing first" approach may just be the key to unlocking the potential of these young people.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

A concerning trend has emerged in Australia’s educational sphere: an increase in school refusal among young people. This phenomenon, distinct from truancy or school withdrawal, has seen a rise in primary and secondary school-aged children reluctant to attend classes, with parents and educators grappling to understand and address the issue.

The Education and Employment References Committee conducted an inquiry into this concerning national trend, revealing that school refusal is not merely a matter of absenteeism but a complex issue intertwined with psychological, familial, and societal factors. Unlike truancy, school refusal is characterised by the student’s overt reluctance to attend school, parental awareness and efforts to rectify the situation, and a notable absence of antisocial behaviour.

In Bundaberg, we are not immune. Conversations with school principals and guidance officers indicate that students are increasingly facing challenges that contribute to school refusal. Disabilities and mental health issues are significant contributors, exacerbated by the pressures of school transitions and societal expectations. The impact on students is profound, affecting their physical and mental health, social connections, educational outcomes, and future employment opportunities.

For families, the strain of school refusal can lead to financial hardship, health issues, and even familial discord. Schools and service providers, too, are feeling the pressure, with staff workloads and morale affected, and a growing demand for health support services that is difficult to meet.

At IMPACT, our team has been acutely aware of the factors fuelling this troubling trend for quite some time. Through our dedication to supporting the community, we've witnessed firsthand the ripple effects of school refusal. From engaging directly with students grappling with attendance challenges to collaborating closely with families and educators, we've gained invaluable insights into the complex interplay of psychological, familial, and societal factors. This frontline perspective has deepened our understanding and reinforced the urgency of implementing holistic solutions to address it effectively.

The establishment of alternative education settings, such as IMPACT Community Academy, addresses a critical gap in the educational landscape, as calls for more accessible alternative options grow louder. Recognising that one size does not fit all, these settings offer tailored support for students who may struggle in mainstream environments.

At the heart of the IMPACT Community Academy lies a deep understanding of the importance of embracing a "wellbeing first" approach, prioritising the holistic development of its students above all else. This approach acknowledges that students' mental, emotional, and social wellbeing are foundational to their academic success and overall life satisfaction.

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses the critical importance of aligning personal values with work and education to enhance mental wellbeing and health, highlighting the innovative IMPACT Community Academy as a model for purpose-driven education to address increased disengagement in the mainstream system.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

In our quest for personal and professional fulfillment, the importance of aligning values with our work cannot be overstated. Yet, for many, this alignment remains elusive, leading to dissatisfaction, burnout, and a sense of disconnection. As we strive to find meaning in our daily lives, the correlation between purpose and mental wellbeing becomes increasingly apparent.

Research underscores the vital role of values alignment in fostering a sense of purpose, contributing not only to job satisfaction but also to improved mental health and even increased life expectancy. Conversely, the absence of such alignment can lead to a host of negative outcomes, impacting confidence, performance, and overall wellbeing.

While the pursuit of purpose is often considered a personal journey, its significance extends far beyond the individual. In today's society, where societal challenges abound, the need for purpose-driven action becomes ever more pressing. Nowhere is this more evident than in youth education and wellbeing.

Recent studies paint a troubling picture of the mental health landscape among young people, with rates of anxiety, depression, and school disengagement on the rise. Against this backdrop, traditional education models are increasingly inadequate in addressing the holistic needs of students.

Recognising this pressing need, the IMPACT Community Academy was borne, and a protype was approved by the IMPACT Board on the 25 March 2024. Initiatives like The Academy are emerging to fill the gap. By reframing education through a wellbeing lens, these programs aim to nurture the physical, emotional, and psychological health of students, preparing them for the complexities of adult life.

At the heart of this approach lies a fundamental belief: education is not merely about academic achievement but about equipping young people with the tools to thrive in an uncertain world. Through a curriculum focused on personal growth, resilience, and self-awareness, students are empowered to forge their own paths and pursue their passions.

The IMPACT Community Academy represents a bold step towards reimagining education as a vehicle for collective wellbeing. By fostering a supportive environment where every student's needs are met, regardless of background or circumstance, it seeks to disrupt the prevailing narrative of mental health stigma and exclusion.

While the road ahead is undoubtedly challenging, initiatives like these offer a glimmer of hope in an otherwise complex landscape. By prioritising purpose-driven education, we not only improve individual outcomes but also contribute to the broader goal of building a mentally wealthy society.

As we confront the myriad of challenges presented today, let us remember that the pursuit of purpose is not a luxury but a necessity. By investing in the wellbeing of our youth, we lay the foundation for a future defined not by despair, but by resilience, connection, and collective flourishing.

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses the crucial difference between reacting and responding in life’s pivotal moments and how it can affect the quality of our personal and professional relationships.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

Life’s journey is punctuated by moments that demand our attention and elicit our reactions. It is in these instances that the distinction between reacting and responding becomes clear. Though they may seem synonymous, the subtle differences between these two actions can significantly influence our interactions, relationships, and overall well-being.

Reacting is an instinctive action, a spontaneous response to stimuli without the luxury of pause for consideration of consequences or alternatives. It is the amygdala’s primal impulse, a survival instinct that operates on a hair-trigger, compelling us into immediate action. This response, fuelled by urgency, is reminiscent of our ancestors’ need to fight, flee, or freeze in the face of danger. So, in the unlikely event that a tiger is chasing you through Bourbong Street, you'll appreciate the instinctive nature of the amygdala's fight or flight response.

While our primal reactions remain unchanged, the context in which they are invoked has evolved. In the modern world, the amygdala’s reactions are often triggered by less life-threatening situations, but they can still lead to escalated tensions or regrettable outcomes. For example, when a driver cuts you off, the instinct to honk angrily or tailgate is a reflexive reaction driven by emotion.

In contrast, responding is a conscious choice, a deliberate action taken after a moment of mindfulness and self-awareness. It involves assessing the situation, recognising our emotions, and deciding on a thoughtful course of action. The prefrontal, responsible for higher order thinking and executive function, facilitates this process. It allows for rational analysis, decision-making, and emotional regulation.

Unlike the amygdala’s immediate reactions, the prefrontal cortex (also known as the CEO of the brain) encourages us to consider the broader context before acting. In the traffic scenario, responding would involve taking a deep breath, allowing the other driver to merge, and letting the event go quickly without expensing unnecessary energy thinking about it or sharing your version of the incident later with others. Simply, LET IT GO.

The interaction between the emotional (amygdala) and the ‘CEO’ brain (prefrontal cortex) highlights the fundamental difference between reacting and responding. Reacting is quick and instinctual, while responding is measured and thoughtful. Understanding this neural interplay illuminates the evolutionary role of reacting and the cognitive advancement of responding. While reacting may have been crucial for our ancestors’ survival, responding signifies the evolution of human adaptability and intelligence.

One of the most valuable pieces of advice I’ve received in my career is to ‘just sleep on it.’ Creating a buffer between an event and my response has consistently proven to be an effective strategy to avoid impulsive reactions that don’t reflect my true self. It allows me to show up in a purposeful, intentional way that moves towards achieving better outcomes, rather than succumbing to emotionally charged reactions that can obscure my genuine intentions.

As we navigate the complexities of modern life, each interaction presents an opportunity to put this wisdom into practice and unlock opportunities for personal development and growth. By embracing the art of response, grounded in mindfulness and self-awareness, we open ourselves to deeper connections, increased resilience, and greater awareness.

So, the next time you feel the urge to react in the heat of the moment, remember the power of pausing, reflecting, and allowing yourself the space to respond with clarity and compassion. In doing so, you not only honour your own authenticity but also nurture deeper connections and foster growth in yourself and those around you. Just sleep on it, and let your responses reflect your best self.

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses the profound impact and transformative power of not-for-profits (NFPs) and social enterprises in Australia, highlighting their significant contribution to the economy and society.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

As Managing Director at IMPACT Community Services and a dedicated advocate for community welfare and progress, I've had the privilege of serving on multiple boards dedicated to enhancing the fabric of Australian society. From the Queensland Alliance for Mental Health (QAMH) to Surf Life Saving Queensland (SLSQ), and as an ambassador for the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS), I've seen firsthand the transformative power of not-for-profits (NFPs) and social enterprises.

Australia is fortunate to have a vibrant ecosystem of NFPs and social enterprises tirelessly working towards addressing societal challenges and fostering positive change, generating $190 billion in revenue and employing 10.5% of the workforce, according to the Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC). This constitutes a substantial segment of Australia’s economy and community.

Working with NFPs and social enterprises provides a unique opportunity to align passion with purpose. Social enterprises, in particular, resonate with those seeking to create positive change while pursuing their professional endeavours, offering a chance to channel energy and talents toward lasting benefits for the community.

NFPs and social enterprises are often recognised for their inclusive and collaborative nature. Thriving on diversity of thought, expertise, and experience, these organisations cultivate a rich tapestry of ideas, driving innovation and effectiveness.

The sense of fulfilment from working in this sector is unparalleled. Every contribution, no matter how small, has the potential to make a profound difference in someone's life, whether it's providing vital support services, championing environmental sustainability, or promoting community resilience.

Beyond the satisfaction of knowing you're making a difference, there are opportunities for personal and professional growth. You'll gain invaluable experience, expand your network, and develop skills that are transferable across various industries.

So, to all the young people reading this, driven by a desire to make a meaningful impact, I say: ‘Get involved. Embrace the endless opportunities within the not-for-profits and social enterprises sector. Let your passion ignite change and your actions inspire others. Whether you're a budding entrepreneur, a skilled professional, or a passionate advocate, there's a place for you in this sector.’

And to established leaders and professionals, I urge you to mentor and support the next generation of changemakers. Share knowledge, experiences, and resources to empower them to lead with integrity and compassion, cultivating a new generation of leaders committed to a more just and sustainable future.

By engaging with NFPs and social enterprises, you become part of a larger movement—one driven by compassion, empathy, and a shared commitment to social justice. Together, we can tackle some of the most pressing issues facing our world today, from climate change to mental health stigma to the current cost of living crises, with courage, determination, and resilience. Together, we can create a world of which we can be proud, now and into the future.

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses the analogy of "muddy puddles and leaky ceilings," drawing inspiration from James Clear's concept and adding her own perspective. She illustrates how childhood experiences of jumping in muddy puddles can offer insights into problem-solving. While muddy puddles may clear up on their own if left alone, a leaky roof—symbolic of unresolved issues—will inevitably lead to escalating consequences if ignored.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

As the wife and mother of plumbers, I understand the issues that can be created when you ignore a leaky roof. So, when I recently came across the concept of ‘muddy puddles and leaky ceilings’ shared by James Clear, the renowned speaker and author of Atomic Habits, I couldn’t help but put my own twist on the idea.

During their childhood, my kids loved nothing more than jumping in puddles, embracing the playful splash of water and mud as it covered them from head to toe. Those puddles muddied up quickly, and the more that the kids jumped in and out of them, the muddier those puddles got – and the harder it was for me to get the mud out of their little threads! Yet, once the puddle was left alone, it would clear. Sometimes it took longer, but the reality with muddy puddles is that once you leave them alone, the mud will settle. And eventually, if it stops raining, the puddles dry out and green shoots of grass start to emerge.

In contrast, a leaky roof will always have consequences if left unchecked. The leak may go undetected for a while, until we see the water start to drip through the ceiling, we notice a puddle of water on the floor, or the paint starts to peel off the walls. Ignoring the leak will increase the impact, and potentially create a ripple effect that will damage other areas of the home.

When we think about the problems that we face, it can be helpful to consider them in terms of muddy puddles and a leaky roof.

Sometimes, I create problems in my mind. I worry about what might happen and lie awake working my way through the ‘what ifs’, ‘how could’ and ‘why nots’ to consider all the ways that I could mess with the problem to make it even ‘muddier’. The reality is that in most cases, these problems will settle once you stop overthinking, ruminating, or procrastinating about them.

So, before you jump into it, pause. Do something different – perhaps go for a walk, grab a coffee with a friend, read a book, or maybe even take a nap.  Do anything other than focusing on the problem to give it some time to clear. What you will usually find is that it will resolve on its own, which will provide space for new ideas or solutions to emerge. Remember, you can always jump into the puddle again if you think that you need to.

Conversely, leaving the leaky roof unchecked will bring heartache and usually has a cost associated with it. The longer you leave it, the more the damage and the bigger the cost. It could be widening the cracks in a relationship, repeating a pattern of unhelpful habits that are harmful to our physical or mental health, or it could be repeatedly spending more money than what we earn. Dealing with the leak early reduces the ripple effect and provides the best possible chance of a positive outcome.

So, the next time you're grappling with life’s challenges, ask yourself: is it just a muddy puddle that will clear up on its own, or is it a leaky roof demanding urgent attention? Understanding the difference may just save you a little time, a lot of stress, and prevent potential long-term or costly consequences.

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses the evolving portrayal of neurodiversity in mainstream media, highlighting both its strides towards inclusivity and the ongoing need for nuanced and respectful representations that move beyond stereotypes.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

Storytelling is as old as humanity itself. Throughout history, people have used stories to share knowledge, pass down traditions, and make sense of the world around them. From ancient cave paintings to epic poems and modern movies, storytelling has evolved but remains a fundamental part of human culture. It connects us, teaches us, and helps us understand our past while shaping our future.

In modern storytelling, neurodiversity has begun to emerge from the shadows, painting a more inclusive picture of human experience in mainstream media. This shift towards a broader representation is powerful in shaping public perception and impacting the lives of neurodivergent individuals.

Seeing people like yourself represented in narratives is important for several reasons. It validates one's identity and experiences, fostering a sense of belonging and acceptance. It helps individuals feel seen and understood, reducing feelings of isolation and alienation. Additionally, representation promotes empathy and understanding among diverse audiences, breaking down stereotypes and promoting inclusivity.

Consider the critically acclaimed TV show “Atypical,” which follows the life of Sam, a teenager on the autism spectrum. The show’s portrayal of Sam’s journey towards independence and self-discovery has resonated with many for its heartfelt and authentic depiction. It challenges the stereotype that autistic individuals lack the desire for social connections and personal growth.

At the same time however, the portrayal has faced criticism for oversimplifying and stereotyping autism. The character's obsession with Antarctica, awkward social interactions, and focus on romantic relationships reinforce common stereotypes about autism, failing to capture the diversity and complexity of the autism spectrum.

Similarly, the movie “Rain Man” introduced audiences to an autistic savant, forever changing the landscape of neurodiverse characters in film. While the character of Raymond Babbitt, played by Dustin Hoffman, was based on the real-life savant Kim Peek, it’s important to note that not all autistic individuals possess such extraordinary talents. This portrayal, while groundbreaking, inadvertently set a precedent for the ‘savant stereotype’ that many subsequent films have followed, while downplaying the diversity of experiences within the autism spectrum.

The impact of these representations is twofold. On one hand, they bring neurodiversity to the forefront, fostering empathy and understanding within the community. On the other, they risk reinforcing narrow stereotypes as being either tragic figures or inspirational heroes, rather than as multifaceted individuals with their own unique narratives.

As such, there is an ongoing need for nuanced and respectful portrayals that move beyond stereotypes and capture the full range of experiences within the neurodivergent community. It is essential for content creators to prioritise authenticity and diversity in their portrayals of neurodivergent characters.

Moving forward, the hope is that neurodiversity in media will continue to evolve, reflecting the rich spectrum of human experience. By doing so, it can dismantle harmful stereotypes and empower neurodivergent individuals, allowing them to see themselves not just as characters on a screen, but as protagonists in their own stories.

Please note: This website may contain references to, or feature images, videos, and voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have passed away.

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