Sarah's in the right headspace
Sarah Alliston has relished the opportunity to apply her studies in any way she can for the benefit of others.
Less than 12 months after completing her degree in Social Sciences, Sarah Alliston has received a 2009 Dr Margaret Tobin Award for Excellence in Mental Health.
Named after the late Dr Tobin, former Head of Mental Health Services in South Australia, the awards recognise excellence by mental health practitioners, educators, volunteers and others.
Ms Alliston won the Consumer/Carer/Volunteer Award "for a person who has made an outstanding contribution to improvements for people with, or at risk of developing, a mental illness".
The 23-year-old -- whose Social Sciences degree included a double major in Psychology and Gender, Work and Social Inquiry -- has played a key role as a volunteer for 'headspace', a national organisation that provides mental and health wellbeing support, information and services to young people and their families.
Since 2007, Ms Alliston has been an active member of the Youth National Reference Group for 'headspace', helping to contribute to policy, marketing and community awareness activities.
"Sarah has been invaluable to the Youth National Reference Group. She's always willing to put her hand up and participate above and beyond what would normally be required," said Health Promotion Officer with 'headspace', Sarah Shiell.
"She has contributed to our national campaigns and the development of fact sheets, she's had a fair amount of input into policy, and she initiated a major project called Expressions. She put a lot of work into that project and it has been extremely successful, with great feedback from around Australia," Ms Shiell said.
The Expressions project gathered stories, artwork and poems created by young people, giving them a chance to express themselves about mental health issues. As well as some of these items being available on the 'headspace' website, an Expressions publication has been produced and distributed nationally.
"It has provided an end resource for young people to access so they can learn about other people's experiences and not feel as alone in what they are going through," Ms Alliston said.
"One in four young people will experience mental health problems in any 12-month period, so it's really important for us to show them that there is help and support available."
Ms Alliston said her studies at the University of Adelaide had been useful to her roles outside of the University.
"I really enjoyed the health focus of my studies, which came through in Health Psychology, and I really enjoyed the focus on young people that came through in the Social Sciences subjects.
"Because of what I'd learned, it helped me with my volunteering roles and put them into a better context."
Ms Alliston is now helping to shape the future of young people's participation in mental health policy and promotion for 'headspace'.
"The experience with 'headspace' taught me that young people and organisations really can work together. It was an excellent example of how the target audience of the service could be involved in the development of that service," she said.
"Headspace was also really keen to build our skills so that it wasn't just about them utilising us, it was a two-way exchange. They were building us for future roles."
To learn more about 'headspace', visit: www.headspace.org.au
STORY DAVID ELLIS