ALLY KELLY

Chief Executive Office and Founder of Mind Blank

Ally Kelly is the CEO & Founder of Mind Blank Ltd.  For years she has been a grass roots social advocate and a firm believer in early intervention.  She has led the charity through seven years of service, for which her efforts were recognised in winning the 2017 Mental Health Matters Award for Mental Health Promotion.

Ally is an experienced senior manager in the non-profit sector. Previously, her roles outside of Mind Blank included work in the social services supporting marginalised community members and outreach services support to rough sleepers.

In 2018 she is due to complete her Masters in Humanitarian studies. She believes that early prevention offers the greatest hope for intervention recovery and therefore takes every opportunity to educate the community to recognise the early signs of mental illness, without stigmatising or discriminating.

Could you tell us a bit about Mind Blank and how it began?
My first memory of mental health in the family was from the age of 6 when I became a carer for my mother who has been suicidal several times in her life. Her pain comes from a childhood trauma history. My earliest memory of her struggle, I remember going into a dark room with the blinds pulled shut. It’s hard-hitting seeing someone you look up to, a caretaker, your idol in the world, give up and not be able to utter one positive sentence, one positive reason for wanting to keep living. My family's attitude toward this scenario varied. My dad felt pretty helpless and therefore learned to ignore her episodes. My brother removed himself from the scene. I looked at her and I empathised. I have memories of crawling into her bed and simply crying with her as I had no idea how else to help. It was common in my family that her wellbeing needs always came first. I grew up empathising with her, but her traumas were so strong that often I lost my voice.

Why did you choose theatre and performance as a method of raising awareness and education on mental health?
The idea of Mind Blank came from a combined passion of the arts and psychology. University was a natural pathway for my Brother and I, however for me I found it hard to decide on a clear career pathway. Therefore I did what felt natural to me, which was to find a University where I could pursue a double degree in both Creative Arts Performance and Psychology. One of my uni friends Melissa Abu-Gazaleh CEO of The Top Blokes Foundation had started her business at 19. I remember at the time being inspired by a like-minded doer. Seeing her always featured in the newspaper pushed my own passions to keep searching for my own WHY in life. It wasn’t until my third year at University that the light bulb of Mind Blank came about. I was attending skills based acting class and my lecturer at the time taught a session on forum theatre. I had been so fascinated to learn about a theatre form to provoke change. Instantly I made connections about how I could apply this to my studies.

Why is mental health awareness and education so important to you?
“Every 3hrs in Australia more than one person takes their life by way of suicide (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2016), and 15 more 12-17year olds make an attempt (Orygen, 2017)”.

What would be your number one piece of advice for a young person looking to focus on mental wellness?
A year 5 student gave us this feedback after one of our shows. I feel like they are spot on with this reflection: "if you are having a hard time, don't just keep all the pain and distress to yourself".

How would you suggest a parent approach mental health and teaching methods of mental wellness with their children?
I would recommend that parents get curious about questioning what is mental health and reflect on what positive habits they can pass on. These days there is an abundance of tools and resources available online to teach the general public about mental wellness. Some examples of parenting resources are https://parents.au.reachout.com/ and http://parentsguide.beyondblue.org.au/.

My ideal utopia for parents and community members would be to equip them with the following skills:
1. Know the signs and symptoms to look out for to help identify mental ill health.
2. Get familiar with local services and school support systems to know where a child can seek help.
3. Learn how to support someone in a time of need.

Some training and skills resource that I have come across that are available to the community to upskill in these areas are:

For more information on where to seek help https://www.mindblank.org.au/help-information/.

When you were growing up, was there any education around maintaining mental health or much discussion around caring for your own mental wellbeing?
Things have changed a lot since I was at school.  I graduated from year 12 in 2004. This was the first year I got a mobile phone. The internet was certainly around however we did not have 24hrs access to it the way we do now. I believe that caring for our mental health is a higher priority now, both in school and outside of school. It’s because of things like technology access increasing so rapidly that we now have the world of limitless possibilities at the touch of a button. This has increased the need to set personal boundaries up, as well as priorities healthy habits such as time away from screens to support harmony in our lifestyles.  I actually went into my old high school the other day. I found out they now have a social worker, welfare executive team and a school counsellor on staff.  These roles are created with the number 1 priority being student wellbeing and support. From memory, we had one school counsellor back in the day to fill this position.  I cannot distinctly recall any specific programs addressing mental health and wellbeing. I feel like maybe we addressed some things in PE? Nothing much rings a bell. Typically though I do remember the professors in lab coats coming in trying to talk to us about brain chemistry, this was never really an engaging method of learning.

What are your top three stress busters when life gets busy? 
1. Remember to still prioritise what gives you joy, no matter how busy you get.
2. I keep a pair of joggers around just in case I get swamped in the office. I like to make a habit to get at least 20-30mins walking in to unwind from a busy schedule. They are there for days where I miss a gym class or notice that I haven’t yet seen the daylight.
3. Schedule 'me' time. I am currently fascinated by various flavours of bath bombs and scented candles.

Want to find out more or contact Ally? Head to her website and social media pages.