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Talking Mental Health With Illawarra’s Top Models

Mental health has in recent years enjoyed a rise in awareness in Australia due to increased public discussion. Despite this there’s still a stigma surrounding those who suffer from mental illnesses.

That’s where the Illawarra’s Top Model comes in. Now in its second year, the event is part modelling competition and part fundraiser for the Highlights on Mental Health Campaign, raising funds for the mental health support charity the Light and Hope Clubhouse.

The heats for this year’s show kicked off last Saturday 3rd September with speeches from campaign director, Robyn David te Velde as well as from Wollongong’s trilby wearing Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbury.

The Lord Mayor rocking a black jacket and trilby hat combo
Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbury rocking a black jacket and trilby combo.

By the end of Saturday’s heats, there were 11 semi-finalists; Prue Marning, Bree Millar, Sam McGlone, Akira Groben-Rockley, Carmen Williams, Amber Larkin, Shania Montero, Chloe Ryan, Milla Byrne, Brooke Eager and Amalia Tavernese.

Speaking to participants Akira Groben-Rockley and Gianna Cheung, the models revealed what they thought about mental illness.

“The first thing that comes to my mind is strength,” Akira Groben-Rockley said.

“Because no one knows just how hard it can be for an individual to go about life, doing what they have to when sometimes waking up feels like a marathon. It takes so much grit and determination to continue life when you have a mental health issue.”

Like many others, Akira has battled mental illness herself
Akira was one of the first semi-finalists this year

Akira’s words testify to the strength of those battling mental illness, while also serving as a reminder that many people lose that battle. Akira compared fighting mental illness to “a dancer twisting their ankle on stage and finishing the performance with a smile. Its hard and its incredible.”

Growing up among people grappling with depression and anxiety, Gianna Cheung personally understands how heart-breaking mental illness can be. She says that “Youth” is the first thing she thinks of when she thinks of mental health.

“Mental health issues can affect absolutely anyone any time anywhere, but it is most prevalent in youth,” said Gianna Cheung.

Illawarra’s Top Model participant Gianna Cheung

The words of both Akira and Gianna reflect on the national statistics on youth mental health. Young people are some of the most affected by depression and anxiety related disorders. According to BeyondBlue, more than one in sixteen Australians (between 16 and 24 years old) are experiencing depression right now, one in four are struggling with a mental health condition, and more young adults in Australia die from suicide each year than from car accidents.

“Mental health issues can be caused a culmination of numerous reasons,” Gianna adds.

“But at such an early stage [in their life], youth are not as well equipped to fight against it.”

Both models also acknowledged that unfortunately there is still more work to be done concerning mental health, especially around raising awareness and de-stigmatizing mental health conditions.

“In terms

of de-stigmatizing mental health there is always more work to be done,” Akira says.

“However this is a very big and positive step in the right direction for mental health awareness. And even if not every one understands it, I think it’d be incredibly wonderful for anyone in the audience who might be suffering to look up and see 60 odd young people willing to put themselves in the limelight and proudly say ‘I support mental health!’.”

Gianna said that the other word that comes to mind when thinking of mental health is “understanding”.

“There is so much stigma surrounding mental health,”Gianna said.

“Unfortunately mental health is so individual and so personal, a lack of understanding can so easily make it worse. It is such a vicious cycle.”

Both girls had one final message to those battling mental illness.

“Please, just seek help and give yourself time to heal. You are human and like every human, you are flawed, but that’s okay, because we don’t need to fix our flaws,” said Akira.
“Don’t give up!” implored Gianna.

“You are much more stronger than you think! You’re trying to live your life while battling an invisible illness everyday- that taks strength! That’s hardcore! Continue to care and be kind and to love even if it feels unappreciated. Whether it is direct or indirect, a little bit of kindness can go a long way.”

If you wish to find out more about the charity behind the Illawarra’s Top Model, be sure to visit the Illawarra Light and Hope Foundation. Tickets are still available for the finals on October 8th at Novotel Northbeach.