2022 marks the 10th anniversary of Smiling Mind.
We have experienced such significant social, technological and political change in the years since Smiling Mind was established that it’s hard to believe that, when the idea for Smiling Mind was hatched back in 2012, Uber didn’t exist in Australia. ‘Apps’ as we think of them today were a relatively new phenomenon and meditation apps were an entrepreneur's dream. Mental health awareness was squarely focused on anxiety and depression and the stigma surrounding these illnesses.
Establishing a not-for-profit organisation leading with technology and mindfulness and aimed at equipping future generations with mental health skills to set them up for life was pretty out there. Even some of our early supporters thought this idea was risky, whacky and in some cases ridiculous. Yet through their passion and personal conviction, our two co-founders, Jane Martino and James Tutton, convinced them to back Smiling Mind.
And it paid off…
Smiling Mind has achieved some remarkable things in the past 10 years, but the unique way our programs impact individuals and families at a deeply personal level is what drives me and it’s these stories that stay with me.
In my early years with Smiling Mind, I was speaking at a workplace wellbeing event in Sydney. I didn’t think the audience was particularly engaged and was surprised when, at the end of the panel discussion, a young man found me and simply said, “Thank you”. I asked him why, and his answer was one I will never forget. He said, “Thank you for saving my life.” Digging deeper into his story he explained that a year prior he had been lost, depressed and contemplating ending his life. Through his workplace he had been introduced to Smiling Mind and started working through our programs. This experience changed his life – his outlook, his ability to understand his emotions and his capacity to connect with others. He felt that finding Smiling Mind had saved his life.
It has been my privilege to hear so many of these stories during my time leading Smiling Mind and they have come from many different places. The mum who reached out to thank us for helping her children get a good night's sleep; the teacher who has witnessed the transformation of his class with less behavioural issues and less bullying; the young boy who sent us his pocket money because he loved Smiling Mind so much and wanted to support us; the elders out on APY lands who have been using Smiling Mind to support their community healing; and the refugee communities who have learnt how to breathe and savour their experiences after untold trauma.
Every one of these stories will stay with me, and the knowledge that there are millions of stories that I will never hear is humbling. For each person their experiences are real, and they are life changing.
This is the power of combining proven clinical strategies with technology.
In our 10 years of operation, Smiling Mind has reached more than 9 million children and young people through our programs. We have been able to respond to crises in record time and meet people where they are, and where they need us. The pandemic has reinforced the importance of accessibility and fired our passion to leverage technology to break down barriers and bring mental health skills to as many people as possible.
I wish I could say that our work has solved the mental health crisis but there is still much work to do.
We mark our 10-year milestone in a year in which mental health is being discussed on an unprecedented level. We have all experienced numerous challenges in recent years – from bushfires, pandemic, and now floods as well as a war in Europe – our mental health has never been more under pressure and coping in a world with this level of challenge is hugely difficult. Looking ahead, we need to see significant change in order to stem the mental health impacts and see thriving communities. How can we support our communities to navigate these challenges?
Smiling Mind is focused on supporting this change over the next 10 years - we want to see generational change in mental health by equipping Australian children with the mental health skills they need to feel able to cope with these challenges and be resilient, in this complex world - and not just cope, but thrive. This means doing things differently - supporting a generation to proactively take steps to build mental health skills, not wait until they are at crisis point to seek help.
Smiling Mind can put the tools, strategies and knowledge into the hands, and minds, of the next generation and act as vocal advocates for mental health promotion and prevention at a national scale.
We have never been afraid of taking big, bold and possibly outright audacious goals head-on, and the next 10 years will be no different.
But we can’t do it alone - so thank you to all our amazing supporters through the years, and to all those new partners out there we can’t wait to work with you!
With your help, we can create generational change in mental health.