STAWELL woman Lauren Dempsey is encouraging Wimmera residents to reach out in times of need.
The mental health advocate said everyone could do their part in helping raise awareness of mental health in the community.
"The community is part of the bigger picture and we can all work together to break the stigma of mental health," she said.
"It's important to be open and honest, and have those conversations with people to ask them how they're doing. It's great to see that people are trying to do their part."
Ms Dempsey didn't recognise the signs of her own mental health concerns in high school.
"I was really naive and it wasn't really spoken about as much when I was in high school compared to what it is now," she said.
"I still sought help when I was in high school and talked to the school counsellors, but the possibility of having a mental illness wasn't something I thought about until later on."
After experiencing a relationship breakdown during her first year of university, Ms Dempsey decided to reach out to her mum.
"I was struggling. I told my mum that I was feeling down all the time, and she said that we'd go to our family doctor and tell him that," she said.
"I wouldn't have known what to do or where to go. It was the first time I was exposed to the idea of having a mental health plan and going to see a psychologist. To be able to talk about it with somebody was really good.
"I've definitely had my ups and downs. It's been a real mental health journey."
Ms Dempsey was later diagnosed with depression and anxiety.
Since then, she has become an advocate for mental health in the Wimmera.
"When I moved away from Geelong to Stawell six or seven years ago, I was away from my family and support systems. I was really quite down and didn't know what to do," she said.
"I wanted people to ask me about it and ask if I was okay. My advocacy started because I wanted to do for other people what I wanted other people to do for me.
"One of the reasons I wanted to move to the area was to have a sense of community and belonging."
After writing about her own journey, Ms Dempsey created a website called Trek to Happinessand asked others to share their experiences.
"Everyone has a story to tell. I wanted a platform where those stories could be shared more broadly. Hopefully, when I have some time, I can expand on it more," she said.
In 2015 she participated in the Bhutan Trek to Happiness through the Himalayas with an aim to raise money for mental health.
"The big start of my advocacy was the trek for sure. That took months of preparation and work, but it was so worth it in the end," she said.
Ms Dempsey raised more than $12,000 on her journey, with $5500 going to the Black Dog Institute.
The Black Dog Institute is a not-for-profit organisation and world leader in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder.
In April she took on Mt Kosciuszko, raising money for the R U OK? organisation.
Through her work as a health promotion officer at Grampians Pyrenees Primary Care Partnership and advocate for the Ararat Suicide Prevention Awareness Group, Ms Dempsey has helped organise R U OK? Day events in Ararat for several years.
"This year we're working with local businesses and service groups to promote what the day is about. They will have merchandise for sale and resources available, as well as donation tins," she said.
"Money raised will go to the Ararat Suicide Prevention Awareness Group to assist with training for mental health first aid and other training. It will be dependent on what the community needs."
She said it was important that people reiterated the message of R U OK? Day throughout the year.
"That's what we really try to promote: that this day is just a reminder," she said.
Ms Dempsey said her journey was not over and she still sought help when she needed it.
"When I know I'm not okay, I can recognise the signs and symptoms. It's about finding what best works for you - one size doesn't fit all," she said.
The Ararat R U OK? Day event will be at Barkly Street, Ararat on Thursday between 11am and 2pm.
- If you, or someone you know needs support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Help on 1800 55 1800 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.
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