A young Griffith resident is calling for immediate improvements to how youth mental health is handled in the Riverina, following a string of teenage deaths in the region.
At 21 years old, Jessie Lewis has sent a letter to NSW Mental Health Minister Bronnie Taylor, demanding she recognise the lack of adequate mental health services for young people and the devastating impact this has had on families in the area.
Miss Lewis said she was motivated to write the letter after realising how little the situation had changed since she herself was 15 and struggling with depression and anxiety in Griffith.
"I've been through it all and I know how much of a struggle it was for me here and while there have been some changes it feels like everything is mostly the same," she said.
A lot of young people are struggling and it feels like the longer it goes on the worse it gets.- Jessie Lewis
"You see so many people saying 'we need more mental health beds' but what we really need is more services to stop young people from needing those beds in the first place."
In her letter to the minister, Miss Lewis calls on Mrs Taylor to implement strategies which will allow young people to receive support before they reach the point of self-harm and suicide, such as more support groups and places to talk openly about mental health.
"In no way am I trained in mental health," she wrote. "But I have experienced it enough to know how shocking our facilities in Griffith are."
Speaking to The Area News, Miss Lewis highlighted services like the Safe Haven Cafe in Broken Hill as something which could have a real impact for local youth.
"Funding is obviously important but it's not as simple as just throwing money at the current services," Miss Lewis said.
"I'd love for Bronnie Taylor to come down here to the Murray and see exactly what it is we've got here."
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Since sending her letter, Miss Lewis has had dozens of fellow young people reach out to her through social media, telling her they have also experienced similar situations.
She said these messages have strengthened her resolve and shown her just how necessary it is that this issue is addressed.
"A lot of young people are struggling and it feels like the longer it goes on the worse it gets."
Miss Lewis said it was important for young people to have a voice in the discussion - as they are the ones who are experiencing the problem first-hand.
Miss Lewis has not yet received an official response from Mrs Taylor.
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