Red for Ruby

21 September 2010

Written by: Jean Kemshal-Bell

Red clothing is a staple in my wardrobe and lucky for me that it is. Today  I will be attending Red for Ruby – a public event, or rather awareness campaign, born on social networking site Facebook.

At the outset, Red for Ruby is a Facebook event, which – for those who are unfamiliar with the site – is a mass invitation to a birthday, barbeque, bar mitzvah, or any other guest-worthy occasion.

Inspired by a girl called Ruby who has been plagued by mental illness from a young age, 21-year-old Amy Nicholls-Diver created the event to raise awareness about youths affected by mental health problems.

Ruby suffers from borderline personality disorder, which Amy says, ‘results in a lot of risk-taking activities, like drinking, drugs, self-harm, and most significantly suicide attempts.’

September 24 is Ruby’s 18th birthday. To support Ruby and youths everywhere suffering from mental illness Amy has made one simple request: wear red on Ruby’s special day.

Red, according to Amy, is a strong and passionate colour, ‘the colour of love’.

‘It’s also a popular colour,’ she details of her choice, ‘and I wanted to do something that would appeal to the largest number of people.  While not everyone wears red regularly, when you do wear it, it stands out. I wanted to create this visual display of support.’

Amy, a student at Monash University, knows Ruby personally and says while her love for Ruby kick-started this event, her motivation was to expose the inadequacies of mental health treatment in Australia.

‘[Ruby] had to be admitted to an adult public mental health facility. She is only 17, and was forced to spend recovery time in an environment that was really not appropriate,’ says Amy.

‘I am not laying blame on the practitioners, but on the various forms of government that consistently under-fund mental health treatment. Australian Medical Association president Dr Andrew Pesce said that the 2010 budget “failed to deliver on the expectations that people working in that part of the sector really have been working on”.’

Government entities are not the only ones who are outmoded. Nowadays, in a highly educated society where new digital technologies allow easy access to all sorts of information, there is still a stigma attached to mental illness. Amy mentions (on the Red for Ruby event page) that the topic remains ‘taboo’. I ask her why.

 ‘People tend to focus on the symptoms rather than the underlying cause,’ she explains, ‘If someone you know takes money from your purse, or takes illegal drugs, you tend to focus on the impact on you, not the reason that behaviour is happening. Other illnesses have physical symptoms that outsiders can see and relate to, mental illness rarely does, and this influences people’s perceptions.’

Amy believes Red for Ruby can change that environment and make it ‘ok’ for topics like depression to be discussed. She asks me to consider this:

‘Imagine you are depressed, and feel alone in the world. No one talks about depression, and you don’t know how common it is, and how nearly everyone has been touched by it. And then someone reaches out and says “I know how you feel, and I want to help”.

‘Wearing red on 24 September is the equivalent to reaching out to those you might not even know. All the people who have come across Red for Ruby via Facebook have been touched by the generosity of those willing to represent their feelings in the form of wearing red.’

Evidently, social media has been integral to the event’s success.

Michelle Blanchard, senior research officer for the Inspire Foundation – a non-profit organisation devoted to improving the mental health and wellbeing of young Australians – believes social media is where young people are, and that is exactly where mental health organisations need to be.

‘Ninety per cent of 12 to17 year olds and 97 per cent of 18 to 25 year olds use social networking sites. It’s a critical part of their day to day experience,’ she explains, ‘With over a quarter of young Australians experiencing a mental health difficulty, it’s crucial that health care professionals understand this online environment and how it can be leveraged to benefit young people’s wellbeing.’

Amy is thrilled with the response her event has received. The ‘attending’ list is now more than 70,000 and thousands more have consciously visited the page, either to decline the invitation or to simply investigate its discernible popularity: ‘it has just snowballed spectacularly’.

Each glimpse at the Red for Ruby page has the ability to spread Amy’s message, even slightly. Amy says ‘the spread of this message is my gift to Ruby’.

Red for Ruby is today. To find out more visit the event’s Facebook page.

Jessica Buccolieri is a Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University.