The Ballarat Mental Health Collective has been exceptionally busy for October's Mental Health Month, despite restrictions ending face-to-face events pushing almost everything online.
But one way they're hoping to start offline conversations is with a new initiative, to literally brighten everyone's day.
The collective, made up for mental health specialists and support agencies, is urging people to wear bright colours and perform an act of kindness on Wednesday, October 13, aiming to bring a smile to a city exhausted by multiple lockdowns.
Catholicare's family mental health support services case manager Kelsey Ford said she hoped it would start conversations.
"It's not making a big song and dance around mental health or mindfulness or that type of thing, it's become natural to say 'hi, how are you, and how are you really going?'" she said.
"It's that extra sentence, 'are you really okay?' - I'm noticing that more, and people do it to me as well.
"It's really checking in, and people are there if you need them, it's fantastic to see."
She encouraged people to share acts of kindness online, and especially photos of themselves in their brightest outfits, with the hashtag #BrightenUpBallarat.
Each year, the network holds an art exhibition featuring works by people with a lived experience of mental illness, carers, and family members - previous years have been in-person, but last year the exhibition moved online, reaching a much broader audience.
This year, 27 artists entered 62 works, with most up for sale to help support the artists themselves.
Holly Would is an art teacher who helps others with a mental illness - she said her works were a response to her brother's suicide.
"I didn't know what to do at the time, so to be able to make artwork and have this outlet to express yourself so freely really helped me navigate grief," she said.
"Art has always been a really big part of my life, and I didn't realise how healing it was for me, it was a coping strategy.
"Now I'm fortunate to get to share that with other people - community services these days really value lived experience, and I think that's really helpful for the industry, that they can identify with me as well who is someone that does have these diagnoses, but I'm still getting along in life, it doesn't have to be debilitating."
Another artist, David Holdaway, entered his paintings for the fourth year in a row, and said the exhibition was motivating and helped him express himself.
"It's something I look forward to, and I feel a kinship with the other artists," he said.
"To me, you've got to be a little bit crazy to be an artist, you're putting your heart out there for the world to see.
"It's like a legacy to me, and when I leave, I'll have a wealth of creative material - art is just one aspect."
Organiser Paul Hartwood said there will be plenty of other online content posted throughout October, as well as celebrating the artists in the exhibition.
He said the past 18 months has brought "new challenges" for everyone, but particularly those living with a mental illness.
"I see people becoming increasingly stressed, but as a whole I do see something positive, people who suffer from mental health challenges before COVID have been showing an incredible strength and resilience through this time," he said.
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"They have suffered immeasurable traumas in their past, stuff that you and I might not ever know about, and it's just a strength - we need to hold onto that.
"People are no doubt struggling, but people are getting on with it - I don't know if it's testament to the kind of camaraderie in Australia, or if it's that people who've suffered a traumatic past build an inner strength."
The collective hopes to return to in-person events next October with an expo day at Lake Esmond.
If you or someone you know is in need of crisis support, phone Lifeline 13 11 14.
Help is also available, but not limited, via the following organisations. The key message is you are not alone.
- Ballarat Mental Health Services: 5320 4100 or after hours on 1300 247 647
- Beyond Blue 1300 224 636 or beyondblue.org.au
- headspace Ballarat (for 12-25s and parent support): 5304 4777
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