Ruby Riethmuller’s (2015) ground-breaking social enterprise Womn-Kind is a female-led youth mental health organisation, which is on a mission to close the gap in effective mental health education and support for Australian girls. At Womn-Kind, the goal is to empower and uplift the upcoming generation of future female leaders and ensure they have access to the right support at the right time—all the time.
Despite ongoing research and hundreds of millions of dollars being spent within Australia’s mental health system over the past decade, rates of mental illness have not decreased. ‘We have a moral, social and economic responsibility to ensure that the sheer volume of young people who are struggling with mental health concerns is matched with access to the right help at the right time,’ says Ruby.
The Womn-Kind Instagram page and brand is a beautiful platform of inclusivity, encouragement, support and love, where girls are encouraged to recognise their potential through finding comfort in their own skin. At Womn-Kind, every girl’s individuality and unique qualities are welcomed and valued. ‘Very ironically, as a generation we feel isolated from each other by the very feelings and experiences we have in common. The experience of feeling the need to conform is one we know all too well while at school but as a progressive group of bright minds, let’s as a school community think outside the square when it comes to our values, ambitions, and hopes for the future. We excel when on our own path and there is a lot to be gained from embracing all the weird and wonderful things that make us who we are. To feel loved and as though you belong completely as you are, is one of the greatest foundations of wellbeing,’ Ruby says.
The landscape of mental health and the stigma around seeking support is slowly beginning to shift, which is why Womn-Kind has gained so much traction among young people. Ruby and her team focus on creating resources and support services that respond to the ever-evolving needs and challenges of adolescent girls in the twenty-first century. The Womn-Kind team believes in a wellbeing approach at schools that is geared around a holistic and preventative framework where girls engage in mental health conversations and activities, regardless of the presence or absence of mental illness. ‘Just like our physical health can always be improved, so can our mental health and we see dramatic changes in mindset, functioning, focus and so many other things when we are incorporating wellbeing into our daily routines,’ says Ruby. ‘Optimising your mental health as a young person really helps when it comes to thriving socially, academically, physically and personally but also puts you in good stead for navigating the journey of life after graduating.’
Ruby believes that the language around mental health and wellbeing plays an important role when it comes to combating the mental health crisis that Australia’s youth are currently facing. ‘Often the terms mental illness and mental health are used interchangeably, which poses problems for girls who are attempting to make sense of their own mental health and gain the courage it often takes to speak out about their challenges. We can all play a big role in making the experience of reaching out for support less daunting by simply communicating our emotions and feelings more openly in the home environment, at school and in social settings.’
Young women can find themselves feeling overwhelmed when trying to make sense of poor mental health given the lack of genuine conversation around mental health issues within society, especially eating disorders, or when they are labelled as ‘a phase’ or ‘contagious’, which is sadly at the crux of the problem. As soon as a stigmatising label is attached to mental illnesses or it is positioned within school systems as something to be feared, girls opt to suffer in silence to avoid the perceived ramifications of speaking out.
Global statistics show that the number of young people struggling with a mental illness continue to rise at insurmountable rates. ‘The same problems that existed 30 years ago still occur in every school, with an estimated 60% of adolescent females struggling with psychological distress,’ says Ruby. That is in a classroom of 25 girls, 15 are battling a mental illness—whether it be known to anyone or not. The approach taken over the last few decades continues to fail many young people and we believe that an innovative approach is long overdue.’
Ruby recently won the inaugural Buy From the Bush and PayPal Big Break competition where she pitched the idea of the Womn-Kind app. The $30,000 prize money has gone towards funding the first stage of the app development, and the app is now scheduled to launch as soon as July 2022. To stay up to date with everything happening at Womn-Kind or support their mission, join the @womnkind Instagram community.
‘In every corner of the world, a girl can’t reach or recognise her potential without a balanced state of mind and the support of people cheering her on for who she is. It’s not a revolutionary concept, just one of kindness, camaraderie and self-belief. As they say, it takes a village to raise a child, and for many girls and their parents, that village is becoming Womn-Kind,’ says Ruby.
Ruby is an admirable example of a young person who has turned her passion into purpose through utilising technology to create a viable business and online community—both that have social consciousness at their core—and we are excited to watch Womn-Kind grow.
Holly Marsh (Jarvis 1990)