Young CEO challenges mental health and age discrimination

  • Date: 17 April 2018
  • Category: News
MattHarman Image

Pictured Peter Burns (left), Chief Executive, and Matt Harman (right)

It is estimated that there are just over one million children in Australia where at least one parent has a mental illness*, which often leaves young carers feeling angry, confused and alone. Matt Harman is passionate about this issue and wants to do something about it.

Last Friday 13 April, Matt took a break from his duties as a School Programs Leader at Casey RACE and stepped into the role of CEO for YMCA Victoria. Matt was one of several young people in Australia that were selected to take on the challenge of being CEO for a Day during Youth Week.

This was Matt’s opportunity to learn about the organisation, get involved in strategic planning and discuss his ideas on how to help young people that care for a parent with mental health issues.

“We are looking to create and develop a support program where young people who look after a parent with a mental illness can de-stress, learn and grow,” explained Matt.

“It was inspirational hearing from Peter and I learnt a lot from him. Our chat was about connecting me with the right people and pointing me in the right direction in order to achieve my goal.”

Following his morning coffee with Peter, Matt attended a series of meetings with various senior leaders that gave him insight into youth governance, strategic planning and programming, which touched on several subjects including age discrimination.

“One of my favourite parts of the day was hearing about how the organisation plans to integrate young people into leadership roles and bridge the gap between younger and older staff members,” said Matt.

Apart from gaining insight into the daily life of a CEO, Matt was also invited to voice his concerns and give his recommendations. Sandra Tay, who is a Project Officer for the Young People Strategic Development Team, said that after her meeting with Matt YMCA will continue to use Matt’s expertise as a young staff member.

“Matt is a great representative for our young centre staff. I look forward to working with him to help connect better with our young staff on the ground and bring to life our belief in the power of inspired young people,” said Sandra.

However, the most surprising part of the day for Matt was how he felt when the day came to an end.

“The experience has made me realise that I am a part of a bigger picture and will be going back to Casey as a YMCA advocate. I believe I am wiser and better equipped to deal with a variety of situations,” explains Matt.

Matt describes himself as an introvert and said that this experience made him step out of his comfort zone – but in a good way.

“I encourage all young people to apply next year. You’d be crazy not to give this opportunity a go!”


*Maybery D, Reupert A, et al. (2005) VicHealth Research Report on Children at Risk in Families affected by Parental Mental Illness. Melbourne, Victorian Health Promotion Foundation.