PEOPLE: 84% of girls rate their self-belief and self-love below a 5/10 – Milly Bannister’s mission to change the stats

Milly Bannister is the the Founder & Director of GRLKND, a non-profit organisation connecting young women to mental health resources.

GRLKND is an organisation build by and for women. With the purpose of advancing self-belief and kindness in high-school leaving and college-aged women, its self-development curriculum and online support community is backed by a board of female experts and psychologists.

The GRLKND App (free) supports a daily check-in experience to help users get to know themselves better and feel supported, and a ‘help me hub’ for instant access to mental health resources and crisis lines.

In this interview, Milly reflected on GRLKND’s journey so far, and why she wants to “represent and empower women to not only know they matter, but to chase and create realities they desire.”

  • What instigated you to build GRLKND? 

In the United States, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people aged 15–24 (10.6%). In Australia, suicide is the leading cause of death among people aged 15–24 (35%). These stats are terrifying. They indicate that, now, unlike ever before, young people are faced with a critical amount of risks to mental health. Traditional education may not effectively cover these areas of self-development in a relatable, accessible way. It’s only with judgement-free, peer-educational space and support that I was able to understand what mental health meant and why it mattered. Being able to label things and have your emotions and feelings validated is crucially important for young people. That’s exactly why GRLKND exists. Feeling supported is something every human deserves.

  • What was the original ambition for GRLKND and how has that evolved over time? 

Great question – it’s quite enjoyable (and a little cringe) to look back at what GRLKND looked like a couple of years ago during its conception in 2018. Originally, I wanted it to be an online program that facilitated a young woman’s journey towards self-love, kindness and confidence. Now the extensive ’online program’ that was written in co-ordination with our board of experts, exists on our site, socials and free App as a series of videos and worksheets. I guess the high-level evolution is pretty visible in the way we transitioned from a self-development program to a mental-health focused non-profit organisation.

  • Have you been surprised by the response to GRLKND? Why or why not? 

Initially I had a little bit of imposter syndrome – expecting the worst for my little concept I cooked up in my brain as a young, inexperienced businesswoman. The more I spoke about the idea and workshopped it and brought the pitch to industry-leading female experts, who helped shape what we are today, the more I realised how much young people need this space. Then of course the feedback we received from in-person workshops, social media, the podcast from our target demographic was beyond anything I could have ever expected. For me, supporting even just one person a day is a success.

  • In your view, what do you think are the biggest reasons for why 84% of girls rate their self-belief and self-love below a 5/10? 

I don’t think there’s a single, uncomplicated answer for that. It’s a whole barrage of events and circumstances culminating into a high-pressure, virtual, relentless monster that hangs heavy on the back of all of us, so heavier than others. This generation, that I’m a part of, (our target demo of female-identifying 15-25 year olds) grew up online. Traditional education, the more clinical psychologists, therapists, books and even our parents cannot actually comprehend what that’s like since they never experienced it.

I think it’s important for us to remember that yes, it’s possible for us to understand that the expectations we see on social media and in real life are only societal structures, while simultaneously struggling with self-perception, self-love and self-kindness. Some days are harder than others in this continuous journey towards self-acceptance, which is why at GRLKND, we want to support every moment of that and help each individual understand their worth, their value throughout every part of that.

  • How did you expand GRLKND to the US? 

I actually moved over to California in 2017 to finish my last year of a Bachelor of media/journalism and got to experience life on campus (yep, it’s just like the movies). I got certified in human research and suicide prevention while I was there and made lots of meaningful connections. Once I founded GRLKND in 2018, while living in NYC, things moved pretty quickly, as I was able to meet companies, brands and organisations in person and get the resources I needed to make an impact. I was able to partner with a high-school touring organisation to visit public high-schools across 6 different US States. Sadly our March tour got cancelled due to covid-19, but we’ll be back on the road in August for a bigger one! We’re still in early days, but soon I’d ideally love to host inter-campus conferences and events and retreats with high-school-leaving and college-aged girls. I think we could all use a community-focused, connection-building safe space, led by bad-a** female industry-leading experts.

  • What is your advice to other women considering starting a social impact organisation like you did? Any watch-outs to be aware of?

Honestly just go for it. If your heart is with the mission, and your intentions are honest, things will open up for you. Since everyone’s journey is different, make lots of mistakes quickly and move on. Just keep moving forward and reach out for help. You may be surprised by how incredibly ambitious, kind and serving this generation of women is. Empowered women empower women. Get it, girl.

About the expert

Milly Bannister is a communications expert, lifestyle journalist, mentor and creative director with over 175,000 followers. She’s the big sister/ BFF you always wanted, backed by a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism & Media, and certification in Human Research and Suicide Prevention.

As Founder & Director of mental health-empowerment and educational organization, GRLKND (est. 2018), her professional lifestyle and travel photos are filtered, but her words are not.