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We acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation - the custodians of the country in which we meet - and acknowledge their Elders, past and present.

Contagious Realities

Alice Dawkins, Sandersan Onie, Jean Twenge [USA], Sonny Jane Wise
Chaired by Natasha Mitchell
Sun 25 August 1:45pm
Sun 25 August 1:45pm
How do we know if a diagnosis is real?

From shrieking headlines to serious research, a crisis in health is being discussed everywhere, with particular concern about the rising mental health, ADHD, and neurodivergent diagnoses of young people. What does the evidence tell us about what is happening and why? With social media and social contagion as part of the picture, how can we distinguish between what is ‘real’ and what is ‘imagined’? In a world where self-diagnosis is rife, and identity can be self-determined, how can we anchor conversations and treatment securely in reality? Or is it time to admit that this is no longer possible? 

[The TikTok mental health explosion is] clearly a modern version of social contagion, which has always been more prevalent among teen girls than other demographic groups.
Jean Twenge

Alice Dawkins

Alice Dawkins is the Executive Director of Reset.Tech Australia, a policy organisation with a focus on regulating digital risks and online harms. Before Reset, she worked to establish the Frontier Technology Initiative at the Minderoo Foundation. She was a Schwarzman Scholar at Tsinghua University, where she studied Chinese entrepreneurship and AI governance. Prior to that, she worked on democracy and justice issues in Myanmar.


Sandersan Onie

Sandersan Onie is an award-winning researcher at the Black Dog Institute and Harvard Medical School and is passionate about a mentally healthier world, especially how culture, AI, and tech can contribute to this vision. He pioneered the use of advertising algorithms to identify and reach individuals in mental health and suicide crisis on search engines and social media, in Australia, Indonesia and the US – reaching over 15 million people in his trials. He led Indonesia to enshrine suicide prevention in legislation for the first time in the country’s history, led the world’s first mental health religious statement at G20 in 2022, and holds a Guinness World Record in mental health. He advises for mental health and suicide prevention strategies and policy for over 30 countries, and global tech companies such as Google, TikTok, and Reddit. He is now working with WHO Headquarters to develop global guidelines for national strategies for suicide prevention.


Jean Twenge [USA]

Jean M. Twenge, Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University, is the author of more than 180 scientific publications and seven books, including Generations: The Real Differences between Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Boomers and Silents—and What They Mean for America’s Future and iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood. She holds a BA and MA from the University of Chicago and a PhD from the University of Michigan. She writes the Generation Tech substack.


Sonny Jane Wise

As an Autistic Bipolar ADHDer, they are a powerful and relatable voice in the neurodiversity space. They’re the author of We’re All Neurodiverse and the first neurodiversity affirming DBT skills workbook, The Neurodivergent Friendly Workbook of DBT Skills, which has sold over 70, 000 copies worldwide. Their resources, workshops and talks have led to organisations and services adopting a neurodiversity affirming framework and embedding inclusion within their policies. This past year they have been the co-chair of Australia’s first National Autism Strategy’s Social Inclusion Working Group and have sat on South Australia’s first Autism Strategy Advisory Committee helping to lead the change for Autistic inclusion at a national and state level.


Natasha Mitchell

Natasha Mitchell is a multi-award-winning journalist, radio presenter, and podcaster. She is host of the ABC Radio National’s flagship Big Ideas program and podcast, was founding host and producer of the blockbuster radio show and one of the ABC’s first podcasts, All in the Mind, which won the Grand Prize and four Gold World Medals at the New York Radio Festivals, amongst other awards. Natasha hosted the ABC’s daily social affairs program Life Matters, and was founding host and producer of Science Friction, awarded Best Science and Medicine podcast at the Australian Podcast Awards. Natasha served as a board member and vice president of the World Federation of Science Journalists and was recipient of the prestigious MIT Knight Fellowship. She has facilitated countless live public events and forums around Australia, including four major dialogues with the Dalai Lama and scientists. She has an engineering degree with first class honours, and a postgraduate diploma in science communication.

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25 August
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