Mental health is more than a talk
by Study Geelong Ambassador - Shu
Please note that the following article is written from the perspective of an international student and in no way should be taken as professional advice. If you or someone you know is experiencing mental health issues ring 000 in an emergency or contact one of the services listed at the end of the article or a doctor.
Last week was Mental Health week, a week dedicated to shedding light on the challenges, importance and the help available for everyone to maintain a healthy mind.
In recent years, the increased number of open and constructive conversations have contributed remarkably to tackling the stigma surrounding mental health challenges. However conversations that are not followed by appropriate actions, can at times, be less effective.
Mental health, to the contrary belief, is not a synonym for mental illness or mental health conditions. Similar to physical health, mental health is a term used to describe the overall ‘wellbeing’ where a person is able to contribute productively and effectively handle the normal amount of daily stress (Beyondblue, 2016). The main problem with this relatively minor confusion is it might lead to a bigger misunderstanding when it comes to reaching out for help.
The main challenges that we face as a society when dealing with mental health conditions is their invisibility. According to Dr. Guy Winch (tedtalks, 2014), we normally react more proactively to a physical injury such as a bleeding hand by either helping our selves or going to the hospital to stop the bleed. When it comes to emotional injury however, it is harder to distinguish from stress or personality traits for example. The fact that we are unable to see the damage and challenges our brains go through, in some cases delays our pursuit of help.
This complex and often isolating struggle that a large number of Australians face every year, including students, is not likely to be resolved by a single solution or talk. As a society, however, we are far more capable than we think we are, in lending a hand, reaching out and changing some of the unpleasant realities mental illness presents. Even in a busy world like ours, we should be able to be supportive of the people we care about and know about an issue before a crisis arises. Not only is it a human need to seek strong connections with others, but the stronger our connections are with someone, the better we will be able to help them. This is because of two reasons: a) it is easier to notice a change in behaviour in someone we know well compared to someone we interact with occasionally and b) it makes it easier for our loved ones to reach out or accept our help if we are someone they trust and consult regularly. Therefore, it is important that we keep open and strong communication with the ones we love and know regardless of their mental health status.
Additionally, when you do reach out and are attempting to help someone who you have established is struggling, it is important that you have the appropriate approach. If you are not a trained professional, then the first important step is to listen. Listening is the key word here for a reason. You need to be able to have a clear as possible understanding of the situation before handing out numbers and suggesting help. While these are important and helpful steps, it is also important to acknowledge the experiences and feelings that are explained to you. You do not need to know how exactly a person is feeling, but a simple acknowledgement of the reality they live in and the courage it took for them to come to you for help and guidance can go a long way. The most crucial step after this is to immediately remind them and point out the more experienced professionals who are willing to help. Start by using a compassionate and plain language yet using a serious tone to remind them that there are other people who are willing to help. You must make sure that they have the necessary information and confidence to reach out to these services. Where appropriate, check back if they have actually reached out and offer to help them do so (without pushing too hard). Mere suggestions will simply not do. This could be a tricky one, and needs to be done at an appropriate time and in an appropriate manner.
Mental illness affects us all directly or indirectly. So if you are still not sure what it is, educate yourself. I say this with love but with all seriousness, educate yourself before you try and reach out to someone who is struggling. It is not their job to educate you and help you understand the realness of the situations. There are a number of useful resources on the internet from organisations such as Lifeline, Beyondblue and Headspace on how to care for and understand the experience of emotional struggle. It is acceptable to ask questions about the specific experience to the person directly when appropriate rather than making assumptions. However, approach this carefully because often times some questions tend to come off as a challenge and the person is then forced to feel like they have to prove not only what they are going through but the entire existence of mental illness, which is not helpful nor appropriate. Similarly, if you ever wonder what not to say consider what you would say to someone suffering a serious physical illness. What is not appropriate to say to cancer patient is not appropriate to say to someone dealing with a mental health condition. These include: ‘Snap out of it’, ‘It is only how you feel!’, ‘Some people are worse off’. There is no shame in not knowing, not all of us are trained professionals. But it is a shame if we don’t use the accessible and free resources to learn a bit better of the experiences that affects all of us as a society.
Finally, know yourself. This is an important point for everyone that I cannot stress enough. If you feel like there is something wrong then chances are there is something wrong. As a rule of the thumb in staying healthy, if your body tells you something, you listen and get it checked. The same goes with your mind. It is the single most important organ in your body, and when it is struggling, you are bound to notice as it affects everything you think, feel and do. There is no shame in reaching out for help and emotional struggle does not equal mental illness. Regardless of what you are going through, there is someone whether a loved one or a trained professional who is willing to be there for you until you feel better. This is especially important for us as students (international students in particular) as we live a fairly stressful and demanding life. Around Geelong and Victoria, there are a number of services available 24/7, free of charge and accessible with a tap of a finger. Additionally, many education providers have on campus wellness and health centres that students can make use of should they require any support and assistance. Do not over analyse and think, if you feel like talking, pick the phone and call them. Whether it is a one off or ongoing support you seek, everything starts with you putting yourself first and listening to your body.
If you or anyone you love requires support talking to a doctor is a good place to start. You can also get in touch with one the services below. In the case of immediate danger please call 000.
• SANE Australia (people living with a mental illness) – call 1800 18 7263.
• Beyondblue (anyone feeling depressed or anxious) – call 1300 22 4636 or chat online.
• Black Dog Institute (people affected by mood disorders) – online help.
• Lifeline (anyone having a personal crisis) – call 13 11 14 or chat online.
• Suicide Call Back Service (anyone thinking about suicide) – call 1300 659 467.
https://www.ted.com/talks/guy_winch_the_case_for_emotional_hygiene (A useful Ted talk on emotional injury and care )