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mental health state of mind

Image: Juni Via Wikimedia Commons

Image: Juni Via Wikimedia Commons

Yep, I’m in a mental health state of mind.

Last week was National Mental Health Week. Upon learning this (mostly through the amazing coverage by the ABC during the week) my thoughts have been consumed by the complexity of this topic.

Illness, stigma, disease, access, reaching out, not reaching out, lack of support; my mind starts to spin out of control. My Facebook feed has been flooded with messages about it too. Interviews with celebrities, “ordinary” people and mental health professionals, all sharing stories about their own experiences and encounters with mental health and the systems that work to support it.

As I try to process all of the information I feel overwhelmed trying to debunk some myths of my own and make sense of everything that has been presented to me.

This is when I realise the significance of this week and more specifically, World Mental Health Day.

I realise that if I, as person that is currently not battling mental illness is struggling to understand the mental health landscape, then how on earth is a person who is bearing the full brunt of a mental illness meant to make sense of it all?

Larissa Russell, a mental health nurse at Geelong’s Acute Psychiatric Admissions Unit at The Swanston Centre, firmly believes that raising awareness through public campaigns such as National Mental Health Week and events like RUOK? Day do have an impact on public perceptions of mental health issues, and more importantly the individual experiencing them: “It gets people talking and thinking about mental illness. It’s a great opportunity to normalise mental illness and recognise it like any other medical condition.”

The treatment of mental health issues and disorders requires a holistic approach, and everyone has a responsibility. The Federal Government in recent years has injected a significant amount of funding into many programs and services that aim to support the provision of mental health services, and work to deconstruct existing perceptions that being mentally ill makes you mentally weak, and the idea that one should be able to get over their “invisible disability.”

Yes, it is up to the individual to take action and seek help, it is also important to recognise there are additional challenges at play.

When someone already feels isolated by how they are thinking and feeling, how can they possibly consider expressing it to another person who may have not have the capacity to relate to what they are saying?

This is where that sexy word “stigma” arrives at the mental health party, it’s making a lot of noise, eating all of the Cheezels and shoving the big, fat elephant that is mental health into the corner of the room.

“The reason we come across the word stigma so much is because it’s unfortunately something we still commonly see. It is extremely detrimental to the health of a client and can create self-stigma which can lead to social isolation and prevent people from seeking help.

I think that a lot of the new policies and procedures are now focusing on empowering clients to make their own informed decisions on their treatment and care within mental health services and having more easily accessible groups in the community that promote social inclusion would be extremely beneficial for those with a mental illness.”

While clinical diagnosis and definitions of mental disorders provides us with a framework that helps us understand it in broader terms, mental illness doesn’t present itself the same way all of the time and is often defined by the person living it. This makes it even harder to provide support, as there is no one method, medication or approach that allows for a “one size fits all” solution.

It will continue to be a challenge for Government and service providers to create a system that can perfectly capture and support everyone, so it is time for us as individuals to act as a safety net to catch those who fall through the cracks.

Depression, anxiety, eating disorders, Schizophrenia, Bi-polar Disorder, Alzheimer ’s disease, Dementia; mental health issues are no longer something that should be experienced in isolation. In a culture that is becoming more and more integrated and conversational we shouldn’t be afraid to speak up. It’s time to kick stigma out of the party and invite that big, fat elephant to pull up a seat, grab a cup of tea and have tell us a little bit more about himself.

Because these are everyone’s issues and ignorance is no longer an excuse.

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