mental health week: a reminder that mental health is a complex issue for many of us
I’m incredibly proud that addressing mental health issues with programs such as this week’s Mental Health Week in support of World Mental Health Day, and ABC’S Mental As, a week of TV, radio, and online programming dedicated to dismantling the stigmas surrounding mental health, has now become an everyday norm. It’s very difficult now to be ignorant of all the mental health issues that face Australians and everyone around the world.
Yet, mental illness and suicide rates are on the rise. No matter how much the media overloads us with great programming and education about mental health, the stigmas still stand tall and proud. We are being educated yet the information seems to go in one ear and out the other. How can we really reach out to each other and stop mental illness in its tracks?
Well, first we have to consider the fact that mental illness is something that, for lots of people, cannot just be undone instantly. Yes, we should be talking to each other, seeking professional help, and perhaps taking medication – yet even doing all these things can often result in an incredibly slow healing process.
I’m someone who has had depression for many years and I’ve been seeing a psychologist regularly for over a year now. It took me a long time to get regular help for various reasons – I felt ashamed to do so, I didn’t have the money to do so, I didn’t have the time because I was working long hours to support myself whilst living out of home, and I had tried getting professional help before and it didn’t seem to “work.”
But now, I’ve finally found a psychologist I can see for free ten times a year and in the evenings when I have time. Even with this professional help, though, I rarely actually feel “healed.” In fact, 99 per cent of the time I still feel incredibly depressed, yet I have to somehow live a normal life – pay bills, see my friends, go to work, and go to bed at a reasonable hour. It’s rare that I can achieve many of these simple tasks on any one day. It’s a good day when I can semi get through two of them and it’s, of course, a bad day when I fail completely at all of them and want to huddle up in a ball in a dark room and cry myself to sleep.
I had a horrible week at work last week. Every morning that I went in, piles of work and issues decided to press themselves onto me as soon as I walked into the door. I love challenges and I love working hard, but multiple times last week I wanted to, and a few times I did, run away into the bathroom and cry. Later on in the week, I sat outside by myself during my lunch break and watched a young kid carrying an ice cream cone trip and fall, splattering his ice cream everywhere. He immediately began howling and tearing up, and was just as immediately scooped up by his mother and consoled. No one looked at him strangely or judged him. He’s a child, so of course he’s allowed to act “immaturely” when something, even mildly bad, happens to him.
I watched with jealous eyes. I had just spent the whole morning fighting back tears and being ashamed to tell anyone how I honestly felt about the pile of work they had just thrown at me. Yet I couldn’t just start crying out in pain, because that would be unprofessional and I’d be judged harshly, and possibly fired if I kept it up. No one would know how to console me either, so I had to hold it all in.
What can be done about this? I am not entirely sure. But as mentioned earlier, the more we are spoon-fed information, the more mental illness starts to become the norm. Yet, healing mental illnesses with easier access to psychological treatment, and creating an environment in which people living with these issues feel comfortable in, should become the norm. There are great places to seek help, such as Black Dog Institute, headspace and Lifeline – but I can’t wait for the day that all of us are prepared to help out those in need on an everyday basis, in real life, as opposed to just in clinics or on hotlines. What if training for how to help someone dealing with a breakdown was a mandatory class we take in high school? What if it became okay for people to get upset at work and take a breather for five minutes?