The month of October has been dedicated to mental health awareness, with World Mental Health Day being celebrated on October 10. The purpose of promoting mental health is to raise awareness of the importance of our thoughts and feelings, our self-image and self-worth. How we view ourselves impacts directly how we view others and how we live our lives. Celebrating mental health week places emphasis on the necessity to prioritise and value mental health and wellbeing in the same way that we value our physical health.
What the stats say
The statistics suggest that nearly 50 percent of Australians experience mental illness during their lifetime and that one in five Australians will experience mental illness this year. In Australia, the loss of life from suicide is the leading cause of death from external causes across all age groups – the loss of life from suicide is much greater than from motor vehicle accidents and homicide. Yet it seems that most of our resources are directed into the areas of road and community safety, and research and treatments of physical conditions. Anxiety, depression and suicide however, have a greater number of casualties than many physical conditions, with suicide being the leading cause of death for Australians aged 15 to 44. The implications of mental illness are not simply in the loss of life statistic –there are also enormous implications for the community.
It is further estimated that only about half of the population who experience mental illness receive treatment for their condition. There are many people who struggle in silence with anxiety or depression who are afraid to reach out for support.
How have we managed to create a society where people are fearful of asking for support in their moments of greatest need? Have we become so judgmental that people feel the need to suppress what is really going on for them, and instead they present the “everything is fine” persona?
When we look at the statistics, we cannot presume to be immune to the darkness of anxiety and depression. Chances are we will come to experience it either directly ourselves or in relation to a family member or friend. It seems that there is a real need therefore, for each of us to develop some strategies for our mental wellbeing, and to be able to reach out to others in the tough times.
The Buddy System
Obviously it doesn’t make sense to share our deepest fears and darkest secrets with everyone we meet, but based on statistics it seems sensible for each of us to identify some buddies who become our “go to” people when things are not going well for us. These people do not need to be qualified counsellors or coaches (although they may be) – just mates who are not afraid to hear the worst and are able to tolerate the more difficult conversations.
Our medical emergency kit normally includes a contact person, maybe a next-of-kin, in the event of an emergency, and we are often required to nominate a person in this capacity when travelling overseas. Perhaps it’s time for us to consider nominating some mental health buddies as well, to have in our wellbeing kit for when times are a bit rough. If this became standard practice, no one would consider it to be a weakness or un-cool in the event of the need arising to draw on support. It would be no different to a regular chat or having a coffee or beer catch-up, which most of us engage in anyway – the only difference would be the nature of what is discussed.
If struggle was accepted and normalised, there would be no need to pretend that we are always doing fine, and we all could learn a lot from being vulnerable – after all, it is our vulnerable states that often provide our greatest learning.
Even if nominating mental health buddies do not become a requirement part of any national or travel emergency kit, let’s make it a personal requirement anyway. We can check with the people that we would like to add to our personal buddy list, so that we at least have some measure in place whenever it may be required. Taking action at any time is great, however it is more likely to occur when we are in a better space. When the darker times come, we are more likely to think that no one would want to listen to us and we refrain from reaching out. Having people in place already means that you don’t have to think about who you could turn to during the most difficult times.
We can use the month of October to undergo a mental health check up with ourselves and with our loved ones.
Mental Health Checklist
• Practise self-care, daily – Engage in activities that you enjoy and that feel right for you
• Learn ways to reduce stress
• Develop work-life balance
• Don’t try to tough it out on your own – things generally do not fix themselves
• Develop a sense of belonging
• Identify your purpose in life
• Connect with friends, family and with the community
• Identify your mental health buddies
You may need to work through some of these points with a health professional. Remember, it is not a sign of weakness to reach out when things are tough – the concept of community after all, is people supporting one another.
Margaret welcomes your comments. You may have your own tips and some insights to share, or some questions or responses to this article.
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