Sunday, October 9, 2011

Talkin' 'bout your mental health

Happy Mental Health Day!

No, not one of those days off work to re-energise - although I am, ironically, home sick. Today is the World Health Organisation's World Mental Health Day, an important opportunity to think about the mental health of ourselves and those around us, whether we have clinical depression or are just stressed, and how we could be genuinely happier.

Of course, the primary aim of the day is to promote discussion on serious mental health issues.

Some people might find that, well, depressing; there are some pretty dark and sad facts around mental health and its easier to just watch Two and a Half Men and forget about it. 

It's not always an easy thing to discuss, but the simple fact that 2000 Australians take their lives every year (thankfully this is on the slide, but still about 2000 too many) is enough to warrant serious discussion that seeks to engage every single person. Every person will suffer or know someone who suffers mental health problems. That doesn't mean the discussion has to be entirely dour and gloomy though. Talking about mental health is a chance to talk about acheiving happiness, and how to find hope in what is for a lot of people at any given moment a hopeless world.

Since I 'came out' about my struggles with anxiety disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder a few months ago I've felt a massive weight lifted from my shoulders. I wish I'd had the courage to do it earlier when I was in real pain because I'm sure it would have sped up my recovery. As far as I'm aware (and concerned) no one judged me harshly or made misguided assumptions about what was going on in my head or my rationality, as I'd long feared they would.

A number of people revealed their own past or present anxiety issues to me. I was glad they felt comfortable confiding in me, but saddened it wasn't something many of them were able to openly deal with.

In August the Australian Press Council released new guidelines for the reporting of suicide in the media. It was a welcome move after a long tradition of silence on suicide reporting for fear of copycat incidents. The fact is, silence simply feeds the stigma surrounding various mental health issues, placing greater pressure on sufferers who are trying to make sense of their own minds in a world that seems to have isolated them. It's time to embrace them and let them know we're all here to help each other.

Reporting of mental health and suicide needs to be sensitive, but it is absolutely vital to improving not just awareness, but understanding. Understanding within the broader community so we can reduce harmful stigma, but, more importantly, understanding among sufferers who don't know why they feel the way they do. They need to know that what they are feeling is common - tragically common - and there are people to speak to and highly successful ways of dealing with it. They need hope, which doesn't come from silence.

I'm marking this Mental Health Day by reflecting on my own journey. Today I am pretty happy (though battling through man flu), manage my anxiety quite well most of the time and have all but left behind noticeable traits of my OCD. One year ago I was finding ways to improve (yoga, mindfulness) and feeling good about the prospects. Two years ago I was stalled and uncertain. Five years ago I was depressed but being treated. Seven years ago I was as close to suicidal as I'd ever like to be. Prior to that I didn't know anything much about depression, anxiety or OCD other than the misguided stigma. I felt 'crazy', different and alone, which left me feeling I had to fight it in secret, wiithout having any real idea what it was I was fighting, let alone what tools to use. Clearly, this strategy didn't work - in fact it made things worse.

I don't find it deflating to talk to friends about my own or their anxieties or depression. We talk about how to live better and be happier, and it helps me focus on that. I'd like for everyone to engage in positive, constructive discussion about mental health today and this week so we can knock stigma on its ugly head and put a swift end to the misunderstanding and lack of information that leads too many people to think their situation is hopeless.

If we talked about mental health as openly and regularly as physical health I think we'd be a much happier society. So do have a happy Mental Health Day (and Week)


Black Dog Institute
beyond blue

1 comment: