Written by Sally McGrath
Never before has mental health been such an important and relevant subject and condition that requires support and attention. Once the hidden away, socially ignored, “crazy, so stay away mindset” and now the subject of mental health is well and truly open for discussion on social media platforms, homes, therapist practices, offices and video conferencing channels. All too often, mental health and the associated tags that go with mental health have long been misunderstood, judged and in some cases not taken seriously. Even prior to the global health pandemic that has added to the rates of mental health related issues, there was a momentum building to open a conversation about this very subject with phrases being marketed and used create awareness; “RUok” is now common vernacular used to enquire about the status of a person’s mental health.
Australia’s History of Mental Health
Australia has a recorded history of managing mental health since the first fleet arrived in 1788. When the convicts arrived, placing all those deemed ‘insane’ into a locked area nearby. Australia had its first psychiatric facility in 1811; previously individuals with mental illnesses were placed together with convicts and criminals. With the introduction of a psychiatric facility, it was the first time the mentally disturbed were identified as separate.
One of the key moments in Australia’s history with mental health, was its de-institutionalisation in 1992. This came about after the Richmond report was released, which investigated the rumours of abuse and injustices towards the patients of these institutions. However, it still took over a decade before the change was made, and there were and are still controversies over whether or not the change did any good..
The first mental health care plan that was implemented nation-wide was introduced in 1992; currently there have been five national mental health care plans. Each mental health care strategy is amended every few years, for example, the most recent plans occurred in 2012 and 2017, highlighting governments’ awareness and the increasing needs to manage the mental health of Australians.
Understanding Mental Health
To understand what mental health is and what is meant by the broad term “mental health” it is best to start with the dictionary meaning;
“A person’s condition; with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being”.
Meaning: Feelings of severe despondency and dejection.
Depression is characterised by persistently depressed mood or loss of interest in activities, causing significant impairment in daily life.
Possible causes include a combination of biological, psychological and social sources of distress. Increasingly, research suggests that these factors may cause changes in brain function, including altered activity of certain neural circuits in the brain.
The persistent feeling of sadness or loss of interest that characterises major depression can lead to a range of behavioural and physical symptoms. These may include changes in sleep, appetite, energy level, concentration, daily behaviour or self-esteem. Depression can also be associated with thoughts of suicide.
The mainstay of treatment is usually medication, talk therapy or a combination of the two. Increasingly, research suggests that these treatments may normalise brain changes associated with depression.
Meaning: A feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.
A mental health disorder characterised by feelings of worry, anxiety or fear that are strong enough to interfere with one's daily activities.
Causes of Anxiety are stress that's out of proportion to the impact of the event, inability to set aside a worry and restlessness. Ongoing stressful situations — such as job issues or changes, unstable accommodation, family or relationship breakdown and grief can put you at risk of anxiety. Any kind of abuse (such as physical, sexual, verbal or domestic abuse), as well as life-threatening events or pregnancy and childbirth, can also be a contributing factor and increase the risk of experiencing anxiety. These stress related situations can manifest panic attacks, obsessive compulsive disorder and post traumatic stress disorder.
Treatment includes counseling or medication, including antidepressants.
Meaning: A disorder associated with episodes of mood swings ranging from depressive lows to manic highs. Bi-Polar is also known as manic depression.
The exact cause of bipolar disorder isn’t known, but a combination of genetics, environment and altered brain structure and chemistry may play a role.
Characteristics maybe manic episodes that include symptoms such as high energy, reduced need for sleep and loss of touch with reality. Depressive episodes may include symptoms such as low energy, low motivation and loss of interest in daily activities. Mood episodes last days to months at a time and may also be associated with suicidal thoughts.
Treatment is usually life-long and often involves a combination of medications and psychotherapy.
Meaning: Suicide, from Latin suicidium, is "the act of taking one's own life". Attempted suicide or non-fatal suicidal behavior is self-injury with at least some desire to end one's life that does not result in death.
Suicide, taking your own life, is a tragic reaction to stressful life situations — and all the more tragic because suicide can be prevented. Whether you're considering suicide or know someone who feels suicidal, learn suicide warning signs and how to reach out for immediate help and professional treatment. You may save a life — your own or someone else's.
It may seem like there's no way to solve your problems and that suicide is the only way to end the pain. But you can take steps to stay safe — and start enjoying your life again.
Schizophrenia and psychotic disorder as well as dementia, are also conditions which make up the mental health diagnosis. For more detailed information it is advised to consult your medical professional for management and or treatment.
Balanced Mental Health
It’s normal at various times to feel sad, stressed, angry or anxious. But when these feelings last for longer than usual and start to affect your everyday life, it's important to find out what's going on and what you can do about it.
If you are suffering with your mental health and unsure where or who to turn to rest assured; you’re not alone. In Australia, it is estimated 45 per cent* of people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime, with three million Australians* currently living with depression or anxiety. *Beyond Blue
- Your mental health,
- Your emotional health
- Your spiritual health
- Are ALL As Important As
- Your physical health
Six areas where you can observe manage and support your mental health
Stress and Pressure at Work
From time to time, everyone experiences stress and we all cope with it (stress) in different ways. Shifting unhelpful behaviours, problem-solving and assertive communication, are three strategies that can be applied (in a work and personal scenario) to better equip you with tools to understand and actively cope with stress. Ongoing personal development, self awareness, and consistently identifying the triggers that cause stress are fundamental to stress management. Stress, is not a state that will be eliminated entirely from life, so management is critical to ensure the buildup of stress does not lead to more serious mental health conditions and/or burnout.
Are You Unsure if You’re Living with Anxiety or Depression?
If you are unsure if you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression, there is a Questionnaire on Beyond Blue website, created by health professionals for an overview for identification of one’s mental health. https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/anxiety-and-depression-checklist-k10
Note: A guide only, the most thorough diagnosis is best provided by your General Practitioner, and/or Mental Health Professional to ensure the relevant treatment and management plan can be created and referral/plan made as determined by diagnosis.
Refer to the characteristics, causes and treatment in the aforementioned conditions in point two above to help identify symptoms and situations you may see relevant to your current situation.
Proactively Improving Your Overall Mental Wellbeing
You can learn new or different ways of dealing with your thoughts, feelings and behaviour. There are programs and health coaches that can help with the preventative management of work and stress, improving mental health wellbeing and recognising depression and anxiety symptoms.
Meditation and Mindfulness practices are most helpful to calm the mind chatter and bring your thoughts into a semblance of order. The simple exercise of taking slow and deliberate breaths can help to reduce stress and anxiety, and the combination of peaceful / relaxing music with some simple breathing techniques can be a welcome distraction for an anxious mind and help to prevent a snowball effect. Adequate sleep, which varies from individual to individual, is an important component to mental health care and prevention.
Exercise is the number one contributor to improving and supporting your mental health. The endorphins released in the brain with the activity of exercise are a major boost to mental health, linking to improved sleep patterns, improved eating habits and an overall benefit to self care and supporting your body and mind.
That Disconnected Feeling
The feeling of disconnection can go hand in hand as a precursor to mental health issues, with a tendency to distance from friends, family and social connections as conversation and interaction can be exhausting. Alternatively, you find you have to ask someone to repeat themselves because they were talking but you weren’t really listening? Or have you ever driven home from work and realised you can’t remember making that right-hand turn? Yes, you are not alone.
Diagnosis of and Living with Anxiety or Depression?
Living with anxiety or depression isn’t easy, but there is support available specifically designed for those who’ve been diagnosed with anxiety or depression. One-to-one coaching, practical tips and a tailored program designed to complement your GP, psychologist or psychiatrist care plan.
Managing your health with nourishing foods and specifically foods that support optimal brain function, adequate sleep, the reduction or cessation of the consumption of alcohol and or illicit or recreational drugs is critical to the overall management of mental health. In the case that medication is prescribed to support and improve your mental health, most medical professionals will advocate no alcohol as it can impact the efficacy of the medication.
The Starting Point
Everyone is different and while the information shared here will hopefully help, it may be that you require different support than what these resources are able to provide. If you have concerns about your mental health, or if you’ve noticed changes in the way you’re thinking or feeling, the best thing you can do is speak to your GP to get professional advice.
After an initial assessment, your GP can provide you with a referral to see a psychologist for up to six Medicare re-batable sessions. Once those six sessions are up, you can return to your GP to ask for a referral for more re-batable sessions, with a maximum of 10 each calendar year.
Note: In Australia you don't need a referral from a GP to see a psychologist, however, you will need a Mental Health Treatment Plan from a GP to claim rebates through Medicare. People who are diagnosed with a mental health condition and who would benefit from a structured treatment approach are eligible for these benefits.
Take a Moment and Follow the Steps
Here is a meditation to build into your daily routine.
The breathing helps to create awareness and still your mind to manage run-a-way thoughts and also those thoughts that repeat on loop, constant mind chatter, and / or control excessive worry.
Take a moment and notice the world around you;
- Listen to your breathing;
- Take three deep breaths;
- One – take a deep breath in
- Two – take a deep breath in
- Three – take a deep breath in
- What do you see – feel – hear – Right Now?
- For now in this moment, just be
- Be in this moment
- Close your eyes
- Repeat the three deep breaths
- Calm your mind
- Rest your body
- Repeat three times
- Repeat daily
- Repeat as you feel the need as the awareness arises
If you or someone you know needs help (in Australia) please call:
- Lifeline 13 11 14
- Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
- Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800