How to Cast Away the Doubt, and Learn to Seek Help When You Need It
This feature is dedicated to our #NoChangeNoFuture initiative. From the Women’s March, to Australia voting yes to same sex marriage, and the #MeToo movement, 2017 taught us to look beyond ourselves and come together as a collective of powerful women who are writing our own history. Join us as we cancel setting one-dimensional personal resolutions this January and commit to being the change we want to see. Because without change, there is no future.
With every new year we set a range of New Year’s resolutions, and usually they’re related to our physical health: Going on a diet, joining a gym, eating cleaner or, the age-old resolution of drinking less. We scribble these down in the hope we can implement some attainable, positive changes into our lives, because: New year, new me, right? But what about our mental health? Where does this factor into a fresh year? For me, health extends beyond the physical. And realistically they go hand in hand.
When a new year begins, a lot of us forget to implement resolutions like developing a solid support network, booking in to see a counsellor if we need to talk to someone, and other strategies that really focus on our mental well-being, which is strange, because mental health is central to every part of our lives. It affects most of us at some stage, either directly or through a close family member or friend.
I know I have had my fair share of days where things just don’t feel like they will ever improve. In fact, a lot of 2017 was like this for me. It wasn’t until I was open with my friends and family about how I was feeling and sharing my experience with seeking help from a professional, I began to feel better. At first I was nervous to tell my friends and family, as I thought it was indulgent and at the time I thought introspection was the enemy. Fast forward to some months later, I now know that this is not an indulgence. This is medical. And it’s important.
After my second visit to my counsellor, I didn’t think twice about telling my friends and family, I was now comfortable with the fact I was seeing a professional and I began to realise it was such a great way to articulate and communicate my problems; which are skills pretty much anyone could benefit from. I felt compelled to tell people I was seeing a counsellor. I didn’t hide behind a facade and tell people I was “okay”, just because I thought it’s what they wanted to hear. I wanted to tell people I wasn’t okay, in the hope it opened the conversation. To everyone who saw me in real life, they got the raw, unedited version, not the Instagram highlight reel.
Around the time of my second visit, one of my best friends said to me "you’re so open with telling me, thank you. I actually see one myself and have done for a couple of years. I haven’t been in a while though, so I am going to book in for next week". And with that, I realised just how prevalent the stigma of mental health and its treatments still are. If one of my best friends felt embarrassed and like she couldn’t disclose that she was seeing someone to someone close to her, what does that really say about society? Shouldn’t we be able, as a society, to openly talk about seeing a counsellor like you would talk about seeing a dentist or any other professional? The only way the stigma is going to go away is if we talk openly about seeking help. We should be able to seek help without shame, without criticism.
So what needs to change? We need to acknowledge as a culture how mental health issues affect many people every day, be it anxiety, panic attacks, bipolar disorder, depression or eating disorders. It's not something to be embarrassed about, and it's okay to get help for it. We need to continue to proactively increase awareness in order to prevent the social exclusion of people with mental illness and to facilitate the use of mental health services at a young age. I never learned about any form of mental illness or treatments at school, and I would definitely use that over Trigonometry or Pythagoras Theorem.
I think public awareness campaigns for mental health charities like, R U OK Day, the Black Dog Institute and Beyond Blue are fantastic at breaking the silence and creating awareness, but I still feel like we need to break down the stigma and to start conversations with those who might need our support. Educating the masses on mental health and battling the stigma of mental illness is going to be a massive mission, but a much-needed action. Remember we are not alone. Especially when it comes to mental illness.
For 24-hour support, contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.