Mental Health Month is taking place in October, with Mental Health Association NSW (MHA) taking the opportunity to increase community awareness and knowledge of mental health issues. The organisation plays a vital role in working towards a society free from prejudice and discrimination against people living with a mental illness. MHA is a registered charity, with its programs funded by NSW Heath and other agencies plus private donations. Katrina Davis, Mental Health Promotion Manager, tells us all about MHA’s programs and services.
What is Mental Health Month?
Mental Health Month NSW is part of a national mental health promotion campaign held in October each year. The aim is to promote mental health and wellbeing among the general population of NSW. The timing of the campaign centres on World Mental Health Day, which is marked each year on 10 October.
During Mental Health Month, communities all over NSW will be holding local events to promote positive mental health in their communities, raise awareness of mental illness and to reduce stigma and discrimination.
This year, local organisers have been asked to focus on the theme of ‘Celebrate, Connect, Grow’.
Celebrate, Connect, Grow is about celebrating the positive events in our lives, as well as the strengths and values that help us through more challenging times. It is also about connecting with others by paying attention to our close relationships, or by reaching out and making new friends. And it is about growing – expanding our horizons and trying something new that creates meaning and purpose.
Mental Health Month has special importance for those of us who have experienced mental illness. It can be a time to celebrate the recovery journey and to think about the new meanings in our lives – and what things would bring us greater life satisfaction.
It can also be a time for people to ask how we can remove some of the barriers that prevent people with mental illness from being able to enjoy active, engaged and stigma free lives.
What things do you recommend that people do to improve their mental health and build resilience in tough times?
As part of this year’s Mental Health Month, we’re encouraging everyone to act on both the big and small things they can do to increase their own wellbeing, as well as the wellbeing of those around them.
We’ve made a number of suggestions on how people might do this, according to the theme of Celebrate, Connect, Grow.
For example, celebrating might involve celebrating the achievements of others; research shows that responding with interest to the good news of someone close to you benefits not only that person, but your relationship as well. Celebrating might mean slowing down to pay full attention and really enjoy something that gives your pleasure.
Social connections and positive relationships are strongly linked to our mental health and wellbeing.
So, October could be a good time to connect with others by volunteering for an organisation, or doing a favour for a friend. Connecting might involve combining something good for your physical health with a social activity to improve your mental health, like going for a walk with your partner or children.
You could pick up the ‘Grow’ part of the Mental Health Month theme and choose to learn something new that you’ve been interested in for a long time, or by making a plan to start working towards that goal you’ve always had in the back of your mind. You might like to take some time to experience a new culture by learning some language, trying new food, or talking to someone from somewhere you’ve never been.
So what will I be doing this Mental Health Month? I have two things in mind. I want to check out some adult ballet classes. I loved ballet as a child and would like to revisit this activity and maybe meet some new people.
I will also take some time to grow my skills and experience at work, by taking some courses and connecting with people that I admire and want to learn from.
Can you explain the difference between mental health and mental illness?
When someone is experiencing a mental illness, it often means they are experiencing a set of symptoms that are causing a great deal of distress or have a big impact on their day-to-day functioning. GPs and Psychiatrists diagnose mental illnesses. Common mental illnesses are depression and anxiety disorders. Less common are illnesses like Schizophrenia.
People often use the term ‘mental health’ when they are really talking about ‘mental illness’. Mental health is a term that has been defined in slightly different ways by different people. I like to think about it in terms of how good we feel about ourselves and our lives, how well we cope with everyday stressors, and how well we are functioning in our families and communities.
What are the most common mental health disorders that Westerners are experiencing in the 21st century?
In Australia, depression is common, and Australians are becoming more aware of its signs and symptoms through effective awareness campaigns.
However, a lot of people might be surprised to know that Anxiety Disorders are even more common and affect around 14% of Australians each year. Anxiety Disorders include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Social Phobia, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Generalised Anxiety Disorder.
The Mental Health Association NSW recently helped out the NSW Government with a campaign that was run to increase awareness of anxiety and help people to get treatment. The website for that campaign is: www.understandinganxiety.com.au
Can you provide 10 tips for reducing stress?
These are the Ten Tips we are suggesting in 2012
• Share something that makes you laugh.
• Swim in the ocean.
• Remember we all make mistakes.
• Say no when you need to.
• Cook a meal from scratch.
• Tell someone you love them.
• Play your favourite song.
• Do more of what’s important to you.
• Be proud of who you are.
• Celebrate when things go well.
How can people get involved in supporting Mental Health Month?
There is going to be a number of events happening in the Manning-Great Lakes area during October. Go to our website to check out the events calendar and have a look at the resources available: www.mentalhealth.asn.au
Where can people seek immediate help if they are having difficulties?
Sometimes our biggest priority will be getting help for things that are causing us problems, or changing the way we usually feel or think about life events. To talk with someone immediately, you can phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Kids Help Line on 1800 551 800.
Often, a good first step is having a chat to a local doctor, who can refer you to some more specialised support if needed. You may be able to obtain a Medicare rebate (under the Better Access scheme) for up to ten sessions with a psychologist when your GP develops a mental health plan for you.
For more information on how to find help, call the Mental Health Information Service on 1300 794 991 (office hours) or the NSW Mental Health Line on 1800 011 511 (24 hrs).
Finally, it’s good to remember that even if you don’t find the right help the first time you try, it’s important to keep trying. It’s okay to ask again, or to talk to another mental health professional until you find the support and help that is right for you.
Interview by Karen Farrell.
This story was published in issue 68 of the Manning-Great Lakes Focus