Before we even begin, a quick note:
If you or someone you know is feeling anxious, experiencing depression or thinking about self-harm, you can call Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636, or even chat via their website which is here.
If you think it's a bit more of an emergency, you can call Lifeline at 13 11 14, or visit their website here. If you need immediate emergency assistance, please dial 000. International suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org.
In a nutshell
- Mental health affects ALL OF US, but we can probably all do a better job of talking about it.
- 4.8 million Australians had a mental or behavioural condition in 2018, and one in ten people had depression or feelings of depression.
- Be careful of burnout and overwork: even if you enjoy heading into the office every day, your mind might be taking a toll.
- Help is always available, and you always have the option to reach out.
- Social media can absolutely impact your mental health. But there are tools to take control of it.
- Don't rush into any appointments you're unhappy with, and understand that it might take a while to find the treatment, or medical professional, that works for you.
The state of our mental health
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), mental health is one of the highest contributors to the global burden of disease and disability.
Yet, mental health is something that most of us don’t like talking about, particularly when it comes to our own.
It’s a complicated topic. Not only are there countless variations of illnesses and concerns, there are varying degrees of severity and symptoms.
In 2007, the National Health Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing estimated that 45% of the Australian population aged 16 to 85 would experience a mental disorder at some time in their life.
Maybe the most important thing to note when it comes to mental health is that you’re not alone. Talking about it, and seeking help, shouldn’t need to be taboo.
Why do people go undiagnosed?
Mental health concerns can arise from so many factors faced throughout a person’s life, and with varying degrees of severity, it’s no wonder that so often they go undiagnosed.
A study released in 2019 by the Housing Income and Labour Dynamics (HILDA) at the University of Melbourne shows that the diagnosis of certain disorders, namely anxiety and depression, has dramatically increased over the past eight years. In 2017, the percentage of young women aged 15 to 34 diagnosed with these disorders hit 20.1%, up from 12.8% in 2009. Young men showed a similar increase, although an overall smaller percentage.
Anxiety disorder is the most prevalent of these illnesses, affecting 1 in 7 people, based on the HILDA study mentioned above, which followed the lives of 17,500 Australians over the course of eight years.
However, this study reports on diagnosis, rather than symptoms shown, meaning our mental health as a nation isn’t necessarily getting worse, we’re just more likely to seek treatment and be diagnosed.
The 2017-18 National Health Survey reported that 4.8 million Australians had a mental or behavioural condition, and one in ten people had depression or feelings of depression.
Mental health in women
As with many diseases, there are a range of factors that affect your likelihood of developing mental health conditions. Socioeconomic status, genetics, environmental experiences throughout your life, and your perceptions of these experiences, can greatly impact your mental health and how it develops.
Biologically, as women, we experience varied changes in our hormones throughout our reproductive lives that can have a drastic effect on our anxiety levels. Particularly, surges in oestrogen and progesterone that occur during pregnancy, and to a smaller extent, our menstrual cycles, are known to contribute to symptoms of depression and anxiety.
In a study conducted by the University of London, women were not only more inclined to show poor mental health outcomes for biological reasons, but socially were more at risk of experiencing psychosocial stressors as well.
These include physical violence, victimisation, gender disadvantages, and marginalisation in the workplace. While in the Western World we may be talking much more about these factors and taking steps in the right direction, there’s still a ways to go in terms of changing our society’s beliefs about women.
Of course, gender is only one factor: Women of ethnic minority or varying sexual preferences face further discrimination, and a proven increased chance of many illnesses, mental and otherwise.
In a study by San Diego State University’s Graduate School of Public Health, Professor Heather Corliss discovered that lesbian and bisexual women are 27% more likely to develop Type 2 Diabetes, and develop it at a younger age.
However, perhaps even more interesting, is that Professor Corliss’ extensive efforts to get the study funded uncovered that only 0.1% of the National Health Institutes funded studies look at the LGBTQ community and only 13.5% of those studies were focused on women in the sexual minority. In itself, this information showcases the huge gender disparities that exist between men and women, not to mention adding any additional minority demographic into the mix.
What are the common types of mental disorders?
Anxiety is defined as excessive worry, fear or apprehension of events that have not happened. When these worries become extreme, extended over a long period, or interfere with your day-to-day life, they become classed as Anxiety Disorders.
Anxiety disorders are by far the most common type of mental disorders, and are far more common in women than men. Although, this could be due to the fact that women are more likely to express their feelings of anxiety than men, or are more likely to seek help.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, is characterised by unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) leading to compulsive behaviour.
OCD affects around 2% of Australians and studies suggest that gender is significant in the occurrence of and diagnosis of OCD, but results are vague. Overall, most seem to agree that males tend to experience symptoms in adolescence and females are more likely to develop it in later years.
Depression is a mental condition characterised by feelings of severe despondency and dejection, typically also with feelings of inadequacy and guilt, and accompanied by lack of energy and disturbance of appetite and sleep. It’s usually classified in two categories: Major Depressive Disorder and Persistent Depressive Disorder.
Major Depressive Disorder is a more serious diagnosis, however, Persistent Depressive Disorder can actually have an overall greater impact as it is characterised by feeling some depressive symptoms over a period of a number of years.
Around half of the population will experience a traumatic event in their lifetime. The majority will absorb the effects over time, but around 8% develop lasting symptoms, known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
A study by the American Psychological Association, conducted over 25 years, showed that women are nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed of PTSD than men. And while women are more likely to experience childhood abuse and sexual abuse, they are less likely to experience nonsexual assaults, combat, witness death or injury, or experience disaster than their male counterparts.
The results led researchers to conclude that perhaps sexual trauma may cause more emotional suffering than non-sexual trauma. But even when men and women were compared on the same type of trauma, women were more likely to experience PTSD. This led researchers to suggest that it may be due to the fact that PTSD is assessed on the cognitive and emotional spectrum, which are more likely to be discussed amongst women.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder
Most of us, men and women, will have some insecurities in our lives around the way we look. However, similarly to other conditions discussed, when these insecurities begin to interfere with your everyday life and affect your overall mental health, they become a bigger issue.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) arises when perceived flaws about your appearance overtake your thoughts to a point where you are constantly looking at them, trying to hide them or, even attempting to change them through surgery, exercise, or medication.
Usually these thoughts are focused on one particular perceived flaw, where your own perception of that "flaw" is extremely exaggerated, and sufferers of BDD often hold the belief that others take particular notice of these flaws as well.
As with any mental health conditions, BDD can be caused by a number of factors, both biological and environment. It’s more common in individuals with a genetic history of obsessive compulsive disorder, or who’ve experienced childhood neglect.
Sufferers of BDD are also more at risk to suffer from anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. And because many symptoms of these conditions overlap, BDD is commonly misdiagnosed.
What are women specifically faced with?
While most illnesses have an equal opportunity to affect men and women, the reality is that women are more likely to experience, and/or be diagnosed. That said, there are a number of additional factors only women face that make them even more prone to the issues.
PCOS, anxiety and depression
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal imbalance in women, estimated to affect 8-13% of Australian women, and is a leading cause of infertility.
According to a study of 1,605 women by Monash University in Melbourne, women diagnosed with PCOS reported high levels of depression, moderate levels of anxiety, and overall mental wellbeing lower than women diagnosed with cancer and heart disease.
Yes, women with PCOS have an overall lower mental wellbeing than women with cancer and heart disease. Treatment of PCOS is not sufficient if it does not take mental health into consideration.
The symptoms of PCOS include physical attributes such as excessive body hair, no period, heavy or irregular period, acne on face and body, hair loss, mood changes, and more. All of which can contribute to self-esteem issues, leading to significant levels of anxiety and depression. Of the women surveyed by Monash, 77% believed counselling would help and 69% said they needed more support socially and psychologically around their PCOS and the symptoms associated. That is a huge percentage of people who do not feel they are getting the mental support they need.
Another study done at Columbia University suggests that irregular menstrual cycles are the biggest factor associated with increased anxiety and depression (rather than other physical manifestation such as body hair or weight gain), which is an interesting thing to note. It shows how much of an impact the regulation of our hormones can have on us mentally.
These studies conclude that women with PCOS show symptoms of distress to the same extent as psychiatric patients by comparison. So, we’ll say it again, thorough treatment of PCOS needs to include screening for mental wellbeing. If you’ve been diagnosed with PCOS and are feeling any of the symptoms we’ve discussed so far, speak with your GP about getting support from a mental health professional.
Most of us would have heard of postpartum depression, a disorder affecting women in the months after giving birth. But the focus shouldn’t all be on what happens after birth, as these symptoms can appear at different times throughout pregnancy. In fact, up to 20% of women feel minor anxiety or depression during their pregnancy and up to 3 months after birth.
“Baby blues” are more common and less extreme, and are due to the sudden drop in hormones in your body after giving birth. It’s normal to feel exhausted, overwhelmed, have concerns about your abilities as a mother, and to feel heightened emotions in this time after birth. Usually, these feelings ease within two weeks postpartum.
However, if they don’t, it’s important to speak to your doctor, as there are varying levels of severity, including postpartum psychosis, which can manifest as bipolar disorder. At its most severe, postpartum depression can consist of suicidal thoughts, cause hallucinations, and even cause you to have harmful thoughts toward your baby.
Women with a history of anxiety and depression, or who are in unsupportive or stressful partnerships or environments, are at higher risk of perinatal depression. But overall, as we’ve discussed previously, the incredible influx of hormones into your body throughout pregnancy can wreak havoc on your emotional wellbeing.
Unfortunately, many cases of antenatal and postpartum disorders go undiagnosed, so it’s important to continue to screen for the disorders long after birth if you experience any kind of symptoms.
Stress and anxiety at work
According to Theresa Nguyen, Vice President of policy and programs at Mental Health America, the average workload for one person today equates to that of three people 15 years ago. Not only are we piling more on, but we’re being placed under the impression that the entirety of the outcome falls on our shoulders.
For the millennial generation, this pressure isn’t even coming solely from our bosses, but our own belief systems that we should be ‘always on’ and never give up the hustle.
Anne Helen Petersen, author of ‘Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation’, stated in a New York Times article that we’re so used to being productive all the time that we fill every minute in some capacity, to the extent that we are either forced to give up or constantly feel bad about how much we achieve.
The burden of too much work, too little time, falls on everyone, not just women. But, add to that the reality that women are disproportionally placed into positions of lower power, and paid less than their male counterparts, and suddenly the burden gets heavier.
The problem for women in the workplace doesn’t lie so much in the proverbial glass ceiling and the inability to hold C-suite level positions, but the ability to reach management positions in the first place. Thanks to amazing work by women all over the world, we’ve seen huge shifts in companies appointing women to top positions, but the problem is far from fixed.
When it comes to mental health, feeling like we’ve lost before we’ve even begun the race has devastating effects. These feelings of doubt and disbelief imbed into our psyche and are continually reaffirmed unconsciously (or consciously) through our experiences. Often, women won’t even ask for promotions or pay rises, but even if they do, one failed attempt can succeed in reaffirming the belief that they aren’t working hard enough, or that they’ll never reach their goals.
Again, these symptoms of self-doubt and stress are not gender-specific, however, in a society that has continually placed women as subordinate for decades, these beliefs often aren’t even conscious; they’re ingrained into the way we grow and develop as women.
Additionally, these thoughts can hinder our willingness to seek and ask for help at work, including for emotional or mental support.
So, what does this mean for women?
Thanks to the work of many great women over the years, movements such as Time’s Up and Me Too have brought issues of discrimination and sexual harassment to the forefront of the media and our collective awareness.
However, being aware is only step one.
With issues such as these engrained so deeply into our societal belief systems, the road to equality is a long one. That said, the recent acknowledgement of these organisations, and the problems they address, means these issues are no longer flying under the radar. Women are feeling more empowered to speak up for their rights, about experiences they’ve had, and how their mental health has been impacted.
So, while there is still a long way to go both in how we view mental health as a whole, and how we as women are placed in our societal roles, we’re on the right track.
Is social media really that bad for our health?
There’s no way around it, social media has dramatically changed our lives. After a little over a decade of prominent use, many people today are quick to jump to the negative impacts of social media on our mental health and wellbeing. Of course, there are many ways social media can affect us negatively, but it’s not all bad.
Let’s call it what it is: social media is a place where we can put our best face forward, curating our images and content to showcase the best parts of our lives. For the most part, we’re sharing our interests and beliefs, and what makes us happy and proud.
However, for some, social media is a place they look for comparison. How are their friends (or strangers) doing better than them? Looking better than them? More successful, more privileged, more alive than them? This is a recipe for disaster, particularly on a young or already fragile mind.
Most commonly, social networking sites have been associated with symptoms of depression, anxiety and low self-esteem.
Based on a study out of the UK, researchers found that social media had a particularly detrimental effect on young females’ mental health, and that 60% of that could be attributed to cyberbullying and disrupted sleep patterns. Overall, the study concluded that while social media itself didn’t cause mental health issues, high frequency of use, and negative experiences associated (such as cyberbullying) could interfere with habits that contribute to positive mental health, such as sleep and exercise.
The use of social networks to connect with friends and family anywhere in the world has done wonders for our ability to communicate, overall an overwhelmingly positive impact. However, even this ability to connect over social media has its negative results, including generating feelings of FOMO (fear of missing out), a disproportionate amount of time spent connecting online rather than in-person, and even feeling that we’re ‘all caught up’ on each other’s lives just by watching Instagram stories, without ever taking the time to actually check in.
How many times have you been catching up with a friend who tells you a piece of news about their life and you say, “yeah, I saw that on Instagram.”? Our increased ability to connect digitally is failing us on some of our most basic human needs.
But, like we said, it’s not all negative.
As mental health, sexual harassment, and gender and minority discriminations are getting more and more share of the limelight, social media gives us all a platform to share, learn, and connect.
Talking about your mental health online may not be your thing, or it may be, and both are completely okay. But the important part of this is that many everyday people just like us, as well as mental health professionals, are out there sharing stories, information, and resources. Sometimes just hearing someone else’s story is all it takes to understand that you’re not alone.
The most important thing to consider with your social media usage is how it is making you feel. If you find that scrolling through your feed is bringing up feelings of anxiety, loneliness, or feeling not good enough, change your habits, do a total detox of your friends, followers, and those you are following. Take some time offline to connect to yourself and others you love in person. Take a step back regularly and acknowledge how you’re feeling and acting, and take some time to consider why.
Disconnecting from social media
If it’s becoming apparent that your social media use is a problem, here are some practical steps you can take to help limit the time you spend online, and hopefully, start to have a positive impact on your mental health.
Turn off notifications
It sounds simple, but those little pop-ups do a lot to feed our ego and it’s really easy to become addicted to that feeling, and get sucked into feeling the need to immediately check out who’s, well, checking your page out. Switching off notifications allows you to put your social media out of your mind because you won’t be getting constant reminders to check it.
Limit times of use
Another good piece of advice is to limit the times you use your social media. To implement this and actually follow it, log out or straight up delete the apps from your phone. Then, during your designated checking times you can log back in, or check on a desktop browser.
We’d also recommend setting limits on when and where you use your phone. For example, enforce phone-free meals with your family or no-phone evenings with your partner. Put your phone on Do Not Disturb mode when you go to bed (or even better, an hour before) to help you disconnect and ease into a more relaxed state. Or buy an old school alarm clock and leave your phone outside the bedroom at night.
Apps can help
There are a whole list of apps that can help you limit your screen and social media time. They all have different features and ways of motivating you, including notification blockers and sleep modes. Some even have games that help you stay on track, like Forest, where you plant a seed every time you start a new task and it grows as you leave your phone untouched. If you pick up your phone or close the forest app, the tree will die. You continue to build and add to your forest as you complete new tasks. Plus, the company partners with real-life tree planting organisation, Trees for the Future, to translate users’ virtual trees into the real life trees. That’s a pretty positive outcome to a little disconnection from your phone.
Other apps include Daywise, which blocks notifications for set periods of time and Life360 which forces you to spend a set time off your phone for every set time on it. For example, for every 10 minutes spent on your phone in the morning, the app will lock your phone for 20 minutes, giving you proper time to get up and get ready for your day. It also allows you to set bedtimes and entertainment limits, and more.
Most smartphones also have Do Not Disturb modes and Screen Time information. These allow you to block notifications, review your usage and even set limits and reminders. There is also an inbuilt activity tracker on Instagram which allows you to set usage limits.
Most of these third-party apps come at a small fee, but if you’re really struggling to focus or to stay off your social media, it’s a small price to pay for a positive outcome on your mental health.
Keeping your mental health in check
Regardless of whether or not you have been diagnosed with a mental health condition, checking in on yourself and putting some parameters in place is important.
Taking the time to get to know yourself mentally and educate yourself can help you understand what symptoms are mild and likely to subside with time with some minor personal changes, and which are severe and need the support of a medical professional.
We’ve compiled a list of everyday things you can do to help look after yourself. This list is not exhaustive, but it’s a good starting point to keep you on track and get started on keeping your mental health in check.
Day-to-day mental health
There are things we can do in our everyday lives that will help us keep our mental health in order. These can also help regulate more severe diagnoses, but should not be used as a replacement for professional support or medication.
Having a daily routine is an immensely positive thing. This doesn’t have to mean you’re completely regimented, following a list of tasks by the minute. Put simply, having some order in your day allows you to keep certain forms of anxiety and mild depression at bay by giving you the comfort and a sense of control in how your day will unfold.
Consider this study published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, which states that healthy family routines were associated with children presenting fewer symptoms of impulsivity and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD).
As children, we’re less self-aware and have less life-experience, so it’s more difficult to work through uncertainty and understand our emotions. And it makes sense that when our family life (our biggest source of stability and comfort) feels out of sorts, some extreme emotions would arise.
It’s really no different for us as adults. While we’ll usually be more self-aware and have a better understanding of emotions (although not always the case), feeling out of control of our circumstances or surroundings can switch our bodies into survival mode, agitating our system and affecting our mental health.
Daily routines help us feel in control, they help us feel accomplished, and help us work toward a goal. When we have a particularly mundane task (say, paying bills) or a particularly daunting task (say, writing a book) looming over us, it’s really easy to get triggered into procrastination to avoid confronting the thing that’s making us uncomfortable. Working these tasks into our daily routine helps build a calm, consistent approach to them. Eventually, they just become part of the norm.
Our daily routines are also a good way to help us stay grounded and aware of our feelings. As we focus on one thing at a time, we can check in with how we’re feeling and how our thoughts and emotions are changing.
Finally, studies show that interrupted circadian rhythms result in poorer mental health. Having a consistent sleep pattern is extremely beneficial to your overall mental wellbeing, so it’s important to incorporate a reasonable bedtime into your routine to ensure you’re getting enough sleep.
What can you do?
Not everyone has the time to build a robust morning routine before starting their day, and not everyone works within normal 9 to 5 hours either. So, whatever your situation, just do your best with what you have.
Overall, carve out some time before work that’s just for you. Consider this: if you’re waking up just minutes before you need to be out the door for work, or generally just rushing around first thing in the morning, you’re literally starting your system in a heightened state that will stay with you throughout the day.
Waking up just a little bit earlier can seem daunting if you’re not a morning person, but trust us, when you get used to it, you will find your day starts in a much more relaxed way and it will have lasting effects on the way you feel throughout.
Invest in rest
Your sleep patterns will have not only an immediate impact on your mood, energy levels, and productivity, but they can dramatically impact your mental state over time.
While you may not be a morning person (we get it), it pays to start your day relatively early to help keep your circadian rhythm on track. Sleeping too late in the day can make you feel unmotivated and start to affect your overall sleep patterns.
Waking up in the morning and committing to doing something before you head off to work can really help you feel more in control of your day.
If you’re rolling out of bed and only spending 30 minutes getting ready before starting your commute, it can feel like you’re giving all of your time and energy away to your job.
You could also try incorporating some kind of calming routine before bed. Even just 15 minutes of reading, or a calming herbal tea while you finish one more episode of your favourite show – anything that triggers your body and mind into knowing it’s time to relax and go to sleep.
The important thing is to give yourself and your body time to adjust into and out of each day in a way that feels comforting and calming.
Meditation doesn’t have to be the first thing you do when you wake up, but generally it will allow you to start your day with a clear, calm mind. Plus, like anything, the longer you leave it through the day the more likely you are to put it off in favour of something else.
There are a lot of different ways to meditate, and all of them are beneficial.
We’d recommend doing some research into the subject and finding what feels right for you.
Also, running and other forms of exercise can be a great form of meditation.
There’s no one way or right way, the important part is that you take some time to slow your thinking and bring your awareness to how you’re feeling in your mind and body.
A really easy place to start with with a meditation app like Headspace or Insight Timer. These apps even have free programs (although they are worth paying for) to get you started and have a range of different types of meditations for different purposes.
Again, it doesn’t matter when you do it, as long as you do it. It’s important to listen to your body – don’t push yourself to get through a particularly challenging run or a tough gym session if you’re feeling tired.
But even a gentle walk or a short yoga flow can do wonders for your energy levels and your mood. And sometimes, just sometimes, when you’re feeling particularly agitated and don’t want to exercise, it can be the best thing for you.
Running can be an amazing form of meditation (as we mentioned above) and can also do wonders to help clear your mind and get things moving through your body.
But if you’re not a runner, that’s okay. Walking has many of the same benefits. If you’re feeling particularly frantic or disconnected, we’d recommend walking without headphones to calm the senses and help you connect with the world outside.
A comparative review of 81 studies published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, showed that yoga has the same positive mental health benefits, if not more, than other forms of exercise.
Yoga is known to down-regulate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which are heightened through stress.
This means it reduces symptoms of stress, depression and even shows a positive impact on symptoms of PTSD.
The basis of yoga is actively connecting your body’s movement to your breath. At its core, it’s a form of meditation and grounding. It also helps move lymph through the body, stretches fascia, and build strength, reducing pain and inflammation and improving overall wellbeing.
If you’re interested in learning more about yoga’s effect on the body and mind, listen to the information your teachers share during class, and don’t be afraid to approach them and ask questions after.
Understanding the purpose behind each pose can help you take notice of your own health, how each pose is meant to benefit it, and where you may want to focus.
There are also plenty of online resources where you can learn more. Many teachers offer their classes and lessons for free, and will walk through how each pose should feel in your body and what it’s helping.
Start simple with short classes and explore different teachers. We’d start with Yoga by Adrienne and Patrick + Carling.
If you’re not well-versed in the art of journaling, i.e. writing out your inner most thoughts and feelings onto the pages of your private diary, we’d recommend starting small.
A concept that’s gained popularity as of late is Morning Pages. It’s simply an exercise to get whatever is in your head, out. First thing in the morning, spend 15 minutes (or three pages) free-writing whatever comes to mind.
Just getting things out of our heads can make a huge difference to how we perceive and understand them. Writing isn’t for everyone, but remember, no one but you will read this, so it
doesn’t matter what you say or how well it’s written. It’s also a really good way to take account of your thoughts and feelings before sharing them with anyone else, and helps us come at situations and relationships from a more considered point of view.
You may find that it helps the way you interact with and relate to others.
Journalling is also a really great way to keep track of your feelings and symptoms, giving you something to look back on to better assess how your feelings develop over time and understand what works for you in keeping yourself mentally healthy.
Around ninety-five percent of the serotonin in your body is produced in your gastrointestinal tract, and serotonin is the neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep, appetite, moods, and pain, and is often referred to as the ‘happy chemical’.
Serotonin production is highly influenced by the healthy bacteria in your gut.
This bacteria enables your body to successfully run the neural pathways that link your gut to your brain, so it’s important to ensure your diet promotes healthy production of this bacteria.
Studies show that an increased intake or craving for sweet foods is one of the patterns preceding depression, and it doesn’t do much of anything for the healthy function of your body or brain.
Take note of how different foods affect your mood and energy, not only in the moment, but the next day as well.
If you notice yourself feeling heavy, or down, start eliminating items such as dairy, refined sugars and meats, and see if anything changes.
Everybody is different and will react differently to different foods, so it’s mostly important to understand how your body feels with certain dietary measures.
Finally, limit alcohol intake. As a depressant, alcohol can have lasting impacts on your mood, not just in the moment but the days following. If you’re feeling down or struggling with one of the mental disorders we’ve discussed, take some time off from casual drinking. Not only will it help your mood improve, it will also help the quality of your sleep, giving you more energy to get out and exercise and prepare healthy meals.
You can see how a lot of this stuff can turn into a vicious cycle. Take note of your lifestyle and make the necessary changes when you notice your mental health slipping.
Opening up to a trusted friend
Talking about feelings of depression or anxiety, or any kind of mental health concern, can be scary.
We’re still living in a world where mental health chat is stigmatised, and most of us don’t want to admit that we may have some ‘fault’ or ‘flaw’. However, considering the statistics at the beginning of this guide, we know that mental health concerns affect a huge portion of the population, so no one is alone in this.
Opening up to a trusted friend or family member can be really helpful in regulating mental health. Not only is it comforting to feel that you’re not alone, both in what you’re feeling and in holding the burden of it, but you may find that talking it out with someone who has a different perspective brings you new ways of looking at your problem or symptoms. Similar to journalling, getting
something out of your own head and into the world will help you see it from other angles, and you never know what kind of experiences or advice your friends or family might be able to share.
If you’ve experienced extreme or prolonged symptoms of any of the conditions detailed in this guide, it’s important to seek medical help. Often, mental illnesses are left untreated for far too long, when much of the pain and suffering could have been prevented early on.
However, seeking help is not just for someone with a severe or diagnosed illness. If you’re having trouble with anything in your life and you feel that you need the help and support of a professional, there are countless individuals out there who are trained to help, whether it be with one specific issue or a general concern.
There are a variety of different mental health professionals available with varying levels of certification and techniques. However, the first point of contact will be with your GP, who can then refer you to a specialist.
Psychiatrists are licensed medical doctors (M.D.) who have specialised in the field of psychiatry, they can diagnose mental health conditions, prescribe medications and provide therapy. A referral from your GP is needed to be able to see a psychiatrist.
Psychologists hold doctorate level certifications (Ph. D. or Psych. D.) and are trained to evaluate a person’s mental health through clinical interviews, psychological evaluations and testing. Psychologists may specialise in one type of treatment such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, a form of task-based therapy that addresses symptoms while they are present in an attempt to change negative thought patterns.
Counsellors, Therapists and Clinicians have masters-level (M.A. or M.S.) qualifications and are trained to evaluate mental health and use therapeutic techniques based on specific training programs. They assist their patients in reducing symptoms and finding better ways of thinking, feeling and living.
There are a variety of forms of Complementary and Alternative Medicines that have been increasing in popularity over recent years. These options may help ease symptoms of distress, depression and anxiety. However, please keep in mind that these therapies should be used in conjunction with traditional medicine, especially in cases where diagnosis and medication is required.
Kinesiology uses muscle monitoring to understand where the body is holding onto stress in relation to emotional wellbeing. It looks at negative thought patterns and limiting beliefs, and works to clear stresses and rewire thought patterns through activation of acupressure points, the neurolymphatic system, and the neurovascular system.
Naturopathy is a holistic approach to healing the body using natural remedies. These include herbs, diet, and lifestyle management, and look at biochemical and hormonal imbalances in the body.
Acupuncture is a form of ancient Chinese Medicine which works along the belief system that the body is composed of meridians where our vital life energy (Qi) flows.
Explore everything, but like we said, if your condition needs diagnosis or medication, or is severe or persistent, be sure you’re also speaking to your doctor or a certified psychiatrist.
How do I find the right person?
A good place to start is asking your GP.
Some clinics will have in-house psychology services, or can recommend where to look. You can also speak to your HR department at work. Most employers will have an anonymous mental health support service available. If it’s not written into your contract or onboarding documents, HR should be able to help. It’s a good place to start, even if it doesn’t lead you to your perfect therapist (but who knows, maybe it will).
One of the best ways to find a practitioner is through word-of-mouth. However, this requires you being comfortable speaking to your friends and family about how you’re feeling, and expects that they will be comfortable sharing their own mental health journeys. If you’re able to share and ask around for advice, you’ll get varied opinions about how certain practitioners approach their patients, how they work, and how they’ve helped people you care about.
Social media is also a great tool to research different types of practitioners and learn who’s out there and what they offer. Use Instagram as a research tool to find people who offer what you’re looking for. Read their websites, blogs, interviews, and their posts to help understand if you connect with their ways of working. Most of them will have contact information directly available.
Finding the right person takes time. You might have to try multiple people until you find someone you feel comfortable with. And, in the same vein, it takes multiple sessions to fix a problem. In fact, it’s suggested that treatment of anxiety and depression takes up to 16-20 sessions to be successful.
If someone isn’t resonating with you straight away, there’s no harm in continuing your search, just make sure you’re putting in the effort to find a solution and committed to as many sessions as needed to see results once you find them.
Mental health websites and college websites can also offer great resources. Here are a few that we feel offer a range of services:
- Australian Counselling Association (ACA) Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia (PACTA)
- Good Therapy Australia
Let’s keep talking!
Really, mental health is so important, it’s shocking that we’ve come this far by sweeping it under the rug.
Never see your struggles as a sign of weakness, and know that it takes courage to seek help and commit yourself to healing.
Share as much or as little as you feel comfortable with, but know that the more we’re talking openly about it, to each other, to our nearest and dearest and to professionals, the closer we’re getting to better mental health outcomes.
Mental health emergencies
If you’re concerned about your immediate wellbeing, are having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm, or generally just feel that you’re in a state of emergency, call 000 or contact one of the organisations below for immediate help.