I may be just about to disclose my inner old fogey here, but I’m a pretty dedicated ABC viewer (with a bit of SBS thrown in). I rarely make it over to commercial channels (with the exception of the new series, Madam Secretary) and when I do I generally become agitated by some inane commentary, insipid drama or unfunny comedy. I’m being harsh here, perhaps too harsh, there are clear exceptions to this rule but not many!
This week on the ABC it’s all about mental health and mental illness, and I feel like my brain has been expanding at a rapid rate during the viewing so far. I’ve also been reading a fellow Ballarat blogger Ellen, who writes over at Potential Psychology, and who has been writing on mental health every day this week.
I’m lucky enough to have had pretty good mental health for most of my life, so I lot of what I’ve been watching or reading has given me a new perspective on what living with mental illness might be like. Scarily though 50% of Australians will suffer from some form of mental illness at some point in their lives, often beginning in adolescence – something I should have been more aware of as a secondary teacher. While my mental health is pretty good, I’ve also realised that I’ve probably had a few times when that hasn’t been true. I was an impossibly shy child/teenager to the point where I wasn’t able to do some normal things and my anxiety levels were very much raised when I was out of my comfort zone. This included talking to adults, especially doctors and some teachers one-on-one, making phone calls to people I didn’t know, public speaking, really any time where I had to say something to or have a conversation with someone outside my close family and friends. My Mum never understood this – it was not something she had had any experience with – and would push (force?) me to do these things without any support. Her philosophy was that if she did it for me I’d never learn how to do it myself and I should just suck it up and do it. I get that, but I think having been there myself I would approach the situation quite differently as a parent in the same situation. Although at this point in time my kids seem very confident and nothing like I was.
I have fought an internal battle since I was about 16 and made the conscience decision to try to overcome my nervousness. I’ve come a very long way. But there are still things I can’t quite take control of. Going to the doctors is one – I get ridiculously nervous, have trouble controlling my voice, get shaky and generally feel crap. Needless to say I avoid the doctor. I get this way even if I’m going with my kids. The only time I can manage to control my anxiety is if I’m going for something quite straight forward or tangible which requires little verbal explanation. For example, if I need a pap smear or if the girls have a rash for something I can SHOW the doctor. Any time I have to actually express what I’m feeling like or some intangible concern I have with one or other of the girls I become a complete mess. I hate it, I wish I could get over it, but there it is.
I’ve also had a few times when I’ve been what I call ‘down’ or ‘in a funk’. I usually just force myself out of bed and get through the day, do something that makes me feel good like being in the garden or exercising and pull myself out of it. Sometimes this takes a little longer than others, but in the end the feeling always dissipates. The fact that I can do this probably means it’s not really depression, but I do understand to some extent that inability to get out of bed and participate in the world that true depression suffers experience.
Anyway, I wanted to share a few things I’ve watched this week that have expanded my understanding and given me a much greater insight into mental health.
From Potential Psychology I found these two TED talks. The first is Ruby Wax on mental illness – funny!
The second is by Eleanor Longdon talk about her own mental illness, schizophrenia and is a fascinating first hand account of the appearance of voices in her head.
Then on iview I would highly recommend Felicity Ward’s Mental Mission, which I really related to. And if you’ve got a bit more time I found Changing Minds totally fascinating. It’s about a secure psychiatric ward in an Australian hospital and the patients who are admitted to the unit. Lastly, if you aren’t already, get on Josh Thomas’ Please Like Me bandwagon. It’s very funny, well written and under appreciated in Australia. Last night the played an encore screening of the episode when Josh and his on-screen mother go hiking after a friend of hers committed suicide. I can’t find a link to that one, but the whole show it worth watching.
On final thing I’ve done is to make a mental health promise to myself here. Mine was to get outside regularly and to get enough sleep. Lack of both sends me into a funk. Why don’t you go and add your own promise to the wall? It can be something to do for your own mental health or something to support others.
All this talk about mental illness and mental health is a really wonderful step in reducing stigma, making workplaces and schools better able to cope with and support people with mental illness and hopefully improve professional support services that are easily accessible when it’s most needed. There is a lot of work to do in this area by all of us. What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you, so leave me a comment.