CW: This page includes information focused on mental health, mental health conditions and may include references to depression, anxiety, stress disorders, eating disorders and suicide. Please contact Life Line on 13 11 14, or refer to the support services page if these issues are triggering to you.
At the conclusion of my video introducing mental health week I noted that the most common mental illnesses in Australia are those that fall under the category of anxiety disorders, followed by affective disorders like depression, and substance use disorders.
These qualify as some incredibly serious illnesses, and it’s important to acknowledge that these categories of mental illnesses have a significant impact the quality of life for those who live with them (AIHW, 2018).
In a lot of cases the symptoms of both anxiety and depression overlap, and substance use disorders are not uncommonly comorbid to this (AIHW, 2018). I’d also like to highlight that on a sliding mental health scale, receiving appropriate treatment and care is more important than a solid diagnosis.
Over the past week I’ve been engaging with a number of people in my life who have kindly shared their experiences of mental illness with me, and for the most part, a clinical diagnosis isn’t made - and while this leads me to believe that more people are experiencing struggles with their well being than the data suggests, it certainly doesn’t change the validity of the feelings and symptoms present in our lives.
I’ve also noticed, and relate to this myself, that a lot of stressors that contribute to the exacerbation of anxiety and depression symptoms are common, and that they largely come back to communication, how we care for ourselves, and societal expectations.
From this I’ve established a message that I’d like you to carry with you, and that is to not assume what might be driving someone’s behaviour, and to treat each person around you with empathy, patience, and kindness. In an age where we are all so divulged within our internet circles, I’m ever increasing the value of honest interaction, no matter how small it may be.
Accessing Mental Health Care
The Australian mental health care system is a tricky one, and I've found it almost impossible to find a guide on how to access it.
In an ideal streamlined process mental health care can be sought by firstly consulting a General Practitioner. Here the first thing they’ll typically ask you to do is to complete the ‘K10 Depression and Anxiety Checklist’, which will highlight areas of concern that you and your doctor can use to interpret what may be going on. From here, your doctor can issue you with a Mental Health Care Plan which is a strategy that focuses on your mental health needs, your goals, and treatment options. Your GP can also prescribe medication if required.
A Mental Health Care Plan will act as a referral and will entitle you to up to 10 individual or group consultations within a 12-month period with allied mental health care practitioners – i.e. occupational therapists, psychologists. Under a Mental Health Care Plan you will need to check back in with your GP as well.
While you do not need a Mental Health Care Plan to access mental health care, it helps by easing the financial burden and encourages multifaceted mental health treatment by engaging both a mental health practitioner and a GP.
This process, however, assumes we all have access to General Practitioner or mental health care services, which is not always the case. I also absolutely believe that 10 Medicare eligible sessions per year is not enough to ensure financial accessibility to mental health care for all of us. In response to this, I’ve found some other services that might prove helpful to you.
There’s always Lifeline, who you contact by phone on 13 11 14. Beyond Blue are contactable by phone on 1300 224 636, or online chat via this link: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support/get-immediate-support
In our internet era, I’ve discovered ‘Head to Health’ – an initiative run by the Australian Government Department of Health that hosts a collation of useful online tools and resources about mental health and accessing mental health care. For more follow this link: https://headtohealth.gov.au/about-us
I've always felt haunted by own brain in the night.
I've always felt incredibly lonely in the dark.
Memories of the night as a child are warmed by the comforting voice of either my Mum or my Dad, quietly exclaiming as to not wake my brother, 'let's throw the bad dream out the window'. It was then, the fairy destroying knight on a giant flying horse was gone. He was locked out, and he couldn't come back in.
Until of course, he did. He still does sometimes. I'm not afraid of him now, but I am saddened to think of the fear he instilled in baby-me; particularly because I still feel it now in other ways.
I feel that same fear as I wake fighting to take my next breathe, as though the very darkness that created awful monsters back then is suffocating me now. I feel it as I work with all my might to get my eyes to open, while my brain runs at a million miles for fear of being trapped in my own dead body for eternity. I feel it when I lay in bed wide awake for hours, afraid to fall asleep. Most terrifying of all, I feel it everywhere I go, and then I feel what it found during the day all over again while I dream.
These phenomena are commonly known as nightmares, nocturnal panic attacks, and sleep paralysis. They are concocted by generalised anxiety manifesting itself in parasomnia and pre-established fears from my childhood dreams that have contorted my perception of reality. They arise when I have the least capacity to manage them as they typically reflect the current status of my mental wellbeing.
It’s fairly difficult to pinpoint when the nighttime activity of my brain became an anxiety disorder, but I recall carrying the darkness of it all with me at times when I was young. To this day I’m incredibly confident one moment, and a complete shell the next; it’s as though the light in my eyes has been stolen within a moment.
To manage these feelings I’ve taken to a few contradicting behaviours. For one, I am an avid lover of true crime. I think the reason for this is it keeps the darkness within my thoughts grounded in reality. I’m also obsessed with the My Favourite Murder podcast, and have to acknowledge the influence that the hosts Karen and Georgia have had on empowering me to feel ‘normal’ with regard to all of this.
In contrast, terrible things that find their foundations in fantasy or dystopian predictions of reality are a big ‘NO!’ for me. I recall watching the first season of ‘A Handmaids Tale’ a few years back. As a devout feminist I appreciate the incredible production and the messages expressed by Margaret Atwood, however I did not appreciate the insomnia it triggered, and the night terrors it caused when I finally did get to sleep. Oddly, I also find that ‘mindfulness’ and apps that help us to practice it, cause similar phenomena.
The only place meditation is safe for me is in the pool. When my Grandfather died I wrote “the silence under the water only broken by my breath - an unmistakable reminder that I'm alive - is a haven for my thoughts to process and align themselves”. When referring to managing my anxiety, this sentiment is more true than ever. I find incredible comfort in my ability to stay proficiently alive in water; a substance that could kill me within minutes. I stark reminder that I will be okay when the darkness weighs me down, perhaps.
Fortunately, wherever I seem to go, the bedroom windows hold up a strong fight. I can’t imagine my parents thought I’d still be using their desperate attempts to banish my bad dreams at almost 27 years of age. I didn’t really see myself insisting on taking Noddy, my stuffed clown, to bed every night either, but he also puts up an incredible fight and has kept me safe all these years.
Maybe that’s where all my faith lies? In my teddy, and the hinge on my bedroom window. I’m okay with that. And while I might be feeling very much in the thick fog at the moment, it's this faith that reminds me that I too, am okay.