Taking time to understand mental well being

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“He says he is suffering from depression” she scoffed. “I don’t know what he would be unhappy about?”

I opened my mouth to respond, to clarify that depression isn’t about being unhappy but I couldn’t find the words to explain it. I just nodded and tried to change the subject. That was a few years ago.

Awareness around our mental health and well-being is improving with quite a bit of funding being provided for awareness campaigns, research and education.

But there is still a stigma and misunderstanding.

I have to admit that I have been in the denial and misinterpreting camp, though I have been willing to know more, understand better. I have read, I have listened, I have wanted to empathise.

Today I had a light bulb flash, a serendipitous moment that made sense. I wanted to share with you.

Why do we talk about our physical health and not our mental health? Why do we split them into two?

If I asked you “how are you?” most of you would think about your physical state like –

“I’ve got a bit of a back ache today” or “the arthritis is playing up, must be a change in the weather coming” or “my shoulders are aching a bit, must have been the way I slept”

And that’s what I expect the answer to be.

What if…we start to think about our wellness as our whole self? Mind and body. They are not separate, they function as one yet we tend to think about them as two separate ‘conditions”.

Our mind is a powerful element that can affect our physical state.

Our physical state, likewise affects our mind.

Did you just go aha? I did. (or you might already know all this and it is me that needed to catch up)

I know that when I am stressed I get headaches, I am tired and exhausted.

Stress is a state of mind – headache physical.

I broke my ankle 2 years ago. The hardest part about that mending was trying to manage the sadness and feeling of helplessness as the ankle healed.

Broken ankle physical – helplessness a state of mind.

See where I am going? They went together to make me.

This morning I attended a short course about Mental Health. In 90 minutes Kate from the Rural Adversity Mental Health Program provided a clear and for me, a different perspective about mental health.

She spoke about mental wellbeing (note I didn’t use mental health!) as a scale or continuum from not coping to coping well. All of us move along this scale, its normal. Where we are on the scale depends on our physical well-being, our ability to manage and juggle what is happening in our life and how much we are carrying the load of someone else, those around us whether family, friends or work colleagues.

Check out this great clip – Mental Health Wellness Continuum – it was another aha moment for me.

The session also included some snippets about how to ask the right questions to help others, where to go to get more help either for self or those we are concerned about.

And then some gobsmacking realities –

  • 25% of what our GPs see in a day is mental health.
  • 8 people a day die of suicide in Australia…eight. 6 of these are men. That is 2.5 times more than people die on our roads. I am still digesting this one.
  • The more rural and remote we get the greater the number of suicides and risk factors. There is also a greater lack of help and support opportunities. Gosh.

My take home I want to share with you is this:

Don’t wait for special awareness days to ask those close to you R U OK?

Don’t dismiss their physical symptoms with a light hearted “I’ve got a Panadol”.

Don’t say “have a few wines or a beer and it will be alright, it will pass”.

Take time to listen. Ask. Show you care.

E V E R Y D A Y.

And make the effort to learn more about mental wellbeing and how to help others. It could save someone’s life. It might save your own. We are all part of the same village, we should look out for each other.

If you are an employer, big or small, make mental well being part of your Work Health and Safety program.

Start by checking out the Rural Adversity Mental Health Program website. There are loads of tools, stories and contacts to get you started

Thank you Kate from RAMHP and the Gunnedah Community College. It was a day of discovery.

Image credit: © Can Stock Photo / focalpoint

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