Awareness events such as World Mental Health Day and RUOK Day are important for initiating conversations about mental health in the community. Anything to promote discussion in the media about what "mental health" means and how to seek help if you need it is certainly a positive thing.
However, reducing stigma is only one component of tackling this issue. With new research showing that Australia’s suicide rate is the highest it’s been for over ten years, it is clear that action must follow awareness. Clearly, a little more conversation and a little more action is needed. Here are some tips that might help.
The theme of World Mental Health Day this year was ‘psychological first aid’. With over one in four Australians experiencing a mental illness, many people find themselves in a support role - whether parents, friends, teachers or co-workers. When we notice signs that people around us might be struggling, we know to ask if they are ok. But how should we respond when their reply is ‘no’?
- Listen to them. Don’t shy away, let them know that you hear them. These conversations can be uncomfortable, and you might feel out of your depth in providing constructive advice, but the most important thing is to let them talk. Don’t belittle their concerns or say ‘you’ll get over it’. If they’re approaching you, it’s important to them. Avoid judgement, or trying to ‘solve it’ for them.
- Direct them towards help. Inquire whether they have someone with a health background to talk about this with, perhaps a GP, or counsellor. If not, ask if they would like you to assist them get in touch someone who can help. Lifeline (13 11 14) is always a good start if you’re not sure who to recommend.
- Suggest options they're comfortable with. Online resources may be a good starting point for people who might not be ready to make an appointment with a health professional. Point them towards Beyond Blue or other online resources (Headspace is great for younger people). There is also an array of free mental health smartphone apps available such as Mood Mission, which provide practical strategies to deal with anxiety or depression.
For those who feel they need more in depth information and strategies to help someone suffering from a mental illness, there are some great courses around. The Mental Health First Aid training, which is available in cities and towns around the country, is valuable, particularly in dealing with crisis situations that might arise.
However, a range of other courses are available to provide more specific training for people in the community and specifically, for employers. Beyond Blue have a variety of online resources which can be very useful for employers and work colleagues. There are also other courses available, such as QPR Suicide prevention, which provide strategies to deal with issues around suicide.
Short courses are also valuable in helping equip people with the conversation starters they need to approach difficult issues with others, and to become aware of the type of support available. And for those wanting to take a step further and begin their journey towards becoming accredited as a counsellor or psychologist to help others, there are many Bachelor of Psychology options available both on campus and online.
No matter how you decide to initiate a conversation about mental health, awareness is the first step towards normalising the issue and there are a plethora of resources to get you started.
Adjunct Associate Professor Nikki Rickard is Program Director of Psychology at Swinburne Online.