3 Steps to Creating Change in Attitudes Toward Mental Health

by | Oct 12, 2014 | Mental Health

3 Steps to Creating Change in Attitudes Toward Mental Health

by | Oct 12, 2014 | Mental Health

Mental Health Week 2014 has been incredible. Minister for Mental Health, the Hon. Helen Morton, said that this week has been the largest discussion about mental health she has ever seen.

Where can we go from here? It can’t be that Mental Health Week finishes and we go back to being relaxed about mental health. I saw top TV personalities sharing their experience with the nation about seeing a therapist, a powerful documentary on patients with severe mental illness, and a woman with grief in her voice as she asked a panel why her sister had been allowed to die by suicide. These experiences cannot go ignored – we need to listen, take stock, and then do something. But what?

When I think about all the things that improved in the current mental health system I feel overwhelmed. More early intervention measures; research; support for family; and services across the lifespan – these are all areas in need of urgent attention.

There are many reports about what needs to be done on a national level to shift our mental health system into the 21st century. I want to add to this dialogue in a different way and look at what we, as individuals, can do. Every movement in history has started with one idea, one action, one person. If we start changing our own ideas and actions, we can build the momentum needed to have a positive impact on the attitudes and treatment toward people with mental illness. With this in mind, I’d like to share the top three things we can do to help change attitudes towards mental health in Australia.

Top 3 Things we can do to Help Change Attitudes
Toward Mental Health in Australia

#1: TALK OPENLY AND HONESTLY ABOUT THE UPS AND DOWNS OF LIFE

Life is like a roller-coaster, it goes up and down and there are thrills and chills. We are so used to talking about the ‘ups’ and ‘thrills’ that we forget that going down is a natural and inevitable part of the experience of being human. Just as we can’t change the weather, we can’t change our history but we can change how we look at it. This is why I encourage you to talk openly about your failures. We all have them. I fail All. The. Time. and I’m not saying that to be self-deprecating. I really do fail, but really – it’s OK. Failure is the first step to learning and growth and doesn’t define you as a person. We need more people in the world who acknowledge this. Please speak up about your mental health experiences and failures. Doing so will help conversations about mental health to become more regular and ordinary.

#2: BE A FRIEND – ASK ‘ARE YOU OKAY?’

The cost of psychiatrists and psychologists are at around $200 an hour. Some clients are fortunate to receive rebates or bulk-billing, but if a mental health problem is persistent and/or complex, the bill is extremely high. Unless more funding is allocated to public services, people with complex needs will continue to be hit in their wallets. The best thing we can do, as individuals, is to help our friends and loved ones 1) identify that they are not OK, 2) ask if they have sought any help, 3) assist in identifying sources of help (therapist, counsellor, psychologist), and 4) follow-up with them to see how they are going. It’s a profound action to ask someone ‘are you okay?’ and can save lives. R U OK has a great resource on how to start meaningful conversations.

#3: PRACTICE SELF-CARE

Make sure to keep a tab on how your own mental health is travelling. Your own health and well-being is of the highest importance and, just as we’re watching out for the health of our loved ones, we need to look out for our own. This is because it’s difficult to offer assistance to other people if you are going through your own struggles. With this in mind, make sure you follow some guidelines to mental health. Surround yourself with positive people, join a club to feel connected, eat good mood food, exercise and get enough sleep, engage yourself in learning or a fulfilling hobby (more tips here and here; tips for self-care here). And, if you need professional help, don’t hesitate to be brave and speak up. We can teach other people a lot about mental health by being an example of health ourselves.

I’m looking forward to working on these four things and continuing to inspire change in the community!