11 October 2017

Mental illness: Canberrans explain their uphill battle

| Nicola Sheville
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Mental health awarenessThis week is National Mental Health Week, so it’s a fantastic opportunity to explore what it is like for Canberrans living with mental illness, the uphill battle they face, and how people maintain their mental health successfully.

Mental illness is defined as referring to a wide range of conditions that affect your mood, thinking and behaviour. As most people are aware, mental illness is a very common thing in Australia. In Canberra alone, there has been an average of 34 deaths per year by suicide over the last decade.

Every day in Australia at least six people die due to suicide and a further 30 people will attempt to take their own life.

Mental Health issues are very common here, with one in five, or 20 per cent of Australians aged 16-85 experiencing a mental illness in any year. Forty-five per cent of Australians in the same age group report that they’ve dealt with a mental illness in their lifetime.

Although I’ve had my own experiences with depression and anxiety, it’s important to realise that everyone experiencing mental health issues, or caring for those who do, will have a different experience.

I contacted a few other Canberrans and asked them what their experience with mental illness has been like and what they do to try and keep a healthy brain.

Michael, a 25-year-old public servant and part-time student has been experiencing depression and suicidality on and off for several years.

“It makes me not want to do much and makes me not do things as well as usual. It also impacts my self-esteem, and the belief I should have in myself. After a while of feeling that way it becomes hard to do much of anything,” Michael said of his experience with mental illness.

“I try to remember that I’m not useless or pathetic and that life is worth living. I also try to think about how my death would impact those around me and that it really doesn’t fix any problems.”

Low self-esteem is often associated with suicide risk. In fact, feelings of low self-esteem are very closely related to those of hopelessness, depression and suicidal ideation.

Another angle of mental health that often gets overlooked is the perspective of those who care for people with mental illnesses.

Lynne (51), a mother of three and primary school teacher has been dealing with mental health issues for almost a decade now However, her experience has not been as someone with mental health issues herself, but as a mother caring for children who have experienced mental illness.

“When a loved one struggles with their mental health it impacts the entire family dynamic,” Lynne said of her experience.

“I’ve found that it’s like any other long-term disease. You treat the symptoms and try to treat the root cause but, with mental illness, relationships can be difficult to maintain and sometimes get damaged.

“It takes a lot of work and respect from both sides to support each other through it.”

Experiencing mental illness is a hard, incredibly overwhelming thing to deal with.

Whether you’re going through it yourself, or you live with and care for people who are dealing with it, it’s a messy, horrible thing to have to experience.

For me, it’s been almost a decade of ups and downs. I first encountered depression and anxiety when I was in high school as many people do. Daily suicidal thoughts were my reality, but after a lot of therapy and the help of antidepressants, I saw the light once again.

Unfortunately, I fell back into depression about two years ago and, up until now, it’s felt hopeless. Everything seemed so much harder than it should be; work, studying, waking up, showering – mental illness made every single thing I used to be able to do without a second thought into an uphill battle.

The antidepressants that worked on me as a teenager no longer worked, therapy felt harder and more uncomfortable. But recently, on my seventh trial run of antidepressants, my mood started to improve.

I remembered that every sad thought, every bad day, every moment of breathless anxiety would soon pass. These feelings, even at their worst, are only temporary.

I may not be feeling like myself now, but it does get better. The right treatment is everything and there is absolutely no shame going to a psychologist, taking antidepressants or having your illness diagnosed.

If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of mental health, or if someone you love needs help you can find someone to talk to. Below are some of the organisations you can contact:

  • Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team: 1800 629 354
  • Lifeline: 13 11 14
  • BeyondBlue: 1300 224 636
  • Headspace: 1800 650 890
  • Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
  • MensLine Australia: 1300 789 978

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