10 October 2019, Melbourne – The theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day is ‘Do you see what I see?’, with the aim to:
- Challenge negative perceptions of mental health.
- Encourage people to shine a positive light on mental health.
- Make a way for people to seek the support they need.
At batyr, we want to amplify the voices of young people in order to smash mental health stigma and increase help-seeking rates in Australia. It has been proven that sharing lived experience stories is the most effective way to change negative perceptions of mental health.
Genesis shares her mental health journey and talks about what World Mental Health Day means to her.
I was born in Australia, but I grew up in a beautiful island in Venezuela, where my mum is from. I had a happy childhood, with incredibly loving and supportive parents. However, I remember always being an anxious child, I had a huge fear of failure in school, worried about how my body looked, and felt the pressure to please every person in my life. At some point, these worries started to rob me of my sleep and made me feel lightheaded and dizzy. I remember going to the doctor with my mum and being told there was nothing wrong with my physical health.
When I was 15, I moved to Melbourne. This was a huge step out of my comfort zone. I had to leave my extended family, my friends, and everything that I had grown up with.
The move made me very anxious and homesick for months as I felt that I didn’t fit in. I noticed that things that used to make me feel better didn’t anymore, and I stopped being as cheerful as I used to be.
Something I noticed as an immigrant is that I felt a lot more pressure to succeed in school. I felt the pressure of honouring the privilege of studying in Australia, after all the hardship my parents had to endure to live here. It was hard not to feel like I was losing control over all the new things happening in my life.
Later in year 12, despite good friends and good grades, my inner critic was at its worst, I felt like I didn’t deserve any of the good things I had in my life. This was around the time that I started having insomnia and regular panic attacks. Once I was in university, things such as financial struggles, work-study balance and thoughts of future careers were added to the list of things that I overthought.
It was only when I was completely miserable that I had a talk with my mum about it and decided to go to the university’s counselling services. This was the first of three attempts at seeking support for my mental health. The third time, I visited a psychologist at my local headspace centre and was able to develop some strategies that I still use regularly today.
For the last six months, I am happy to say that my mental health has been great. It has been a long and tiring process of working on myself. I started learning how to be kinder to myself, to respect myself and my decisions, and to know that I am ‘enough’, that my mistakes and shortcomings are not a sign of weakness, but a sign that I am becoming stronger. I still have very tough times every now and then but I have come a long way.
Did stigma prevent you from reaching out for support?
In my experience, it wasn’t so much the stigma held in society that held me back from reaching out for support but my own self-stigma that did not allow me to reach out.
While I have always encouraged everyone to seek support for their mental health the same way they’d seek support for a physical health issue, I felt hesitant about doing so myself. I worried about how I would come across in my group of friends, family, and even with the psychologist herself, if I admitted I needed help to manage my feelings of depression of anxiety. I wondered what would they think about me?
I had internalised all the comments I had heard throughout several years: I was just stressing too much; I could simply calm down; I was an overthinker; I worried too much; I just needed to relax; I needed more chamomile tea; more lavender; less TV before bed; to go out and be more spontaneous; that I was just being overdramatic and not anxious; that I didn’t need to waste someone’s time when they could be helping someone else.
All that hesitation started coming to an end when I started talking with my mum and my best friend about how I was feeling.
Initially, all it took to start feeling better were those conversations.
What do you wish someone knew about what you were going through?
I wish some people knew that the way that anxiety and depression are shown in pop culture is not always representative of how some people experience it. When I was growing up, we didn’t have characters, celebrities, or influencers that advocate so strongly about mental health. I remember seeing anxiety and depression represented so badly in the media that it made me never want to associate it with my identity.
I remember that some people told me I didn’t look depressed because I wasn’t “sad”; that my cheerful, calm and kind nature did not reflect an anxious person; and that I wasn’t anxious during many situations that others would normally be.
As I continued to learn more about myself and explore my experiences, I started to learn that not everyone experiences mental ill-health in the same way, just as physical ill health looks different for everybody.
Tell us about a moment or conversation you had that ‘shone a light’ on the challenges you were facing and encouraged you to reach out. What was that moment like?
One of the most important and tough conversations I’ve had was the first time I was truly honest with my mum about my struggles with anxiety and depression.
One night, I had a big panic attack and ran to my room in tears. My mum followed me in and sat next to me in complete silence as I struggled to calm down. We were both in complete silence for about ten minutes. Afterwards, my mum said “You know you can tell me anything that you are going through, right? I’m here for you”.
I told her everything that was going through my head over the past year. Mum gave me a hug and reassured me that we would get through it together. This conversation was fairly scary, to tell the woman I admire so much that I felt weak and hopeless was dreadful, but it strengthened our relationship. She was incredibly understanding and relieved that I had chosen to share this with her.
How do you challenge misconceptions about mental health and encourage positive conversations?
I challenge misconceptions about mental health by being open and honest about when I’m not ok. We are open about having headaches or stomach aches: imagine if we were just as open about when we are feeling anxious or a little flat? I encourage positive and open conversations about mental health in my environment, whether it is work, family, or in friendships, it is really quite simple to do it sometimes by just saying that I’m a batyr speaker or I am a volunteer with headspace or other organisations.
That conversation starter has lead to many meaningful chats about mental health. I also challenge misconceptions about mental health by using my social media platforms to talk about mental health, and share a bit of my experiences when appropriate, but by also highlighting positive representations of mental health/illness in the media.
What is your pledge for World Mental Health Day?
I pledge to put my health first and to prioritise what my mind and my body tells me to do. For much too long, I have negated the rest, meal breaks, and love that my body deserved to satisfy some other need.
I pledge to love myself, to respect myself and treat myself just as I would treat my loved ones, I will allocate time to rest and recover after busy days, I will treat myself to face masks and cups of tea, I will schedule blocks of time during the day where I do a digital detox.
I will speak kindly of myself and feel proud of my accomplishments.
If this story has brought up strong feelings for you, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.