10 October 2019, Brisbane – 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.
Rebecca shares her mental health journey and talks about what World Mental Health Day means to her.
It all started around age 19 in my second year of a drama degree, and I was feeling bogged down.
I put extremely high standards on myself, and when these standards were not reached, I would “‘punish”’ myself. “You’re worthless; you’re ugly; you’re a failure.” These never-ending, relentless thoughts suffocated my day to day thinking.
I became isolated and my self-care went out the door. I felt as though I was a shadow of my former self, that I had lost something, thatI was floundering but had no idea what to do.
In my personal life, I was dealing with family conflict, the death of my grandfather and a friend who had taken her life. These events have taken years to deal with and accept. At the time, talking to friends helped but it to me a long time to get things straight in my own head. Instead of just trying to push forward in my usual way, stopping the pretense of trying to carry on and allowing myself more space and time would have been a better choice.
Mental illness was something I knew little of. I knew people got depressed but I was unsure of its many characteristics and the variety of ways it can present itself.
People were unaware of my depression; I was really good at putting on a façade. I felt I was a fraud by putting on a brave face day to day as deep down I was wasting away.
It wasn’t until I reached out for help and saw professionals that I truly realised I was facing the first episode of severe depression. I would go on to experience depression three more times. I learned three things that I’d like to share:
- I am not a failure for experiencing mental illness more than once. I’ve discovered that each bout of mental ill-health comes with its own new obstacles and hurdles and lessons to be learnt.
- I am not a waste of space. I will get through anything and everything. Now, instead of feeling ashamed of myself, I feel proud of myself.
- I am not limited by my depression. Just because I have experienced depression does not mean I am less of a person. It does not mean I cannot achieve all my dreams.
Did stigma prevent you from reaching out for support?
Definitely. I kept everything to myself for quite a long time. I struggled in silence. I thought if I told my friends they’d see me differently. I really didn’t want anyone to know. I made the move to reach out to Mum and then told some other family members. Even when I had done that, I didn’t want my friends to know. When I first went to hospital, I actually sent an email out to my close friends saying I had been physically unwell when, in fact, I was trying to manage mental ill-health.
Reflecting on this now really highlights how strongly I felt the stigma surrounding mental health and how the shame that I felt impacted me. This was in 2011, and I can see that there have been great leaps forward in how society views mental health issues today. I believe it’s important to be honest not just with yourself but with everyone. I have learnt that this is the best pathway to healing. It still takes a lot of courage to speak out. There is still a stigma surrounding mental health and this is why I like to talk to groups of young people; to offer them support and hope in their mental health journeys.
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?
It took all my strength to tell my mum how I was feeling, but I knew I needed to tell someone. It felt so good reaching out. We chatted and she told me of her episode of depression in her 30s. It was in this moment I realised the importance of reaching out to a loved one. After much discussion, we decided it’d be best if I saw my GP to talk about options.
This moment was pivotal to the trajectory of my mental health journey and if I hadn’t spoken up, things would look a lot different now. I wouldn’t have the professional help that I regularly utilise for the upkeep of my mental health.
How do you challenge misconceptions about mental health and encourage positive conversations?
I always check in with family and friends, both to see how they’re doing and to tell them how I’m doing.
I share my story though batyr, but also with my family and friends. I challenge the misconceptions about mental health by showing it is possible to live a life that is exciting, challenging and rewarding.
Seeking professional support is so important. It’s vital to smash the idea that it’s weak to seek professional help. In fact, it shows immense strength. Going to a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist should be seen as ‘normal’ as going to see a GP.
I do not allow anyone to tell me how I should be feeling or what I should be feeling. I choose for myself.
What is your pledge for World Mental Health Day?
My pledge is to continue to spark conversations about the importance of looking after your mental health and to continue to challenge the negative perceptions of mental health. I will always ask the question, “Are you ok?”, and engage in positive discussions about mental health. I will continue to stay aware that mental ill-health does not discriminate. We all have mental health and it’s so important that we start reaching out for support when we need it.
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.