May the odds be ever in your favour… Why We Need Better Mental Health Literacy

If you fell off your bike, got hit by a car, caught a cold or just felt physically ill chances are you would seek help. In fact, you are encouraged to do so. In some circles if you decided to not seek help and to ‘tough’ it out you would be judged as there is generally a common understanding that seeking help is the appropriate response when you are unwell.

Now consider a situation in which you feel unwell but are not sure why. You are feeling down, sad and disconnected from things that you once enjoyed. You are having difficulty sleeping and may have noticed a change in your appetite and or weight. Now what do you think your chances are of seeking help when you and those around you may not even be aware that you need it?

When we begin to talk about chance, we reveal the unfortunate reality of mental health in Australia: that your mental health is a matter of luck. Not only does education, socioeconomic background, geographic location and a myriad of other complex factors influence your ability to receive help, sometimes it can be as simple as who you know.

Being connected to others who have a sound mental health literacy can be the vital step in facilitating early interventions and possibly preventing short term problems morphing into longer term, more serious issues down the track. But where do you find these people? More often than not, they are everyday people who have possibly developed their knowledge of mental health from personal experiences, may have been chucked in the deep end when they had to support a friend or family member or happen to be studying in a related field.

While there are courses out there such as Mental Health First Aid, we still have a long way to go to develop an understanding on the population level equal to that of physical health.  With the field of mental health constantly evolving, the next few years should see greater collaboration of organisations towards a common goal. This includes the anticipated release of some amazing innovations such as evidence based mHealth apps or mobile health applications.

But we don’t have to wait to start enacting change. While your state of mental health may be left up to luck, you as an individual and ‘we’ as a community can stack the odds to be in our favour. By taking it upon yourself to improve your mental health literacy, not only do you improve your own chances but also that of your networks (friends, family, colleagues, classmates etc.) of accessing appropriate professional help if experiencing mental health problems.

Let’s put the need for greater mental health literacy into context and look at your individual potential to create change by imagining that you are sitting in Manning Clark for a first year lecture of around 400 students. Based on current statistics; of those 400 students, 100 (25% of 16-24 year olds) will experience mental health problems and/or problematic alcohol and substance use problems within a 12 month period. However, of these 100 students, on average only 25 will receive appropriate professional support (80% of males and 70% of females do not receive professional help).

It is important to note that this is a generalisation and caution should be taken when applying population level statistics to sub groups. However, it speaks to the impact you as an individual can have within your community.

To get you started on your journey to greater mental health literacy I have included some pointers below.

  1. Be Proactive

You never know what will happen or when someone will need help. Be prepared and be that awesome person who has crisis and help lines saved as contacts on their phone. But make sure you take 5 minutes to investigate what the services offer, are they are a crisis line? Is it appointment only? What are their opening hours i.e. 24/7 or 9 to 5pm?

Some relevant ones for Canberra/ANU:

  • ANU Counselling – 6125 2442
  • Lifeline – 13 11 14
  • Kids Helpline – 1800 55 1800
  • Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team (CATT) – 02 6205 1065
  • Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467
  • Alcohol and Drug information service – 1800 422 599
  • OzHelp Foundation (suicide prevention) – (02) 6251 4166
  • QLife- 1800 184 527

2. Education

Being informed about the services is a great step, but check out some information on common mental health problems and their warning signs. Here is a list of great organisations to google to bulk up on knowledge.

  • ANU Counselling
  • Beyond Blue
  • headspace
  • Reachout.com
  • Butterfly Foundation
  • Suicide Prevention Australia

3. Training

The first 2 step tips are something you can realistically do in your spare time, but if you are interested in gaining skills to assist those close to you should the need arise there are some great courses on offer. For example, ANUSA this year through its Mental Health Committee organised free Mental Health First Aid and Suicide Prevention Training open to all students. These courses provide you with practical skills to use in support situations as well as a sound overview of the different mental health issues. Email sa.vicepres@anu.edu.au to express interest in next round of trainings.

May the odds be ever in your favour…