Culture

Smashing the Stigma Surrounding Mental Health

Content Warning: Discussion of Mental Illness

Seven. That is the number of people, of a class of 30, that will be dealing with a mental health issue. Of these seven, only two will reach out for help. The other five will suffer in silence. One of the reasons for this silent suffering is the stigma surrounding mental illness and help-seeking behaviours.

To help overcome this stigma, and foster help-seeking behaviour, one thing you can do right now is to start a conversation with someone. Specifically, have the “are you okay?” conversation. This act can be a difficult thing to do, and you may not know how to respond if someone says they aren’t okay. Luckily, there are plenty of online resources that give tips on how to have this conversation, such as R U OK and Beyondblue. Here are some of their tips on how to have this conversation.

Are you Okay?

1: Before you can look out for others, you need to look out for yourself. And that’s okay! If you’re not in the right headspace, try to think of someone else in that person’s support network who could talk to them.

2: Ask “Are you okay?” Try to be relaxed, friendly and concerned in your approach. Help them open up by asking questions like “what’s been happening?” and mentioning specific things that have raised your concern for them, such as “you seem more quiet than usual. How are you going?”

3: Listen. Try your best not to judge, and take what they say seriously. It’s best not to interrupt or rush the conversation, so don’t be afraid to sit through periods of silence if they need time to respond.

4: Encourage action. You might consider asking questions like “what’s something you can do for yourself right now?” or “how would you like me to support you?” If they have been feeling really down for more than two weeks, it’s important to encourage them to see a health professional. Offer to help them seek out support – whether all they need is for you to point out a good GP or service, or help walk them to the waiting room. It’s best to be positive about the role of professionals.

5: Check in. Remember to check in with them in a couple of weeks – sooner if they are really struggling. You can let them know you’ve been thinking about them and were wondering how they’ve been going. Ask if they’ve found a better way to manage the situation, but remember not to judge them if they haven’t done anything since your last chat.

Whilst asking someone how they are sounds like such a simple thing, it can really make a difference to someone having a hard time. If nothing else, it shows them that you are thinking of them, and their wellbeing. For others, it can be the conversation that finally encourages them to seek help.

It’s Okay to Not be Okay

If you realise you aren’t okay, or that someone around you isn’t okay, there are plenty of options out there that can help. It’s okay to not be okay, and the best thing you can do is to reach out and seek help. And there are many ways to do this. You could reach out to family and/or friends for support, or chat to services over the phone or online, such as Lifeline (13 11 14) or beyondblue (1300 22 4636). You could book an appointment with ANU Counselling. You could book an appointment with your GP, who can do a mental health plan and direct you to services and health professionals that would suit your needs.

It can be scary when you realise you might need help. It can also be scary going to access mental health services for the first time. However, looking after yourself is paramount – so it is important to engage with the help you need. This poses another reason why we need to smash the stigma surrounding mental health, so that we can foster open conversations on how to seek help, and what it was like to engage with said help. Because, if you’ve ever heard anyone share their personal story on mental health issues, you’ll hear about how important it can be to seek help and support

Smashing the Stigma at the ANU

It’s easy to see why smashing the stigma surrounding mental health is such an important task. And it’s a task the ANU student body hasn’t shied away from, with initiatives like Batyr and Civic2Surf showing just how motivated many of us are when it comes to fostering a positive mental health discourse. If you haven’t heard of Batyr, they are a for-purpose organisation who delivers peer-to-peer programs that engage, educate and empower young people on the topic of mental health. They train young people with lived experience to share their mental health journey, and how they sought help. Civic2Surf is the key fundraiser for Batyr and sees over 60 students participating in a running relay from Civic to Bondi to do their part to smash the stigma. Both initiatives were started by previous ANU students, and now see thousands of students across Australia positively engaging with the topic of mental health.

The willingness and efforts of the ANU student body present the exciting opportunity for us to really make a difference in the area of mental health and help-seeking discourses. This work is also super important in the context that it can encourage people to seek help early on, which is especially salient given the current strain on mental health services. And, whilst the ANU student body has been taking a lead on smashing the stigma surrounding mental ill health, there is still so much more to be done. That is why this Uni Mental Health Day (and any other day), make sure to check in with yourselves, and those around you. Start that conversation. Perhaps check out many of the initiatives and resources on campus, or look up more information online. No matter what you do, remember that it’s okay to not be okay – and that it is super important to reach out and seek help if you need it.