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The SANE Blog

The mental health impacts of Australia's bushfire crisis

Firefighters

For people with a history of trauma, the world can feel like an unsafe place. As bushfires burn across Australia, these feelings can intensify.

The mental health impacts of traumatic events like the bushfire crisis can be huge, and long lasting. For people on the front lines, fighting fires or fleeing their homes, the danger is real and visceral. But for those further removed geographically from the fires, breathing smokey air and reading harrowing media reports can also be extremely distressing and triggering.

Everyone in Australia needs mental health support during this difficult time, and we've already seen many heartwarming examples of people looking out for each other, in the spirit of mateship.

But we must also remember that the impacts of this crisis will ripple out far beyond this moment. We need robust mental health support to be available not just during an emergency, but also well into the future.

For people with a history of trauma or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), this is particularly important. These people can be incredibly resilient in times of crisis, and often step in to help others in need. But after the worst is over, the delayed impact on them can be significant.

SANE is committed to supporting people navigate the lasting impacts of the bushfire crisis and other traumatic events. 

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Complex mental health issues and sleep hygiene

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We spend a third of our lives asleep, and there is a reason for that. Sleep plays an important role in both our physical and mental wellbeing.

Good quality sleep allows time for our body to repair and recover from the day, strengthens our immune system, and lets our brain process memories. Getting enough sleep helps us concentrate and stay alert during the day, and perform well in our studies and at work.

Good quality sleep puts us in a better position to manage our emotions and mood, cope better with stress, and reduces irritability. Achieving enough sleep also decreases our risk of developing mental health problems in the future.

Sleep and mental health

Sleep problems are significantly more common among people with mental health issues than the general population. Poor sleep is linked with the onset of mental health difficulties as well as the worsening of current symptoms. Additionally, symptoms of mental illness such as feelings of anxiety and depression make it harder for people to fall and remain asleep.

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8

Royal Commission's Interim Report is deeply moving

Interim-Report-feature-image-850x575 Victorian Royal Commission into Mental Health releases Interim Report

The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System handed down its Interim Report on 28 November 2019, highlighting the need for fundamental reforms to better support people affected by mental health issues.

SANE shares the Commissioners’ view that the current crisis-driven mental health system is a result of continual poor investment decisions driven, ultimately, by stigma and discrimination.  This has led to enormous inequality and in turn, has led to barriers to access with treatment often dependent upon socioeconomic status and geography.

It is deeply moving to see these systemic failures acknowledged in this way.

SANE welcomes the Interim Report as the culmination of more than 8,200 contributions outlining the changes that need to happen in Victoria’s mental health system, to better meet community needs and expectations. We are heartened to see that the Commissioners have listened to and really heard the stories from people with lived experience of mental health issues, their families and friends.

In July 2019, we lodged a submission to the Royal Commission detailing 72 recommendations, and provided evidence on the impact of stigma and discrimination for people affected by complex mental health issues. We are pleased to see many of the issues raised in our submission are included in the Commission’s Interim Report.

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ECT and me - my pathway of recovery

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This post originally appeared on Dr Deb Robert's blog here.

There is no one all ‘fixit’ for those who suffer from mental health conditions.  I’ve searched far and wide since I was a teenager for a therapy that can give me a lasting reprieve from the bouts of anxiety and depression I have suffered from for most of my life.  Whether my condition is a genetic predisposition or has developed from adverse experiences, I can’t conclude for certain but what I do know is that a combination of factors has contributed to my reality.

Traditional methods and farfetched therapies, I’ve explored them all.  I’ve seen psychologists who provide Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Dialectic Behaviour Therapy (DBT), and I’ve seen psychiatrists who provide psychotherapy and pharmaceuticals. I’ve explored Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) and Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR). I’ve tried kinesiology, chiropractic work, osteopathy and naturopathy. Acupuncture, yoga, yoga therapy and massage therapy.  Heck, I’ve even attempted equine therapy.  But, nothing has provided sustainable, long-lasting relief. 

Many of us, including me at times, have put barriers up to historically controversial therapies.  One such therapy is Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT). 

For a long time, I sided with societal prejudice about ECT, so my decision to try ECT was not an easy one.

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"I'm one of the lucky ones" - how I got mental health support as a trans person

Finn

Guest blog by Peer Ambassador, Finn.

Being transgender, I am always hesitant to discuss my mental illness with others.

There’s this idea that being trans is a mental illness, and that any mental health issues we encounter would be resolved if we could “cure” our transness. In reality, many of us experience mental health concerns before we have even realised we are trans. A lot of these concerns are exacerbated if we are unwilling to accept we are trans.

I was raised in a family of 6, in semi-rural Queensland. My exposure to LGBT+ people was limited to mockery and the hatred of “delusional transgenders”.

My coming out to family was delayed because small actions, small statements here and there made me feel unsafe, to be honest. There were jokes about conversion therapy because I’m bisexual, comments of “what is THAT?” while pointing to a visibly trans person, the insistence that my boyfriend couldn’t possibly be a boy, because he looked too ‘feminine’ (he was 16, and unable to start hormones). These are only a few examples.

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"Lived experience cannot be gleaned from a book, it is a visceral knowledge."

People talking about mental health
Older woman chatting with doctor

"Nothing about us, without us" is a common request among people living with complex mental health issues. But all too often, systems and processes are designed without partnering with people with lived experience.

Ahead of a recent event hosted by the Parliamentary Friends of Mental Health, we asked our SANE Ambassadors three key questions about the mental health system in Australia - and let politicians in Canberra know what they said. Here* are some of their answers ...


Question 1: What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced in accessing formal support (i.e. from a health professional or community service) for your experience of complex mental health issues?

"The biggest one for me has been the financial challenges of accessing formal support. There is very little low-cost/no-cost accessible support for adults of the age of 25 with complex mental health issues. A few years ago, I found myself in a situation where I needed to leave full-time employment to focus on my mental health. This left me with a significant decrease in income, having gone from a full-time paycheck to unemployment benefits. My parents were not in a position to support me financially, and often my need for formal support was a lower priority to everyday living expenses such as rent, bills, food etc."

"Aged mental health is an issue I now face. Public facilities for those with a mental illness, and who are aging, are grim. They don't have rehabilitation as their goal and tend to see people through a negative lens. Older people with a chronic mental illness are not sexy, don't garner as much attention as young folk and are perceived as a nuisance."

"This is a very interesting question to me as I think the challenges can vary so dramatically depending on your life situation. I am in the very privileged position of having financial security, a supportive partner and network and even at my most unwell I am articulate and able to communicate my needs, opinions, etc. (except for a few episodes). And even I have found it challenging to find the right service or service provider.

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6

'More than the baby blues' - we could have died without private health insurance

Anita-with-baby
Anita working at a vet, holding a small kitten

TW: This article mentions suicide and traumatic events. 

Guest blog by Anita Link, originally published on her blog, Thought Food. We acknowledge that people's experiences of both private and public mental health support services differ. SANE encourages ongoing discussion and debate around the positives and limitations of our mental health system. 


Have you ever had a moment when your answer to a question determined whether your life imploded?

I have.

It came five days into parenthood. I was lying on the floor in my maternity hospital room crying because I was trying to outrun a jaguar chasing me towards a cliff. Things were starting to go very wrong in my brain.

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5

Brisbane boy hosts 24 hour fundraising climb after brother's struggle with OCD

Rohan climbing
Rohan climbing group

What were you doing in Year 12?

Brisbane student Rohan is putting all of our teenage selves to shame by organising an ambitious fundraiser for SANE, with a goal of raising $5000.

"I decided to run a 24 hour climb-a-thon at Kangaroo Point cliffs with a team of 12 climbers" he says.

"The reason I chose this is because my older brother has struggled with anxiety and OCD for many years, which also led to a period of addiction to a medically prescribed drug. I have seen first hand the impact of this on the individual, their family and friends and know how important it is for so much more research to be done to support mental health awareness and issues. I found SANE and like the work they are doing, so I decided to make a difference through supporting them."

Rohan (second from left) and a group of climbing friends

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How to talk to a mate about their mental health

Two-Tradies

It can be hard for men to open up and talk about how they are feeling. And this can have serious impacts on their mental health and wellbeing. 

Research by the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that men are more likely to die by suicide and to have a substance abuse disorder

This needs to change - we want to reduce the number of men losing their lives to suicide. While there are different issues at play, we ask for some advice on how men can check in on each other, and help mates open up about how they're going. 

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5

Poem: What was the best thing someone said or did to support you?

Aki

This poem was written by young ambassador, Aki, about her experience of being supported while dealing with complex mental health issues.


There was a time I believed, ‘No man is an island’

(except for me).

Said island floats in the depths of my mind,

It tethers me to the bed; I’m shackled and confined.

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