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Managing anxiety when your fear comes to life

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Bushfire trauma can have a profound impact on existing mental health issues. Finding the right support is key to getting through disaster recovery and bushfire anniversaries.

The town of Wolumla, on the New South Wales south coast is a small village just south of Bega, surrounded by picturesque farmland. But over the summer of 2019/20, the landscape changed. On New Year’s Day, a ring of flames surrounded the region, with fires burning to the north and south. The sky turned orange, blotting out the sun. The ground was blanketed in ash. Fear gripped the town.

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Taking steps to rebuild relationships through bushfire recovery

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Bushfire trauma puts huge pressure on even the strongest relationships. It’s important to realise you’re not alone as you recover.

Bushfire disaster is a perfect storm for anxiety. A lack of control of the situation combined with the threat of loss can be a fertile ground for feelings of despair, uncertainty and hopelessness.

Grace, from Long Beach NSW, knows this all too well. She and her family were evacuated three times during the Black Summer fires. And while their house survived, her childhood home, where her parents still lived, was lost to the flames – an event she describes as heartbreaking.

The menacing fires and displacement both brought out strong anxious feelings for Grace. “It’s hard when you suffer from anxiety as it is,” she says. “Then, when you’re faced with that fear, it’s even harder.”

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Finding a way through your own bushfire recovery

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Bushfire recovery is different for everyone. Finding a way back can take time, but there are green shoots on the other side.

Experiencing disaster takes a significant toll. The added pressure of being responsible for others – whether they’re family members, friends or people in your community – can make it really hard to find time and space for important self-care. But not doing it can have devastating effects.

Butch lives in Moss Vale, in the New South Wales Southern Highland area. In January 2020, a fire jumped a river and raced towards homes, sandwiching his town between two major blazes. Although he and his family were safe, Butch got a call asking if he would be part of an emergency response team in Batemans Bay.

When he arrived, the town was cloaked in smoke and lit by the red glow of flames.

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Visible: How art has helped me express my mental health story

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For many young people, the transition to adulthood can be uncertain and overwhelming. Add to that a feeling of isolation and disconnection, and it’s no surprise this is the time where people are most likely to face mental health challenges. 

SANE Peer Ambassador Jess has recently co-designed a new project called Visible.

Visible is a creative collaboration between young Australians experiencing mental health challenges, and artists. These partnerships have produced an insightful collection of creative expressions that share the real experiences of mental health challenges faced by young people. The aim is to change how mental health is seen and spoken about across Australia, and create a culture that’s more accepting and understanding. 


Here's what Jess had to say about the project:

"My Visible expression tells the story of the long-term impacts of childhood trauma and adversity. More specifically, it tells the story of the events leading to my suicide attempt and how a chance encounter after the fact changed my life and the way I relate to my complex mental illness forever. 

By and large, the highlight of Visible for me has been working with my artist and collaborator, Anna. Anna and I are great buddies now and support each other's artistic endeavours and growth. I will always be grateful to Visible for bringing Anna's kind, and very authentic energy into my life. She told my story with such richness and consideration. I don't think I have ever felt more seen, heard or held by another person in my life. 

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Real stories from the National Stigma Report Card

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Aaron Fornarino is a SANE Peer Ambassador, who was first admitted to a mental health facility at the age of 14 and was eventually diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.

Reflecting on the findings of the Our Turn to Speak survey, which form the National Stigma Report Card, Aaron says he can relate to many of the experiences reflected in the data.

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What is the National Stigma Report Card?

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We are delighted to announce the launch of findings from the National Stigma Report Card, the most comprehensive research of its kind in Australia. 

As you may be aware, SANE’s Anne Deveson Research Centre, in partnership with the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences and with the support of the Paul Ramsay Foundation, invited people living with complex mental health issues to participate in the Our Turn to Speak survey.

Our Turn to Speak was the first survey of its kind in Australia that sought to comprehensively understand the experiences of people living with complex mental health issues, and how they are affected by stigma and discrimination.

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Anxiety remains my friend, and not my foe.

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In SANE's COVID mental health series, Anita talks about living with anxiety. She shares her thoughts on the challenges facing healthcare workers during the pandemic and importance of self care.

Anxiety has been my friend in life, and at times, it has been my foe.

Anxiety is a normal and often healthy emotion. It allows us to focus and pay attention to detail, it motivates us to complete tasks well and to take action when we’re challenged. However, disproportionate levels of anxiety can lead to excessive nervousness, fear, apprehension and worry. Left unchecked, these symptoms can lead to panic attacks, characterised by feelings of impending doom, and physical symptoms which include heart palpitations, sweating, poor concentration, sleep disturbance, irritability and muscle tension.

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Top tips for coping with anxiety during COVID

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As part of SANE's COVID-19 mental health series, one of our Help Centre counsellors shares their top tips for coping with anxiety. 

If you’re like most people in Australia, you’ve been dealing with uncertainty and change because of COVID-19. If this has caused you anxiety, you’re not alone. It’s natural to experience challenging emotions during a pandemic. But, if you’re finding you can’t get a break from anxiety, stress and worry, it’s important you have strategies to help you get through. 

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Reflections on coping with COVID-19

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Back in March 2020, who would have thought we’d still be waging the war against this microscopic enemy, five months later?  

When the restrictions were first imposed, I (perhaps like much of the population) went into the whole experience with a sense of both awe and ignorance. It seemed such a novel experience to listen to the Prime Minister and the Chief Medical Officer almost on a daily basis, followed by respective ministers of the states and territories. I felt then that the proposed stage 2 and stage 3 restrictions made little impact on my life – due, in part, to my living arrangements and personal habits.

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Media reporting on mental illness, violence and crime needs to change

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The media is a key source of information about mental illness for the public, and research shows media coverage can influence public attitudes and perceptions of mental ill-health.

But when it comes to complex mental illnesses such as psychosis and schizophrenia, media coverage tends to emphasise negative aspects, often choosing to focus on portrayals of violence, unpredictability and danger to others.

These portrayals can give an exaggerated impression of the actual rate at which violent incidents occur. In reality, such incidents are rare and are often better accounted for by other factors.

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