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Care farming: creating community in nature

Liz-Everard-and-Julia-Westland Hocking Fellow, Liz Everard, and Flourish Australia Mental Health Consumer Representative, Julia Westland.
2019–2020 Hocking Fellow, Liz Everard on how COVID-19 has highlighted the potential of nature-based interventions.

When I started my Hocking Fellowship project in late 2019, I intended to research a number of therapeutic or care farm communities that exist in the United States and Ireland. My aim was – and still is – to explore how this model of care could be provided in the Australian context. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has put my travel plans on hold.

As the virus has spread rapidly around the world, disrupting our familiar realms of work, education and play, many of us face a binary choice: to hunker down at home, or to go outside.

Physical distancing rules mean heading outdoors has become one of the few activities left for those wanting to escape their house. An unexpected benefit of this situation is that people around the world are spending more time in nature. Studies have shown that spending even just 20 minutes per day in nature can lower stress hormone levels, boost self-esteem, and improve mood. Nature is a welcome relief from the increased worry and tension many might be feeling right now.

For some, spending time in nature might involve going for a run, or taking a walk in the park. For others, it is spending time in their garden, or simply sitting under a tree.

The mental health outcomes of spending time in nature have long been documented. They include reduced depression and anxiety; improved concentration, attention and cognitive restoration; and increased happiness, satisfaction, and quality of life. In fact, these positive effects are so well-recognised that more and more doctors are issuing ‘nature prescriptions’ to help treat a range of conditions, including: heart disease, hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, chronic stress, depression and anxiety, insomnia, and PTSD.

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Has COVID-19 created a new-found understanding of complex mental health issues?

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Has there been another topic of conversation over the past few weeks besides coronavirus? Gone is the simple “Hey, how are you?” replaced by “How are you coping?” and “Are you staying sane?”. It’s that last one that gets me. And I’m just as guilty as others because I’ve heard myself ask a version of that very question: “How are you dealing, in amongst the crazy?”.

The very stigma that I, and many braver, smarter and more educated people have been working to address for so long is, in a strange way, coming to the fore and shifting in front of us, thanks to the omnipresent coronavirus pandemic.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve heard people talk about their own mental health, and their need to look after it, more than ever before. And I can’t applaud loudly enough the fact that the subject is being given the air play it deserves, in a way that resonates with so many.

I’ve also heard people say – to me, and in the media – that they have a newfound understanding of anxiety and depression because they are experiencing it for the first time themselves. On face value, I find myself wanting to cheer. Not because I wish hardship on anyone. But because as humans, sometimes we learn best by firsthand experience.

I find myself wondering: wouldn’t it be a positive outcome of this horrendous situation, if more people developed a genuine understanding of what it’s like to be gripped and groped by emotions beyond rational explanation?

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Sometimes we need a little shake up, to remind ourselves we CAN be okay

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Oh dear. I thought it was all coming back. The panic attacks were present again. The periods of dissociation throughout the day. The trembling crying. The isolation.

COVID-19 really had thrown a spanner in the works for someone like me.

When you have lived experience of borderline personality disorder (BPD), it’s so easy to jump back to the mindset of defining yourself when old symptoms start to show. My brain was slowly trying to convince me that I was sick again.

I started to picture myself like I used to be. Slow and lethargic. Angry, confused and fearful of the unknown. I had worked tirelessly for the last three years to have a life worth living. My stability was thrown and all of a sudden, I felt a lost sense of self. All my coping strategies were disappearing one by one and I felt myself heading towards another crisis. The scariest part for me was the prospect of reliving some trauma I believed I had healed from.

Experiencing BPD has its complexities, and I had to remind myself that my experience is going to be felt in waves. I was so used to the stability I had created for myself that I wasn’t prepared for the effect isolation would have on me. I had to remind myself what it felt like when I did experience total isolation, and to build from that.

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Living with OCD in the time of COVID-19

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Living with a diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder means that everyday life is often a challenge at the best of times.

I’m always wondering what the next ‘obsession’ will be. What will my brain decide to irrationally cling to this week? It never really goes away, even in my ‘clear’ weeks my brain is ticking away in the background prompting me to obsess over something. OCD is absolutely exhausting.

Of course, it’s not the best of times right now. COVID-19 has taken over all of our lives and there isn’t a single person I know that hasn’t felt the impact of this new normal that has essentially turned everything we rely upon upside down and inside out within a matter of weeks.

For me, my OCD has always been related to health issues and contamination – so a global pandemic sounds nothing short of terrifying for a person who has irrationally diagnosed herself with every disease under the sun since her teenage years – right?

Wrong. I have somehow managed to remain somewhat calm, in control and relatively OCD flare-up free since February. I’ve spoken to my husband and my friends about this at length, particularly as they were mentally preparing for me to spiral into a whirlwind of anxiety that they would have to help lift me out of; and I’ve got to be honest, I don’t really understand how I’ve managed to keep the OCD monster at bay.

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#InThisTogether - a campaign about social connection in the time of COVID-19

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In these extraordinary times, SANE Australia is proud to come together with our fellow mental health organisations to launch #InThisTogether.

#InThisTogether is a national conversation, sharing tips to support our mental health and wellbeing through COVID-19. This campaign reminds us that we'll all need a little extra support during this time.

We've kicked things off with a video message from SANE Patron Osher Günsberg, along with many others including Ian Thorpe AM, Pat McGorry AO, Health Minister Greg Hunt, and Kabi Kabi man and public health medical advisor Dr Mark Wenitong. 

We know that people living with complex mental health issues are doing it particularly hard right now. That’s why we’re encouraging people to join us in staying socially connected through the SANE Forums, which are professionally moderated 24/7. You can also contact our SANE Help Centre from 10am-10pm AEDT, Mon-Fri.  

It's so important to check in with each other, and encourage people to seek professional support when they need it. Follow SANE on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter as we continue to share valuable tips and advice on how we can all be #InThisTogether.

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Anxiety: New book from SANE Board Director Dr Mark Cross

Dr Mark Cross - Anxiety book
"When the idea for this book was mooted, I was excited. During the first conversation with my publisher, I was already working out the layout in my head and making a list of people I'd interview. That was before my anxiety kicked in ..."

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Mark Cross knows a lot about anxiety. Many of his patients experience it, which is hardly surprising given anxiety is the most common mental health issue in Australia.

But Mark also knows about anxiety from another perspective, because he too has lived with it all his life.

His new book, Anxiety, aims to demystify this mental health issue, while sharing his own life-long experience of it.

While anxiety can occur on its own, the book also explores how it frequently occurs alongside, or as part of, complex mental health issues.

The foreword is written by Magda Szubanski AO. In it, she notes, "As I write this, Australia is on fire. As a consequence, anxiety on both national and personal levels will, without question, escalate … Although not written in response to this national crisis, Mark’s book is an expert, deeply compassionate, practical guide to anxiety, in all of its manifestations."

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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 Australia 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 Australia 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

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

"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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