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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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You and COVID-19: Complex mental health issues in a pandemic

You are not alone
What a start to 2020. As we all came together as a community and attempted to deal with the fallout of the bushfire crisis, none of us could have foreseen that there was another huge challenge looming on the horizon. 

The coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis is unprecedented. And it’s confusing and worrying for all of us – causing increased stress, anxiety and fear in many.

For people already living with complex mental health issues, the impact of a pandemic like this can be significant.   

Physical and psychological impacts of imposed quarantine, self-isolation, physical distancing and separation from loved ones can exacerbate or trigger the symptoms of mental health issues.  

Anxiety disorders such as health anxiety, hoarding disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), agoraphobia and panic disorder can be particularly affected.

Caring for ourselves and others and spreading kindness is essential if we’re to get through this period as a community.

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How to set boundaries with someone you love

Three friends
Boundaries are an essential part of engaging in healthy connections with others.

They allow us to be clear about our own needs, about what feels comfortable for us, so we can connect with others in ways that feel safe and respectful.

For those in caregiving roles, boundaries are particularly important. Poor boundaries can foster co-dependency in a relationship. Strong boundaries can prevent exhaustion. If we’re giving selflessly without meeting our own needs the end result is burnout. Often caregiver needs can be overlooked.

Those receiving care might not be able to create healthy boundaries themselves so it’s vital then for carers to set healthy boundaries and to maintain them.

Creating boundaries sounds simple but it might feel easier for some than others. If we weren’t exposed to boundaries as children it probably won’t be second nature to create them for ourselves. It is, however, possible to learn how to set and hold boundaries and to benefit from them.

Clarify what you need

During flight briefings, we’re instructed by the crew that we need to fasten our own oxygen mask before assisting others with theirs. Making sure we're supported means we're then better able to support others. What another person wants might not be something we feel comfortable with. It might actually impinge on our own needs.

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How to talk to your GP about your mental health

GP waiting room

Often when we’re struggling to cope with our mental health, people tell us: “Go and have a chat with your GP”. But what if you don’t trust your GP, haven’t seen a GP in a long time, or aren’t sure what you would say?

When people give us this advice, they’re often on the right track. GPs are a good first step – they can help us explore any underlying physical issues, and suggest different options for supporting our mental health.

But it can be really nerve wracking to make that appointment ...

How do I find a GP?

If you don’t already have a trusted GP you can visit, there are a few options:

Ask people you trust if there is a GP or medical clinic they’ve had positive experiences with. You want to find someone who’ll be non-judgmental and supportive.You can use a service like Health Direct Service Finder to find clinics convenient to you. Their website has some profiles of different GPs, so you can see if they list ‘mental health’ as an area of interest or expertise.You can also call Health Direct on 1800 022 222 to get a referral over the phone.What should I say?

It can be hard to communicate that we are struggling. We might not be used to talking about feeling vulnerable, or might battle with feelings of shame. We may also not know what kind of information is important to get across.

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The bushfire crisis - our Peer Ambassadors have their say

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Over the past few months, many of us have been affected by the bushfires that are still burning across our country. Be it emergency workers and first responders who've battled the flames, those living in fire affected areas that may have experienced direct loss, or the people that are watching on and inhaling the smoke haze - we've all felt the distress of the bushfire crisis in some way.Often if you're dealing with upsetting news, it can be helpful to speak to others who are going through the same thing. We reached out to our Peer Ambassadors to ask how the bushfire crisis has affected their mental health, and how they're coping. Here are some of their responses: 

Hannah 

"I am currently fortunate to be based in Cairns Australia where we are not directly affected by the fires. However, I have friends who have lost a great deal in the southern states and especially Kangaroo Island.

Given my history with depression and complex mental health, I am aware that I must monitor the amount of news I read and watch and continue to do things that spark joy in my life at this time. 

I put great effort to keep my focus on solutions and what I am able to contribute, both through donations and other joint efforts with the community, to help the plight of so many injured wildlife and displaced people. I find it also helps to reflect on the amazing support and donations that have been given by both Australians and so many other people from around the globe.  Every day brings new stories of great generosity and human kindness which are truly inspiring and uplifting amongst this catastrophic situation." 

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The effects of bushfires on those living with complex mental health issues

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The constant smoke haze and news reports serve as a reminder of the bushfires that still burn across Australia. Exposure to details and graphic images relating to the fires can be extremely distressing and can have a negative affect on our mental health.

The effects of such devastating events can be even more profound for vulnerable people within our communities, such as those living with complex mental health issues. People living with a mental health issue may find their symptoms return or become more intense during this time. For example, someone living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) might find that graphic images trigger flashbacks to their own trauma.

When maintaining a state of wellbeing may already be a daily challenge, exposure to upsetting details of what is happening around the country can make this even more difficult.

More self-care than usual may be required in order to cope with everyday life.

If you're feeling impacted by the bushfire crisis, it might help to regain a sense of control, try to connect with others, and find comfort within your day.

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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 Australia 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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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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