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

Rohan climbing

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 Australia, 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 Australia 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 three times more likely to die by suicide and twice as likely to have a substance abuse disorder.

So how can men reduce this gap and improve their mental health?

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The dangers of speculation in the reporting of suicide

As a follow up to her first guest blog, Jennifer from Mindframe takes a look at why the media must be careful when speculating about possible suicide incidents.

While we know that excluding graphic detail helps minimise risk to vulnerable people the circumstances around their death doesn’t tell us anything about why a person is vulnerable in the first place. This is why speculation is not advised in the guidelines.

Speculation is the act of assuming, or forming a theory without firm evidence. We know suicide is extremely complex and it is incredibly difficult to clearly associate one single factor being the cause of a suicide death.

The cause of suicidal thoughts or feelings of hopelessness, is more often than not, caused by many different factors. Many areas of someone’s life is likely to be acting as a source of stress, so to say that the last impacting factor of someone’s life was the sole causing factor, is inaccurate.

The way suicidal thoughts impact the mind is different for each person. Speculation around the cause of a death, backed up by memorialising, romanticising or glorifying the issues can appear to someone who is experiencing similar life stresses, that suicide is an option.

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Mourning, Coffee - A guest blog by artist, Bill Hawkins.

bill1._20190523-062109_1 Bill Hawkins

Artist Bill Hawkins gives us an incredible insight into what it is like to live with mental illness, and how he has found light in art therapy. You can view Bills work, along with a range of other talented artists at The Dax Centre until June 7th.

Oh… why did I say yes to writing a blog post for Sane Australia?

I cannot be bothered! I can barely get out of bed, let alone write something. From the moment I woke up I felt terrible, I wish I was still asleep. Sitting on the cusp of lucidity, half-awake was when the metamorphosis began…

As soon as I became fully conscious I transformed into a cockroach. Commands from a higher being bled into my world, an internal daemon dictating actions to my recently animated corpse.

This spirit screams hideously terrifying things into my ears, tremendously sickening things, absolutely ghastly things like; “Get out of bed”, “Put on clothes”, “Finish that article you have been putting off” and the worst command of all… “Go to work!”.

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Reporting on suicide incidents responsibly with Mindframe

We spoke with Jennifer from Mindframe, about how the media should be reporting on suicide to ensure it is safe, responsible and accurate.

What are the rules on reporting suicide?

We know through centuries of observation and hundreds of research articles, that discussing suicide can be harmful if too much information is given. This applies not just in news media, but in entertainment media as well.

As any good storyteller will tell you, be it on page, stage or the big screen – there is great skill in being able to paint a picture that invites a reader to imagine the finer details for themselves. Whether a story is to entertain or inform a reader, evidence demonstrates that discussing the loss of life by suicide can be harmful to people who are vulnerable.

Currently there are no set ‘rules’ around this but we do have well-supported guidance, which helps us understand how we can minimise harm and copy-cat behaviour. People who are experiencing thoughts of suicide are at a higher risk of being negatively impacted when there is graphic detail of how someone has taken their own life. Using stigma-free language and information that is void of explicit detail can still tell a story and is a safer way to present the topic of suicide.

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