I grew up in a culture where many people don’t talk about mental health issues. So, it has always been hard to discuss my mental health journey with others.
However, having navigated challenges and stigma around mental health issues to get support, I would like to share what I've learnt so others know they are not alone.
Growing up, there were constant stereotypical views of people with mental health issues. They came from the news, media and the people around me. Some in my community believed that mental health issues mean you are possessed by an evil spirit, that you are ‘crazy,’ or that it is karma from a past life.
These perspectives on mental health impacted my attitude towards my own mental health. Fearing consequences for my or my family’s reputation, I did not want to admit that I needed help.
In my family, we rarely talk about our emotions and feelings. We support one another by doing things for each other instead. This is what I love about my family and our culture.
However, this can be a double-edged sword: it makes it more difficult for us to open up about our mental health struggles.
Besides the difficult attitudes towards mental health issues, any help-seeking related to my mental health issues was a strange concept to me. Why? There weren’t many services providing mental health support back in my home country.
When I completed my degree in allied health I went through rough periods of anxiety and depression myself. Having this experience during my studies, I started to understand the importance of getting mental health support and the huge number of support services available in Australia.
It was like a light bulb moment. I realised this could happen to anyone, regardless of where you are from, your background, culture or upbringing. I realised holding it in and not speaking to someone about it will not make it go away.
There were still challenges. When I first told some friends about wanting to talk to a mental health professional about my thoughts and feelings, I was met with challenging attitudes: “Why?”, “How is that going to help?” and “Why are you airing your laundry like that?”
I was also told to be strong and things would get better.
It takes time. It takes conscious effort.
I needed to educate myself and also those around me. I found it helpful to talk to some in my community about my joining a peer support group and talking to a counsellor. I wanted to show there was no shame in this. I also challenged others' negative comments about people with mental health issues or who get psychological support when they came up.
These days I often let people know how common it is to experience mental health issues: 1 in 5 Australians aged 16-85 experienced a mental health issue in any year (Blackdog Institute, 2020).
I also tell my friends and family, “Mental health is just like physical health”.
We go to the GP for physical health treatment, to the optometrist for an eye-check, to a dentist for a dentalcare. So we can and should go to a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist for mental health care.
I’d like to offer some thoughts on getting support from my experience. It can take some time to find the people you feel comfortable talking to about your mental health.
1. There are services available for you to access
If you grew up in Australia, immigrated here, came here on a visa, or if you came here as a refugee or asylum seeker, there are people and services who can help. Check out SANE's factsheet on getting support for people from a multicultural background for services that can help.
2. Accept that not everyone will understand
Your friends, family, and people in your community may not understand what you’re going through.
It can help to share some things with people you trust, even if you don’t tell them all of your struggles. At times even they may not know how to respond to what you say. They may not have the words or understanding.
That is okay too. There will always be others who do get it.
3. Connect with people who have similar experiences
If you are unsure who to chat with or are worried that someone might ‘judge’ you, visit our SANE Forums. The forums are an anonymous online community with members who will listen non-judgmentally to your story. Some may even be able to relate to the things you are going through and offer tips and suggestions.
4. Talk to someone
Our free SANE Support Services have a wonderful group of counsellors who can talk you through these difficult feelings and provide you with information. Contact them Monday to Friday 10 am to 10pm AEST/AEDT via phone, webchat and email.
To use an interpreter, call the free Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) on 131 450. Ask for your preferred language. When connected to an intepreter ask to speak to the SANE Helpline on 1800 187 263.
I have to say, it did take me some time before I got help. It is challenging to look for support when you have had so many messages saying this is not ok. But if you are reading this, I’m proud of you. You have taken a first step to take care of your mental health already!