It is an overused and boring cliché to say that “despite the great strides made in recent years, there is still a great stigma around mental health treatment, such as seeing a psychologist.”
However, despite the great strides made in recent years, there is still a great stigma around mental health treatment, like seeing a psychologist.
It has been widely argued by a variety of health journals, that ‘mental health is the next pandemic.’ Some have even argued that this oncoming ‘pandemic’ is a direct result of COVID, citing some damning statistics.
A Kaiser Family Foundation study found that 45% of American adults stated that their mental health has been negatively affected by aspects of the pandemic, such as lockdown, or stress about the virus.
While it is undoubtable that the pandemic has had an impact on mental health, the assumption that some new ‘pandemic’ is looming because of COVID is false. Ignoring that the overall, mental health has been declining for quite some time.
Mental health data has, quite frankly, been terrifying for a very long time. The Black Dog Institute analysed data from 2013-14, and it paints a picture that shows that we have been living through this epidemic. While there is more recent data, using older data demonstrates that this isn’t something new or looming.
It is estimated that 54% of people will not access professional treatment, and 72% of men do not seek help at all, for a mental disorder.
In any given year, 20% of Australians will be affected by a mental health condition. 45% of Australians will experience a mental illness during their lifetime.
18–24-year-olds are at the highest risk of suffering a mental illness. First Nations People’s and members of the LGBTQI community are more likely to suffer a mental illness.
Six Australians die of suicide every day. 30 more will attempt suicide (based on a 2010 dataset). It is estimated that 65,300 people attempt suicide each year (based on a 2014 dataset that accounts for underreporting).
This is old data. But this, a can be seen in the data presented by The Black Dog Institute, is growing exponentially. Roughly 13,000 in 2010 turned into 65,300 in just 4 years.
So, what’s the point of this? The data isn’t new, and the conversation that mental health needs to be addressed is not new. And the mental health disorders which the datasets are primarily based on (depression, anxiety and substance abuse), are also not new.
These are all big, scary numbers. So, what can we do as little people, who aren’t in control of governmental spending, or, presumably, not important heads of departments?
Let’s go back to one of the points of the Black Dog data.
It is estimated that 54% of people will not access treatment, and 72% of men do not seek help for a mental disorder. For us ‘little people’, this can be step one in addressing the mental health epidemic. Seek help. Give help.
The Paradox of Lifeline
Every article or published document on mental health ends with the cute little “If you are feeling suicidal contact Lifeline’s 24-hour crisis support service on 13 11 14 or seek immediate help…”
Lifeline and other organisations that provide this kind of service are critical in this mental health epidemic. They do and will continue to save lives, but there is one small problem with the kind of service they provide, they are a telephone hotline.
Speaking from personal experience; I have suffered from mental health issues and have reached points I thought may have been irreversible, but I have never once contemplated calling a hotline for help.
For many, because of largely anxiety-based reasons, calling someone for immediate help is an impossible task, and that’s okay.
54% of people will not access professional treatment. 72% of men will not seek help.
But Lifeline and other organisations like it are not the only help available.
Family and friends are valuable resources. Having a simple conversation with a loved one is the most important first step in getting help.
There is still a stigma around seeing psychologists. The belief that seeing a professional is an admission that you are broken, or that you have failed in some way.
There is no such thing as broken, having any kind of mental health issue, of any kind of severity does not mean that you are in any way better or worse of a person than anyone else.
You can believe whatever you want about yourself. You can believe that you are depressed. You can believe you are a narcissist. You can believe you don’t have a problem. You can believe you are untreatable, beyond help.
But none of these things define you, and more than anything, you can get help.
You do not have to be on the verge of self-harm or suicide to talk to a professional. You do not even have to believe you are mentally unwell to talk to a professional.
Psychologists exist for a multitude of reasons, all of which involve self-improvement, which is why I implore anyone who has read this far, to talk to someone, regardless of what you think it might be for.
It does not have to be lifeline. It does not have to be a health professional. It does not even have to be a person.
Talk to your pets, talk to your stuffed animals, because once you’ve started saying things out loud, you’ll get to the next step, you’ll find it easier to talk to your friends and family, you’ll find it easier to talk to a psychologist.
Mental health disorders are not the next pandemic. We have been living through this pandemic for a very long time. Next time you see a loved one, regardless of whether you think they may need it or not, give them a hug and tell them you love them. You never know how much it may help.
So please, even if you don’t think you need it, go see a therapist
How to See a Therapist
One of the most difficult, if not the sole most difficult, aspects of seeing a psychologist is the initial process of seeking one out and booking that initial appointment. Fortunately, there are multiple ways to seek help at UC. UC’s Medical and Counselling Centre provides many counselling and health services, which is accessible to both UC students and non-UC students.
The cost of psychological and other medical services can prevent many people from seeking help. However, The Medical and Counselling Centre is bulk billing for UC students, making it free to access.
The Medical and Counselling Centre provides a multitude of services in addition to psychological ones, including immunisations and STI checks. GP’s and nurses are also members of the team, and offer a wide variety of medical support, both mental and physical.
M&C also has a team of psychologists who are suited to several areas of psychology. It also operates independently from the University, meaning all your records are confidential and cannot be accessed by the University.
As a mild-mannered Curieux reporter, I spoke to Medical and Counselling Director, Dr Jenny Weekes about the Medical and Counselling Centre, and about some ideas of psychology generally. Without plagiarising myself too blatantly, I asked Dr Weekes what she would say to someone considering seeking psychological support.
“The earlier you see a psychologist the better. The whole concept of the University Medical & Counselling team is to provide early intervention and support. Psychologists can be seen for a wide range of things, not just for poor mental health or crisis management, such as coaching and performance excellence. Mental health is like physical health, you must work on it your whole life, and at different points along the way you will require different tools to manage it. Different exercises or sport might work for you at different stages of your life, similarly different mental health strategies [and] ways of thinking will work at different times of your life.
The concept at the University of Canberra is that people should gain an education and through that they should gain employment. We understand that for future employment we require the hard skills and the soft skills as well – psychology can help us with some of those soft skills.
Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all – Aristotle”
Dr Weekes stresses that nothing is too big or small to consider seeing a psychologist. She also added that while waiting times for can sometimes discourage people from seeking help, however many of the GP’s will see patients for psychological needs, and if an issue is urgent enough, she encourages just going to M&C and asking.
For crisis support, call 1300 271 790, or text on 0488 884 227 to reach the dedicated 24/7 University Crisis Line, operated by Lifeline.
The University of Canberra Medical and Counselling Centre is also open 9 am – 5 pm, Monday – Friday. They provide counselling support services to all staff and students on-campus. You can reach them on 6201 2351.