This post is part of a small series of posts that went ‘behind the scenes’ of Mental Health Week 2019 (MHW2019). The others included early preparations, the visual design language of MHW2019 and a final (to-be-written) reflections post.
When you run an event like Mental Health Week @ Flinders you have to consider what it is you are wanting to communicate to students.
With a topic as broad as ‘mental health’ there are lots of things you can communicate.
The teams at FUSA and OASIS (with a small bit of input from myself) put together a messaging plan covering the main things they wanted to cover during the week.
In this post, I want to briefly explore the key messages of MHW2019 and in the process direct you to some resources that you might find useful in your own life or for those you care about.
Tackling stigma through stories
Stigma in mental health includes being reluctant to speak up about your own mental health struggles for fear of being treated differently, as well as the reality of being treated differently because of mental health issues.
One way that stigma is tackled is through people publicly sharing their stories of coping with mental ill health. When we read these stories, we realise that the same anxieties and worries and self-doubts that exist in our head, also exist in the heads of others.
You can also find ways to share your story.
Care for your mental health in the same way you care for your physical health
For years we’ve been told to look after our physical health through sleep, nutrition and regular physical activity. So much so that we simply accept that looking after our physical health is a part of modern living.
Thankfully, I am noticing that the concept of caring for our mental health is achieving the same level of importance. In fact, increasingly when people talk about ‘looking after their health’ they mean both mental and physical.
The challenge now is not so much convincing people that they should look after their mental health, but letting them know how to do it. Here at Health, Counselling and Disability Services we have our Self-care Guide and our Mental Fitness Course that you can draw on to learn more about how to look after your mental health.
Look after the basics and you are well on your way to good mental health
There is no shortage of activities that you can engage in that have mental health benefits. We cover these in our Self-care Guide and there are more links provided below.
However, if you are feeling like it is all a bit too complex, consider trying to just get the basics down. You’d be suprised just how beneficial these basic lifestyle factors can be if honed correctly.
- 7-9 hours
- Regular times – i.e. consistent bedtime and wake time
- Relax for an hour before bed
- Reduce light exposure in the hours leading up to bedtime
- On mobile devices enable ‘night mode’ (which reduces blue light)
- Minimise distractions in bed (cue rude jokes)
- Get sunlight during the day, preferably early. An early morning walk takes care of this + physical activity.
- Follow the Australian Dietary Guidelines – https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/
- Minimum – 150 mins of moderate, 75 mins of vigorous per week
- Ideal – 300 minutes moderate, 150 minutes vigorous
- Break up periods of sitting as often as possible (e.g. move every 40 minutes)
- Strengthening activities on at least 2 days every week (i.e. weights, resistance exercises, body weight exercises like pushups)
Know when to reach out for help
There is nothing shameful about asking for help. We all need to do it at some point. I’ve had to do it in the past. I’ve seen Doctors and Psychologists before to help me cope with the stresses of everyday life.
Perhaps you are struggling to get your life in order and implement a healthy lifestyle. Or perhaps you’ve done all that and are still struggling.
Reaching out for help opens up new opportunities and avenues that you can’t necessarily explore on your own. For example, seeing a counsellor or Psychologist to deal with negative thoughts is much different to trying to do that on your own.
Start by chatting to one of our Doctors. They can give you some starting points.
Also tune into our blog, where you may find a range of helpful suggestions on where and how to seek help.
If you’re not sure if a friend is coping, the best way to know is to ask! Head to https://www.beyondblue.org.au/about-us/about-our-work/youthbeyondblue/the-check-in-app to help take the fear out of having a conversation with someone who might be struggling.
Learn how to check-in on yourself
There are differences between the everyday symptoms of stress and the symptoms of mental ill health.
Thankfully, organisations like the Black Dog Institute have developed tools to help you make the distinction.
For example, they offer online quizzes to help you determine if you have symptoms of depression and anxiety. They have a mobile app that you can use to monitor your mental health and wellbeing. They have a full online program to tackle symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression.
Consider these a starting point in getting to understand your own mental health better.
The range of programs and supports available is actually quite amazing
We are really lucky in Australia in that we have available to us many low-cost and free mental health resources and programs online.
Your portal to these programs is Head to Health.
As far as information sites for health more generally, it is hard to go past healthdirect
In terms of finding services in the local community, it is definitely worth getting the Affordable SA app on your phone.
Finally, there are lots of programs and services within the University that have your mental health and wellbeing in mind. We’ve kept track of them here.
There are actually many aspects of life that you can work on that have mental health benefits
There is a tendency when focusing on ‘mental health’ for the conversation to revolve around mental ill health (e.g. depression, anxiety, stress etc)
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a bad thing, because we need to keep talking about these topics.
But it is also worth noting that there are other aspects of your life that you can focus on, where doing so will have positive impacts on your mental health.
For example, in my Mental Fitness course, I will be addressing a range of aspects of life. Here is a sneak preview of some of the concepts and resources I will be looking at.
Mastering emotions – we spend so much time wondering how to manage unpleasant emotions that we forget there are effective ways to elicit positive emotions – https://ggia.berkeley.edu/
Thinking effectively – the mindsets we carry with us influence our moods and performance, but we aren’t stuck with those mindsets – https://mindsetonline.com/
Self-awareness and understanding – no-one is better situated than you to get inside that head of yours, although some experts can give you a bit of a hand by analysing your language – http://www.secretlifeofpronouns.com/exercises.php
Meaning and purpose – clarifying what it is you are working towards and the person you want to be can help buffer you against the challenges of life. Yes there is a small cost, but consider https://selfauthoring.com/future-authoring
Building positive relationships – we find connection amongst people where we share similar goals, so clubs based on interests are an excellent starting point – https://fusa.edu.au/clubs/
Caring for your body – if you nail good sleep, healthy diet and regular exercise, you’re well on your way to good mental health. See the ‘basics’ above.
Financial control – financial control is one of the key pillars of long-term wellbeing. Educate yourself about finances using https://www.moneysmart.gov.au/
Personal safety – a coping plan is a pre-defined framework for dealing with distress. It takes the indecision out of difficult times – https://blogs.flinders.edu.au/student-health-and-well-being/2017/12/01/my-coping-plan/
Shaping your environment – you can improve your wellbeing by improving the spaces you inhabit. One key aspect of this is ‘time in nature’ – https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/07/180706102842.htm
Cognitive enhancement – that morning coffee is probably giving you a little bit of an edge – https://blogs.flinders.edu.au/student-health-and-well-being/2018/09/06/caffeine-cognitive-enhancer/
Advanced study skills – save time and effort and enhance your learning by using the best study strategies – https://bit.ly/2VjUhdb
Work skills – it is time to familiarise yourself with transferable skills – https://www.seek.com.au/career-advice/transferable-skills-checklist or perhaps book an appointment with careers – www.flinders.edu.au/careers
Habit formation – what characterises those people that make positive changes in their life? At least one thing is they use specific strategies to build new habits – https://bit.ly/2VmlNGO
Helping others – connect with the crew at Horizon Awards to learn about volunteering and mentoring options. Helping others might be the best avenue through which to help yourself – www.flinders.edu.au/Horizon
Unwinding and having fun – remind yourself of what is fun to you – https://bit.ly/2Z2vZn5
The messaging of Mental Health Week @ Flinders 2019 is broad and intended to reach as many students as possible.
How do you think we’ve done on the range of messages?
What would you want to say to your peers about mental health and wellbeing?