Note: There are COVID-19 specific mental health support services available that you can learn more about at the link. They cover a range of different populations: kids, families, culturally and linguistically diverse families, parents, those living rural and remote, those with existing mental health issues, carers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and those in crisis
In our hyper-connected world, it can seem strange to confront the basic challenge of just not being able to find someone to talk to, but it is a reality I’ve experienced and that many students experience.
There seem to be a few things driving this disconnect.
There isn’t anyone in our life we feel we can turn to
Ever get that feeling that you are surrounded by people, but you aren’t sure you’d let any of them in on your deepest secrets and fears?
Let me assure you that is perfectly normal.
In fact it seems whilst our overall ‘friend’ numbers have increased (probably social media), the number of people who’d we actually turn to with any really important stuff has decreased.
There are lots of factors driving this.
- For some people, they are simply socially isolated and don’t have friends or family they can talk to.
- Some people have friends and family they can talk to, but don’t feel comfortable talking to them about more difficult or embarrassing or shameful problems or issues.
- To sort out difficult problems, we often have to talk a lot about the problem and we might worry about our friends and families getting sick of us talking about an issue repeatedly.
- The problems we are facing might involve those who we normally turn to for support, so we can’t discuss those problems with them.
- We might be the one that others turn to for support, so it feels weird for us to do the same.
- We might want the advice or support of someone outside of normal social group.
- We might feel that our problem requires professional support, not that of friends and family.
Regardless of the reason, the end result is we don’t feel there is anyone in our normal social circle that we can turn to for support. I’ve seen this a lot, where people have quite a decent group of friends and family, but they aren’t comfortable turning to any of them for help.
Then we start looking for solutions outside of our normal social group…..
It is hard or expensive to get ongoing professional support
As a mental health professional I am mindful of the fact that it can be difficult or expensive to find someone that you can chat to on an ongoing basis.
Services that are low cost or free, often have long waiting lists/times and can’t necessarily offer a lot of sessions. This can leaving you feeling like you didn’t really get the time to chat through your problem in the depth you’d like. That being said, it is still often worth pursuing these options, especially if cost is an issue. An example of a service offering low or no-cost counselling support is https://www.linkstowellbeing.org.au/
Services that can offer more regular sessions often come at a cost, which can be a barrier to those with limited financial resources (i.e. students). The most common example here is seeing a psychologist through one of the Medicare funded services, where you don’t have to pay the full fee, but might need to pay a gap.
Even when we can actually afford it, we might undervalue what investing in ourselves in that way might yield. We are happy to drop $500+ on a mobile phone but balk at the idea of spending the equivalent on counselling, although arguably the benefits of the counselling will far outweigh that of the phone.
Also, we aren’t always clear what it is we need
Practical or cost barriers aside, sometimes we delay or don’t seek help because we aren’t really sure what we need.
Anytime in my life where I’ve sought out ‘someone to talk to’, I’ve not necessarily had a clear idea of what it is I need.
Yes I might be able to articulate the main issue(s) (e.g. problem at work, conflict with someone close to me) but that is different from what I think I need.
For example, it may be that I just need a listening ear and the time to talk openly about the situation. I don’t need someone to solve the problem. I just need someone to listen to the problem long enough until I can find my own way through it. Or maybe I am after some specific advice from someone with expertise in the area.
Sometimes a person can be so unwell that they don’t even realise that they need more comprehensive assistance.
Some students present to counselling services here at Flinders with a clear goal in mind (e.g. tackle procrastination), but many do not. Many students just know they are distressed and are seeking help in dealing with that distress. When asked what their ‘goals’ are, they aren’t sure because they haven’t been able to think beyond the distress yet. They don’t necessarily know what is causing the distress.
It is worth pointing out that this is OK. Being unsure of what you might need or want in the context of being distressed is a normal part of life. Over time, we get to know ourselves a little better and can understand what we need in different situations. But it takes time to develop that self-knowledge.
So what are your options if you just want someone to talk to?
I always recommend that if you have a friend or a family member who you trust, start there. It might mean an initially awkward conversation as you ask for help, if this is unusual for you, but invariably locating the support within your existing social circle is better. Friends and family members are easier to access. If you are concerned about overloading or overwhelming someone you care about with your problems, you can address this outright by asking permission from the person to talk about the issues. I find we tend to underestimate how willing people are to help us when we are in need.
Depending on the problem, you might consider talking to a colleague/workmate. The boundaries here are a little different, especially for very sensitive topics, but I’ve found great support from colleagues when I’ve let them know that I am having a difficult time. Often you don’t necessarily have to give them a lot of information for them to still give you support.
Beyond those options, you are now looking outside of your social circle. What are the options there?
Counselling service at Flinders
The most obvious starting point for Flinders students is the counselling service.
Counselling is a type of talking therapy that allows a person to talk about their problems and feelings in a confidential and helping environment. Counsellors are trained to listen, help you deal with any negative thoughts and feelings, and work collaboratively to overcome issues that are causing emotional pain or making you feel uncomfortable. Counsellors may draw on a range of different resources in the process.
Counselling differs from therapy/psychotherapy, in that it is usually shorter-term, deals with more practical and immediate issues, and focuses on finding solutions, both practical and emotional for a current situation. Psychotherapy tends to be longer, involve a more in-depth analysis of your personality and situation, and seeks to provide a more profound shift in life perspective.
Counselling is delivered by different professionals. We have both social workers and psychologists in our team who are experienced counsellors.
Students typically present to the service by using the online booking form. Having received the booking request, one of our ‘duty’ counsellors will then try (within 1-3 days) to get in contact with you via phone to speak to you about your issue. Sometimes the problem can be resolved during that initial contact. Other times, the duty counsellor might suggest booking in for a counselling appointment, or they might refer to you a service better suited to your situation.
For students who are booked in for a counselling appointment, during the counselling session, you’ll be encouraged to share what is troubling you, one-on-one with one of our counsellors, either face-to-face or over the phone/Skype. You may be asked to describe a difficult situation, or difficult thoughts and feelings you are struggling with. By discussing your concerns with you, the counsellor can help you gain a better understanding of the situation, of your thoughts and feelings, as well as helping you identify some potential solutions.
It is common to require only a few counselling sessions in order to come up with a plan to resolve the issues that are troubling you. If more sessions are required, your counsellor will let you know. Flinders students can access up to 6 sessions per year.
Out of Hours Crisis Line at Flinders
Launched in 2018, the Flinders University Out-of-hours Crisis line is now a central component of the emotional support provided to Flinders Students.
This confidential support service is available to all Flinders University Students.
Use this confidential support service if you are:
- Emotionally distressed
- Experiencing mental health issues or flare-ups
- Having thoughts of self-harm or suicide
It is available from 5.00pm to 9.00am on weekdays and available 24hrs a day on weekends and public holidays.
There are two ways to contact the line.
The first is to call 1300 512 409 where you will get to speak directly to one of the out-of-hours counsellors
The second is to send a text message to 0488 884 103 whereby you can initiate a text discussion with one of the out-of-hours counsellors
Between 9.00am and 5.00pm on weekdays, use the normal Health, Counselling and Disability services phone line – 8201 2118 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Click for more details on contacting counselling services.
If you know another student who is struggling, let them know about this after-hours service, by directing them to this blog post, or to the Health, Counselling and Disability Services web-page
Forums are as old as the internet. They are communities of people with shared interests or experiences. You can find forums on just about any topic. For example, https://www.patientslikeme.com/ is a community based around health conditions. There are forums in Australia focused on mental health – e.g. Beyond Blue and SANE .
One of the benefits of forums is that the other people on the forum are likely to have some idea what you are going through, especially if you join a forum on the basis of a diagnosis or challenge faced. Forums can also provide a little more anonymity if you are wanting to talk about a sensitive issue.
Keep in mind that most older style forums are asynchronous, meaning the conversation isn’t happening in real-time, but that people are replying when they get the chance. As such, the conversations tend to move a little slower.
Peer support networks
Newer forums focus less on the topic and more on the development of an open community of people who are sharing and supporting each other, regardless of issue. Examples include https://talklife.co/, Confidist and the Trillproject. You sign up and just post whatever you want. If you are lucky, other members will join in on your topic and share their experiences or reflect on yours. You can also search for posts that are on topics of relevance to you and join those.
These options tend to be a little more real-time in the support they provide. You can be as anonymous as you want. But keep in mind that you are talking to strangers, not trained health professionals. That isn’t by any means a bad thing, just something to be mindful of in terms of the nature of the responses you might get. Most of these projects seem to come out of the US and I am not aware of any Australian specific ones yet.
With forums and peer support networks, you are essentially joining in on group conversations. This may or may not be helpful, depending on your support needs.
If you’d like a more individual approach, there are a couple of sites now offering individual online counselling/therapy using text, audio and video chat. Because these sites are not limited by location, you could be connected to a qualified counsellor/therapist from the other side of the world. Not needing to see the person in real-life does make this a more flexible counselling option, but the downside is price. This is not necessarily any more expensive than seeing someone face-to-face, once you factor in the amount of contact possible within the timeframe, but the cost is not insignificant. Talkspace for example is $65USD per week for their basic plan. BetterHelp is another similar option.
One option that I’ve not explored but looks interesting is a website called 7 Cups. The basic service of 7 Cups involves being connected to a trained volunteer ‘listener’ for text chat support. It is completely anonymous and free, meaning it might be a decent starting point, or at least worth exploring. Keep in mind that with the free version you are being connected to trained volunteers, not a qualified therapist, so if you have complex questions about mental health then you might need to look into utilising their paid therapy option (currently $150USD month).
Telephone support services
Depending on the issue you are struggling with, there might be a telephone support service in South Australia/Australia that can provide support. Lifeline is probably an example that many people know about.
We’ve been documenting the various phone support services we’ve found over here. Telephone support can feel a little more personalised, for those that feel that the online options. It also tends to be more immediate, that is, you can chat with someone straight away if you are feeling distressed.
A couple worth mentioning here if you struggle with mental ill health are the Lived Experience Telephone Support Service (https://www.letss.org.au/ – 1800 013 755) and eFriend – https://efriend.org.au/. Both used trained lived experience peers as supports, which can be very helpful if you want to speak to someone who has been through similar things to what you are going through.
Otherwise, peruse our list. There might be a service that deals specifically with the issues you are struggling with.
OK, I kinda snuck this one in cause it really isn’t a ‘chat to someone’ option. It is more like chatting to yourself. Journaling and writing can be powerful avenues for self-understanding and healing – https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/expressive_writing. It might not fit the bill in terms of your need to speak to someone, but it may be therapeutic nonetheless.
Online therapy modules
This one isn’t really a ‘chat to someone’ option either, but it is worth mentioning. In Australia, we are lucky that we have some good online therapy programs available at low-cost or free. Sites like Mindspot and ThisWayUp. For the most part these programs are automated in that you work through a pre-defined course. Sometimes, as is the case with Mindspot, that may include some contact with an actual therapist who is monitoring your progress, but that contact is fairly minimal. These programs tend to be created with specific conditions/challenges in mind. Browse the different programs they have or complete the online assessment to get a better understanding of your situation. Other similar options include Moodgym and ecouch.
In the same way we’ve been keeping an eye on the different phone services, we have also been keeping an eye on the different online therapy modules. You can find our list here.
If the problems you want to discuss are very much focused on your career or work, then mentoring can be a good avenue to get support. Keep in mind that mentors are not counsellors and thus using a mentoring situation to work through personal problems is not advised. But I found mentoring to be a great option when I was confused about my career direction and options. Start with Careers here at Flinders to find out what kinds of mentoring options are available to you.
Yep, you heard it. They are developing therapeutic chatbots. Here is one. I’ve experimented with one before called Woebot and found it to be interesting. Not therapeutic as such, but I can see where the tech is headed and I think one day, we will find some solace in talking to machines.
Seeing a private therapist
If you are going through something where you feel it would be beneficial to get professional support, then seeing a private therapist (often a psychologist) may be a good option.
Finding the right private therapist can be a challenge. You have to try and find the right person, at the right price, who is currently available, who has the expertise you need and with whom you trust.
We typically recommend that people start first by talking to their GP and seeing if they are eligible for a Mental Health Care Plan, which will help with the cost of seeing someone. Furthermore, GP’s often have their own networks of therapist that they trust and refer to regularly.
Another useful starting point is the Find A Psychologist service offered by the APS – https://www.psychology.org.au/Find-a-Psychologist. You can search by issue and location and narrow down the list of people who might be appropriate. You can then contact them directly and find out what their referral/price/availability is.
Many non-profit and non-government organisations provide support in the community. It isn’t just counselling support they provide.
If you’ve found yourself in a situation where you feel you need someone to talk to, but don’t know where to start, then take comfort in the fact that this is common.
Hopefully this blog post has given you a few options to pursue in finding the right option for you. Of course, remember that counselling is also available here at Flinders and for many students that is the first point of call.
Keep an open mind that you might need to try a few things before finding something that works for you. And don’t be shy to try something a bit different. I always thought that I preferred face-to-face counselling options, but I’ve recently discovered that I quite like online counselling via text because I get the chance to write about what is happening to me and that is therapeutic also. My basic point is try different options and not limit yourself to those that you assume will be best for you.