Imagine your leg is broken. Now imagine you can’t explain what hurts. You soldier on the best you can, slowly getting used to the pain until it seems natural. Until you can’t remember what life was like before this.
A survey from the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates 45 per cent of people in Australia will experience a mental health condition at some point in their life, with anxiety and depression being the most common.
So why do we find it so difficult to talk about?
One of the most frustrating things about mental health conditions is that they’re invisible. You don’t wake up one morning with a flashing neon sign that says, “I am suffering from [insert mental health condition] and I need help.” For many people, it’s a slow build-up and they don’t realise something has changed until someone else points it out.
We bandy around the term “depressed” when we’re sad about something that happened during our day or when a limited edition doughnut sells out too quickly for our liking. In reality, depression is much more complicated than that.
People who are depressed can feel “low” for extended periods of time without any apparent reason. It may not be the usual ache that comes with sadness; it could be a feeling of numbness and disassociation, as though looking at the world from the outside. No matter how much they want to feel excited about something, they may not be able to connect the way they used to.
Anxiety, on the other hand, can be the feeling of stress or unease even after the stressor has been removed or long after the difficult situation is over.
You can’t just cry until you feel better. Someone saying “You’re still freaking out about that?” doesn’t make the anxiety go away. Being happy or excited about something doesn’t mean that your depression is miraculously cured.
While it’s difficult for some people to understand how mental health conditions fluctuate, it’s even more frustrating for the person dealing with it. And it’s no wonder many people with mental health conditions choose not to broadcast their issues for fear of being judged.
But there are ways that you can help those who are struggling with a mental health condition.
First, you need to reject the stigma surrounding the issue: mental illness does not discriminate; while some people may be predisposed to mental health conditions, everyone can be affected.
The next step is to talk to a doctor about available support and what kind of treatment is best for you. Your doctor will be able to help you identify your options. Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is a popular treatment that pinpoints unhelpful thought patterns and formulate ways to approach the problem in a calmer and more positive way.
But what if you don’t have the time or money to visit a doctor? What if you don’t feel like you can talk to someone about your issues face-to-face?
Safe online chat options from organisations such as Lifeline, Beyondblue and Sane.org provide the opportunity to speak to someone from the comfort of your own home. Services are also available for those with a hearing or speech impairment or for whom English is not their first language.
It’s important to remember that treating a mental health condition is not a quick or linear process. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth treating. You would visit a doctor for physical pain; your mental health is just as important.
If you or someone you know needs immediate help, call Beyondblue on 1300 224 636 or Lifeline’s Crisis Support Line on 13 11 14.