Open up on men­tal ill­ness

This week is Men­tal Health Aware­ness Week (Oc­to­ber 8-14). Waihi Leader ed­i­tor Melanie Camoin opens up about how men­tal health has af­fected her own fam­ily.

Waihi Leader - - News -

I have writ­ten very few edi­to­ri­als in this pa­per, but I wanted to write about men­tal health aware­ness.

The health of the mind is a big is­sue that is known to most of us.

When some­one asks you how you are, don’t be afraid to speak the truth. We all have good and bad days but when the bad su­per­sedes the good ones, then our mind spins with thoughts and it is over­whelm­ing.

Men­tal ill­nesses are not just some­thing touch­ing a few peo­ple in this coun­try and through­out the world. The is­sues are widespread, and do not dis­crim­i­nate for age, cul­ture or so­cial class. Anx­i­ety dis­or­ders and de­pres­sion are ram­pant in our fast-paced so­ci­ety where ex­pec­ta­tions are high.

Speak­ing out about how we feel is the first step to rais­ing aware­ness.

Last July, I went back to France to sort out piles of pa­pers and other child­hood mem­o­ries piled up in a base­ment as my mother was sell­ing the fam­ily home.

I stum­bled across old photo al­bums, and many of them in­cluded my dad, who passed away when I was 12.

I was told he used to go for a drive when he was up­set, some­times dis­ap­pear­ing overnight or sev­eral days in a row. I won­dered where he was at the time. That is how he died — in a car crash — or so I was told by my mother and the rest of the fam­ily.

Twenty three years later, I un­cov­ered the truth: my dad took his own life on Oc­to­ber 10, 1995. The news was bru­tal. I was in shock.

My fa­ther was one of the too many peo­ple who were strug­gling with a long-term men­tal ill­ness.

I opened the Pan­dora’s box, found let­ters from doc­tors say­ing his men­tal state had been deemed sta­ble the year be­fore.

The truth came from my younger sis­ter, on the evening of my cousin’s wed­ding.

“I thought you knew,” she said, and yet no one, de­spite my ques­tions, ever told me.

Dad, like many oth­ers, was kind and hon­est, prob­a­bly ‘too’ kind and ‘too’ hon­est, some said, suf­fer­ing from nearly 10 years of de­pres­sion.

I re­mem­ber hear­ing con­ver­sa­tions be­tween my par­ents where my fa­ther was say­ing that his col­leagues were mock­ing him and not be­liev­ing him for be­ing sick.

“De­pres­sion is JUST in your mind,” they said.

Yet, he took his own life years later aged 38.

My mother was vig­i­lant, hid­ing sharp ob­jects to pre­vent him from cut­ting his wrists, again — now I un­der­stand why he used to cover them.

Back in the 1990s, men­tal ill­nesses was not re­ally dis­cussed.

There were things un­spo­ken, peo­ple suf­fered in si­lence, were given their treat­ment and left alone in a dark cor­ner of their mind, so­cially set apart.

For men, show­ing feel­ings was seen as a weak­ness. Toughen up, they said.

Nowa­days, there is a va­ri­ety of help avail­able — med­i­cal, coun­selling, mind­ful­ness, med­i­ta­tion or speak­ing out about the is­sue or just hav­ing some­one who can lis­ten, with­out judge­ment.

I be­lieve break­ing the taboos can help un­der­stand that you are NOT alone. Not just for this Men­tal Health Aware­ness Week — Oc­to­ber 8-14 — but reg­u­larly, check with your loved ones. Ask “are you OK?”.

Go­ing for a walk in na­ture is a breath of fresh air for peo­ple deal­ing with men­tal health is­sues.

A sur­vey re­leased by the Men­tal Health Foun­da­tion of New Zealand (MHF), re­vealed the pos­i­tive ef­fect of spend­ing time in na­ture has on the men­tal health of New Zealan­ders.

Of those Ki­wis sur­veyed fol­low­ing last year’s Men­tal Health Aware­ness Week, 95 per cent said that spend­ing time in na­ture dur­ing the week made them feel good and 75 per cent said they in­tended to spend more reg­u­lar time in na­ture.

These new find­ings have been re­leased ahead of this year’s Men­tal Health Aware­ness Week (MHAW) this week un­til Sun­day, Oc­to­ber 14, which en­cour­ages peo­ple to spend time in na­ture.

MHAW 2018 has a num­ber of events, chal­lenges, re­sources and ed­u­ca­tional ac­tiv­i­ties to help peo­ple place their well­be­ing front and cen­tre.

“We all have men­tal health,” MHF chief ex­ec­u­tive Shaun Robin­son says.

“It’s some­thing we all need to take good care of, ev­ery day.

“We know con­nect­ing with na­ture makes us feel good, and ev­ery lit­tle bit helps us find bal­ance, build re­silience and boost men­tal well­be­ing.”

Re­search has shown that spend­ing time in na­ture lifts peo­ple’s moods, de­creases feel­ings of de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety, im­proves con­cen­tra­tion, buf­fers against stress, makes lives mean­ing­ful, speeds re­cov­ery from tough times and re­duces health in­equal­i­ties re­lated to poverty.

“We are lucky to live in a coun­try sur­rounded by nat­u­ral beauty. Ev­ery day we have op­por­tu­ni­ties to stop, take it in and ap­pre­ci­ate the good­ness that al­ready sur­rounds us,” Robin­son says.

Nearly 50 per cent of New Zealan­ders will ex­pe­ri­ence a men­tal health prob­lem in their life­time, and de­pres­sion is likely to over­come heart disease as the big­gest global health bur­den by 2020.

The em­pha­sis on this year’s Men­tal Health Aware­ness Week is help­ing work­places, schools and com­mu­ni­ties to let na­ture in and strengthen their well­be­ing.

■ For more about Men­tal Health Aware­ness Week, visit www.mhaw.nz

PHOTO / MELANIE CAMOIN.

Yvan Fer­nand Camoin, 1957-1995.

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