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.
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
Yvan Fernand Camoin, 1957-1995.