Don’t wait for tragedy, the kick­start you need is at hand

Tas­ma­ni­ans are step­ping up to help ev­ery­one’s men­tal health, writes Con­nie Digo­lis

Mercury (Hobart) - - TALKING POINT -

WHEN we talk about facts and fig­ures on the men­tal health of Tas­ma­ni­ans, it tends to paint a pretty bleak pic­ture. Aus­tralian Bureau of Sta­tis­tics health sur­vey data in­di­cates that just over 20 per cent of Tas­ma­ni­ans ex­pe­ri­enced a men­tal health or be­havioural is­sue con­sid­ered to be a chronic condition. We know Tas­ma­ni­ans have to over­come quite a few bar­ri­ers when it comes to lead­ing a healthy life.

I am not go­ing to paint that grim real­ity for you to­day. At the Men­tal Health Coun­cil of Tas­ma­nia, we spend a lot of time ad­vo­cat­ing for ways we could be im­prov­ing the men­tal health sys­tem and mov­ing closer to a men­tally healthy com­mu­nity. In­stead, I want to talk about some num­bers that are en­cour­ag­ing and, dare I say it, hope­ful for a brighter fu­ture in our beau­ti­ful state.

This year we have re­alised that, not only is be­com­ing men­tally healthy some­thing Tas­ma­ni­ans are pas­sion­ate about, it is area where they want to bring about change. Dur­ing Men­tal Health Week, on Oc­to­ber 6 to 12, there was an un­prece­dented num­ber of ac­tiv­i­ties across the state, with more than 80 dif­fer­ent public events reg­is­tered. From King Is­land to Du­nal­ley and every­where in be­tween, Tas­ma­ni­ans were tak­ing part. The Men­tal Health Coun­cil is proud to pro­vide fund­ing for 50 events through our grant pro­gram sup­ported by the State Gov­ern­ment. Al­most 13,000 Tas­ma­ni­ans at­tended these and many more en­gaged in some other way.

Men­tal Health Week has a last­ing im­pact be­yond one week of the year, be­yond aware­ness or a to­kenis­tic ges­ture. Tas­ma­ni­ans take part be­cause they want to see a last­ing im­pact, they want to learn more about how to pre­vent ill-health and where to go when they need sup­port.

The theme, “We all have a role to play,” has been taken on be­cause it rings true, whether that role is learn­ing strate­gies to man­age your own anx­i­ety, care for a loved one, ed­u­cate oth­ers, break down the stigma or just reach out to a friend. Ev­ery­one can see they have a role to play if we are to re­ally make head­way.

You might think at­tend­ing a morn­ing tea or art ex­hi­bi­tion isn’t go­ing to do much for your men­tal health. But the sim­ple act of en­gag­ing in a so­cial or cre­ative ac­tiv­ity may be the starting point to pre­vent you from feel­ing iso­lated, lonely or without pur­pose. It can have long term ef­fects for pre­vent­ing ill-health.

There is such an ar­ray of things to try that you may not re­alise are great for your men­tal health, whether it be a ukulele work­shop in Wyn­yard that will hope­fully in­spire peo­ple to be so­cial and take up a new hobby or an au­dio in­stal­la­tion at the Ho­bart Li­brary that tells the sto­ries of men sup­port­ing each other through home­less­ness.

To cre­ate col­lec­tive re­spon­si­bil­ity for men­tal

health pro­mo­tion is not an easy feat. But in many ways it is al­ready hap­pen­ing. So of­ten preven­tion or aware­ness have their ori­gin in the de­sire to do some­thing af­ter a tragedy. When so many of us have our lives im­pacted by se­ri­ous men­tal ill­ness or sui­cide it is no won­der we feel com­pelled to act.

Please don’t wait to be re­ally un­well to seek help. If you notice your­self or some­one close isn’t 100 per cent them­selves, check in on them. See what you could be do­ing to pre­vent your health from get­ting any worse. An aware­ness ac­tiv­ity can some­times be that kick­start to find what you need to be feel­ing hap­pier and health­ier. Con­grat­u­la­tions to those who hosted events or ac­tiv­i­ties not usu­ally en­gaged in the men­tal health space. I am sure you have con­sid­ered the last­ing im­pact of what you have given to your com­mu­nity. I would like to high­light the lan­guage we use when we talk about men­tal health and sui­cide preven­tion. Con­sider how ef­fec­tive and safe we are be­ing when we dis­cuss in a public fo­rum. Visit www.taschar­ter. org/safely-talk­ing/ Men­tal Health Week also high­lights the hard work and per­se­ver­ance of work­ers in the men­tal health sec­tor. So of­ten we forget to ac­knowl­edge these ded­i­cated and de­ter­mined peo­ple in the or­gan­i­sa­tions that make up our Men­tal Health Coun­cil mem­ber­ship. They are the sup­port ser­vices you would have seen at Men­tal Health Week events and pro­vid­ing guid­ance and in­for­ma­tion. You might not have had the time to cel­e­brate your fan­tas­tic work. But we see you, and Tas­ma­ni­ans are very grate­ful for all that you do.

If this story raises con­cerns for you or some­one you care about, please con­sider con­tact­ing:

Life­line, 24 hours, on 13 11 14 or at life­line.org.au; sui­cide­call­back­ser­vice.org.au or 1300 659 467; be­yond­blue.org.au or 1300 22 4636; SANE

Aus­tralia 1800 18 SANE (7263) or www.sane.org

Con­nie Digo­lis is the chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Men­tal Health Coun­cil of Tas­ma­nia.

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