This week is Mental As Week on ABC TV. For those who don’t live in Australia, it is a week where Australia’s national broadcaster focuses on mental health and wellbeing and it coincides with World Mental Health Day on October 10 2015. In the spirit of raising awareness of mental health and wellbeing, I’m going to share my story.
I have always been a “worrier” since I was a kid, but being a worrier didn’t really impact on my life until I had my baby. Baby V was born on July 2014 and I have previously blogged about her. My worrying felt like it exploded exponentially after she was born. Is she getting enough sleep? Is she getting enough milk? Am I breastfeeding her correctly? Is it OK if she falls asleep in my arms rather than on her own? On top of this was my expectation to continue my pre-baby life, and in the first few weeks of Baby V being born, I did. When she was 3 weeks old, I went into school for Project Mars. I had Skype meetings. I worked on units of work for the new syllabus. I also was not used to the unpredictability of a newborn baby. I placed a lot of pressure on myself to make sure that I was doing it “right” for Baby V and to continue working in the same way as I did before she was born, to the point where I wasn’t taking care of myself. This all built up for about 3 months and that’s when I started having trouble sleeping. There was 5 nights in a row where I could not sleep even though Baby V was sleeping. That’s when I was encouraged to see a worker from Tresillian (an organisation that supports families in the early years of their child’s life), who then referred me to see a psychiatrist. I was not diagnosed with anything clinical and I only saw the psychiatrist once. However, from this process I learnt about mindfulness and it led to me taking an online course from Mindspot for managing anxiety. The course taught me strategies to manage anxiety and how to look after myself, something I have neglected to do way before Baby V arrived.
I’m sharing this story because I want to build on the current momentum that issues associated with mental health and wellbeing should NOT be stigmatised and needs to be discussed in the same way as physical health. No one will bat an eyelid if someone says they have sprained their ankle, but too many people still see mental illness as a weakness. Mental health is no different to physical health. However, people are often hesitant to raise issues with their mental health because of the stigma. People are hesitant to seek help because they think they should be able to deal with it or get over it themselves.
I am also sharing this story to emphasise the importance of teaching people on strategies of taking care of themselves and how to deal with difficult times. We are taught how to look after our physical health. We are taught about nutrition, dental care, exercise, etc. We also need to learn how to look after our mental health. We need to learn about strategies like mindfulness so we have a toolkit of strategies to use when it is needed.
Most of you who follow my blog know that I’m a teacher. Teaching is one of the most stressful fields and mental health and wellbeing is extremely important for teachers. It surprises me how many teachers open up about their mental health when I speak to them about my experiences with Baby V. A lot of mental health and wellbeing focus at schools are focused on students (which is fantastic) but the same amount of focus also needs to be placed on staff.
So in the spirt of Mental As, we should all be talking about mental health and wellbeing. Share your story. Ask someone whether they are OK. The more we talk about it, the better we will be as a community. Speak up.