October is Mental Health Month around the world and a good time to reflect on the importance of good mental health in our daily lives.
One in five Australians will experience difficulties with their mental health during their lifetime.
Many more have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the increased uncertainty and anxiety that it has caused.
Additionally, the upcoming second anniversary of the Black Summer bushfires may further increase feelings of anxiety or worry.
This is completely normal, and a timely reminder to take positive steps towards improving our mental health and wellbeing as our communities continue to repair and rebuild.
If you’re concerned about how you’re feeling, speak to someone you trust or reach out to one of the many support services available and encourage others to do the same.
Below are some mental health tips to practice this month and in the lead-up to the anniversary of the bushfires.
- Connect with others
Distress can make us want to isolate ourselves, but being with people we care about is good for our mental health. It gives us energy, helps us relax and can even help us live longer.
Reach out to your loved ones, neighbours and community. Share how you’re feeling, and invite others to share with you.
Engaging with empathetic people is a fantastic tool for mental health. If you feel like no one else gets it, you might find comfort on the SANE Life After Bushfires forum.
Don’t forget about pets! Our furry (or feathered, or scaly) friends can help lower stress levels and ease feelings of anxiety and depression.
- Use breathing to ground you
When we’re feeling distressed, we tend to take shallow breaths that make us light-headed and tense.
Slow, deliberate breathing can make a huge difference.
Here is a quick and simple breathing exercise to help calm you:
• Find a quiet space with no interruptions.
• Try to relax your body. Drop your shoulders, loosen your limbs. Close your eyes.
• Take a deep breath in through your nose for 3-4 seconds. Notice the sensation of breathing in.
• Let the breath out for 4-5 seconds. Notice how it feels to let it out.
• Keep going. Breathe in, breathe out. Repeat for 10 minutes.
- Be good to yourself
Surround yourself with things that make you feel comfortable, happy, safe and calm.
This could be a familiar movie or book, a pet, your favourite food, or a hobby.
Try to do at least one thing that you enjoy every day.
Treat yourself with kindness – you’re doing your best.
- Limit media consumption (and choose trusted sources)
Choose how often you engage with news and social media and be sure to find news sources that are trustworthy and factual.
Watch content that makes you laugh and feel comfortable wherever possible.
In the lead-up to the anniversary of the bushfires, reducing your exposure to media coverage about the fires may help.
This doesn’t mean you don’t care. Taking a break won’t change what’s happening, but it may help you stay on top of your mental health.
If you want to stay updated, set aside a bit of time every couple of days to go online or check the news on your own terms.
- Seek help if you need it, and encourage others to do the same
Talking to someone - whether that’s a trusted friend, family, your GP or someone at a helpline - can make a significant difference to your mental health.
You don’t have to know exactly what you want to talk about - you might just need to connect with another human and have someone listen to what you’re feeling.
If you know someone who’s struggling, encourage them to reach out to someone.
Lifeline - crisis counselling and suicide prevention services. Phone: 13 11 14 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week).
Lifeline Text - 0477 13 11 14 (6 pm to midnight, 7 nights a week)
Beyond Blue Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service - phone, webchat, and online community forum support. Phone: 1800 512 348 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week).
Headspace - confidential mental health and wellbeing support for young people (12 - 25 years) and their families. Phone: 1800 650 890 (9am - 1am, 7 days a week).
MensLine - professional telephone and online support and information service for Australian men. Phone 1300 78 99 78 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week).
SANE Australia - 1800 187 263
SANE’s Life After Bushfires includes several resources for people who have been impacted by the bushfires, including:
• A sense of connection and shared experience via video stories from local people with complex mental health issues affected by the bushfires.
• A dedicated Life After Bushfires Forum for people to connect with others and share experiences in a safe and moderated space. Forums are anonymous and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
• Individual counselling services accessible via phone, email or webchat, Mon-Fri 10am-10pm.
Sources used in this article
Reach Out: au.reachout.com
Black Dog Institute: blackdoginstitute.org.au
SANE Australia: sane.org