The human brain may be an intriguing and complex muscle, but like every other part of our body, it’s subject to damage and disease.
This episode of Michael Mosley’s Reset explores the illusive happenings in the brain and attempts to help Australians understand the intricate details of mental health. As we learn during the program, almost half of all Australians will experience a mental illness like depression or anxiety in their lifetime.
The show brings together mental health experts and those with a lived experience of a condition to openly talk about what poor mental health feels like, the trials and errors associated with prescribing medication, and the evidence-based non-pharmacological strategies that can encourage good mental health.
Sarah, who lives with depression, tells Dr Mosley how her mental health condition feels. “I found it physically hurt,” Sarah says. “I had no energy, no motivation or enthusiasm to do anything. I was in a big hole that I couldn’t get out of… I couldn’t comprehend things. It was really difficult. I’d drop the kids off [in the morning and then] I’d go to bed and sleep all day. I couldn’t think forward.”
Depression may also cause poor appetite, chronic fatigue, a drop in immunity, insomnia or oversleeping, and aches or pains, but everyone’s experience of depression is different.
Director of the Food and Mood Centre, Professor Felice Jacka joins the panel to interpret how she feels the black dog.
“When you have depression, it feels like the dementors have got you from Harry Potter and they’ve sucked all the joy out of you. It really is the most horrible experience.” However, Professor Jacka adds, “if you have found ways to help yourself, then you want to help others if you can”.
Herein lies the purpose of this episode of Michael Mosley’s Reset: to humanise the issue of mental health through the power of conversation, encouraging viewers to openly discuss their mental health, as needed, and seek help without hesitation or stigma.
Dr Mosley also adds his own personal experience of poor mental health into the mix. “I’m an insomniac,” he confesses. “When I get stressed, I sleep unbelievably badly and I also indulge in catastrophic thinking. I assume everything is going to go wrong: sometimes it does but normally it doesn’t… I’ve also had several panic attacks in my life.”
Joining Dr Mosley, Sarah and Professor Jacka on the show is GP Dr Grant Blashki, clinical psychologist Shen Sautry and Graham, who’s lived with anxiety since age 23. They each contribute personal insight about what they believe mental illness feels like and possible treatments to help.
One of the most popular non-medical psychological interventions that every guest on the show admits they’ve tried is mindfulness: a practice to focus your mind on the present.
New research, published in the journal Mental Health and Prevention this month, shows that mindfulness can be a cost-effective option to reduce depressive symptoms. The research examined whether a brief mindfulness intervention could help almost 1,000 American university students dealing with depression who were not being treated. Results showed that depression levels decreased in the group that practised mindfulness, although it did not improve in the control group. The study also found that mindfulness training helped participants accept their own thoughts and emotions without evaluating them.
During the show, exercise and dietary improvements to manage mood were also raised as successful interventions that could prevent a depressive or anxiety episode.
Graham comments that anything that boosts your motivation to do things could prove effective when trying to manage a mental health concern.
“Motivation is the product of how much you want something and how much you believe you can get it,” he says.
“What’s interesting about the mental health context is that people who have been struggling have been given the message time and again that they can’t do things.
“So finding ways to encourage people to get to that feeling of ‘I can be a different person’ is really important.”
Dr Michael Mosley’s Reset is a new three-part series, created in partnership with Medibank and produced independently by SBS, exploring some of the latest research on the big health issues that affect so many Australians. It's exclusive to SBS On Demand from 4 March 2019.