SBS Radio App

Download the FREE SBS Radio App for a better listening experience

  • September 10 is “R U OK” day which encourages people to connect with their peers over this conversation. (Public domain)Source: Public domain
Mental illness affects one in five Australians in any one year but almost half of those experiencing mental health issues don’t seek professional treatment. If you notice someone going through a difficult time, something as simple as asking “are you OK?” can help.
By
Amy Chien-Yu Wang

7 Sep 2015 - 4:51 PM  UPDATED 8 Sep 2016 - 11:50 AM

September 10 is “R U OK?” day which encourages people to connect with their peers over this conversation.

Aine Tierney’s life had been a series of struggles.  As a child she was molested by a family member. As a woman, she experienced a violent marriage. As a mother, she is the carer of a son suffering from schizophrenia. But it wasn’t until much later, after she was exposed to an armed robbery, that she sought professional help.  She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder which eventually turned into depression.

There is a difference between having a bad day and experiencing mental illness.

“Not as all of us can go through the same experience and come out unscathed.  Some of us are more deeply affected by things.  Some of us are more sensitive, so we need to be aware of ourselves and how we cope with stresses and life in general and be able to be humble enough I think to actually reach out and seek help.”

Dr Aliza Werner-Seidler is a clinical psychologist at the Black Dog Institute.  She says while detecting mental health problems can be difficult, there is a difference between having a bad day and experiencing mental illness.

“First of all it’s how long these difficulties remain. So for people who have persistent prolonged low mood over many weeks without any sort of respite, that is a cause for concern. And the second thing is the degree to which it interferes with your life. So we know that people who have mental health problems, it frequently affects ability to work, ability to go to school, your social relationships, people often become very withdrawn. So when life starts to change, when people are unable to carry on with what they want be doing with their life then that's indicative that there might be a problem.”

Asking the question "Are you OK?" can help improve their mental well-being as well as prevent suicidal thoughts.

Director of the Hunter Institute of Mental Health Jaelea Skehan says when you notice these signs in a person, asking the question "Are you OK?" can help improve their mental well-being as well as prevent suicidal thoughts.

“People often are very fearful of asking someone how they’re doing or asking someone ‘are you OK,’ because they don’t feel like they’ll know how to respond if the person says ‘no, actually, I’m not OK.’  One of the really important things to remember is even if someone tells you they’re not OK, it’s not necessarily your job to try and fix the problem but what you can do is be somebody that sits with them and listens to what they’re going through, listening without judging, listening without trying to fix or solve the problem.”

The conversation should be conducted in a private setting which can take place over a cup of tea. 

Having experienced depression first hand, Aine Tierney says the conversation should be conducted in a private setting which can take place over a cup of tea. 

“In terms of actually asking somebody if they are OK, I wouldn’t do it in a public place. I think you need to be aware of the environment and make it a safe space for someone to sit down and have a chat. And if you are concerned about a person, if you are worried they are not ok, I think spending some time with that person, making the time for the person is a big thing. In some cases I think the 'R U OK?' day legitimises it.”

And if you are speaking with a person from the migrant or refugee community, it’s important to be mindful of their cultural background.

“I think for people who perhaps English their second language is English it can be difficult. In some cultural groups there is a real lack of knowledge around mental illness because there is such an incredible stigma and shame involved about having developed an illness.”

Mental Health in Multicultural Australia Executive Officer Hamza Vayani says sometimes people prefer to receive support through other means.

“It’s about how you tailor that message by taking into account the individual and the culture they come from. There could be community events at local neighborhood centers or places of worship. And it could be that you could partner with the people whom they trust in the community and sort of part of the broader awareness raising event where you could include and invite them in therefore the event doesn't become about the person but they are in an environment where they feel supported and where there is information in a nonthreatening way that allows them to have the support around them to seek help.” 

Digital Dog is is a series of projects that look at how online technology, social media can be used  to improve the mental health of the community.

Dr Aliza Weiner-Seidler says more and more people are turning to the internet to address their mental health needs - which can be as effective as face-to-face therapies.  She is part of the research team at Black Dog Institute in developing ‘Digital Dog’ – a program which detects mental health problems in the digital space.

“What Digital Dog is is a series of projects that look at how online technology, social media, how we can use this technology to improve the mental health of the community. So we know more than 50 per cent people won’t actually seek help if they have a mental health problem and so we are looking at how we can use these kinds of technologies to increase that number and get good information out there by using things like Facebook and Twitter that particularly a lot of young people are using. It’s just a different avenue through which we might be able to improve information available and help seeking behavior.”

[It's] about finding the type of treatment a person feels most comfortable with. 

Experts say addressing someone’s mental health issues is about finding the type of treatment a person feels most comfortable with. 

“It can be a mixture of medication, therapy and counseling as well as some lifestyle things that everybody can do around being healthy that can be getting enough sleep, getting good nutrition, getting more sleep, and connecting with friends and family who can support you through tough times. People can see their GP through national funding. They can also see a psychologist under Medicare for a number of sessions if they’re referred through their GP, which will lower the cost significantly of seeing that psychologist.”

For tips on how to ask someone “R U OK?” go to www.ruok.org.au  

To find out how you can help yourself or someone going through mental issues, go to www.beyondblue.org.au

If you speak a language other than English you can find out how to access appropriate services by visiting the Mental Health in Multicultural Australia website at www.mhima.org.au.

 

 

RELATED CONTENT
Settlement Guide: how to access mental health care?
Mental illness is the third highest cause of burden of disease in Australia after cancer and cardiovascular disease. Yet, some migrant communities only use mental health services at a very low rate. Limited knowledge about the available services, cultural stigma and language barriers often turn them away from seeking help.
Settlement Guide: 3 steps to access mental health services under Medicare
Through the Better Access initiative, Medicare rebates are available to patients for selected mental health services, provided by general practitioners, psychiatrists, psychologists, eligible social workers and occupational therapists.