According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, a staggering 3 million Australians reported having a mental or behavioural condition in the 2011-12 Australian Health Survey. That’s 13.6 per cent of the national population. Depression was most prevalent, with 2.1 million (9.7 per cent) of the population reporting symptoms.
With so many Australians experiencing mental health issues, there is a pressing need to raise awareness of this traditionally taboo topic – and that is what Mental Health Week, from 6–13 October, aims to do.
To help us understand some of the challenges of living with mental health issues, I spoke with two people who have been affected in different ways.
As a sufferer of borderline personality disorder (BPD), Talya is no stranger to the struggles associated with having a mental health condition. This disorder is clinically recognised and symptoms include emotional instability and severe feelings of insecurity, which can lead to impulsive and dangerous behaviour in extreme cases.
Talya has also had the additional challenge of dealing with family illness. In 2010, her father was diagnosed with stage 4 terminal bowel cancer. As this rare genetic strain of bowel cancer is hereditary, Talya underwent a long series of tests and discovered that she, too, harboured the dangerous gene.
Attempting to deal with this double-whammy, Talya turned to the only coping mechanism she had – keeping busy. While she had previously turned to crafts, art, poetry and music to alleviate her BPD symptoms, Talya realised she needed something more ‘diverse [and] dynamic’ to keep her focus away from damaging thoughts.
Using her love of crafts, Talya discovered a niche market for handmade invitations and so began her own business, Made With Love. The business gave her a purpose as well as a sense of self-accomplishment and self-worth. Talya is now filled with pride by the work she creates and ‘couldn’t be happier’.
‘I have a lot more confidence in myself, and I really rely on my business and craft to help get me through tough times ahead.’
Talya has been extremely fortunate in being able to find a way to live positively with her condition. Others, like former customer service and leadership trainer Simon, are still very much on the road to recovery. After enjoying a stellar career, a series of tragic events – losing his father to lung cancer and then losing his relationship and regular access to his daughter – led Simon into a spiral of alcoholism and depression from which he is still recovering. He lost his job, but still hasn’t lost hope. Simon’s dream is to turn his depression, and how it has changed him, into a positive.
There are many Australians just like Simon and Talya, and we all need to be aware of the challenges they face. We can help, just by providing understanding and support.
If you are suffering from a mental illness, you don’t have to struggle alone. There are a number of support organisations such as Beyond Blue or Lifeline that offer a range of support services. If you’re interested in helping those who suffer from mental health issues, you can consider studying a course in counselling to give you the skills to assist people like Simon and Talya.