Now that we’re at the tail end (kinda) of coronavirus, I feel like now is as good a time as any to have a discussion about mental health. I think that even though people are starting to talk a bit more openly and honestly about it, there’s still a lot of stigma surrounding mental health issues. And that needs to stop.
I know that over the last few months, the mental health of a lot of my friends, as well as myself, has taken a massive hit. I’m sure a lot of you have been the same. There has been a lot of uncertainty, stress, fear, sadness and death in the media over the last few months, so it’s only natural that it would all be taking a toll on our mental health.
I want you to know, if you’re struggling right now, your feelings are valid, and you will not be judged for seeking help.
Time For An Honest Conversation About Mental Health
Too many of us are struggling with our mental health in silence. We need to encourage people to seek help. We need to let our friends know that they can reach out. There needs to be better crisis resources and ways to access them.
— Mohamed Shafeeu (@shappiu) June 25, 2020
I’ll be honest, when coronavirus first hit, I spiralled. Hard. For the first few weeks, I hardly got out of bed, procrastinated my uni assignments, and only ate at dinner because I was trying to keep up a pretence for my family that everything was alright.
Eventually, I started to feel better. I was eating properly, getting decent sleep, talking to friends, getting a bit of exercise. It seemed to be working.
But now I’ve found myself pretending again, which probably isn’t the most healthy thing to do.
Except now, that pretence is for everyone – family, friends, co-workers, and myself. I try to ignore how I’m feeling so that I can get on with my day. But now it has all caught up with me again and I can’t ignore it anymore.
So I’m going to do what I do best – obsessively google what the solutions to these problems are.
Here are the five ways you can get your mental health back on track if you’re feeling as lost as I am right now.
“Just sleep. It solves everything.”
— M O O D (@MoodFlix) June 25, 2020
Let’s start at the very beginning. Sleep is the most important thing we need in order to function in our daily lives. Sleep allows our brain time to rest and recover from the day. Getting a good night’s sleep has been shown to improve your mood, immune system, concentration, and productivity. Frequent poor sleep is often linked to depression.
According to Headspace (and probably your parents at some point), people aged 18-25 generally need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. And if you’re like me and you’re the type of person who always goes to bed after midnight, this could also be negatively impacting your mental health.
If you find it difficult to get to sleep at night, try getting off your phone/laptop at least 30 minutes before actually going to sleep. Difficult, I know – watching Netflix in bed is just so tempting. Instead, read a book before you go to sleep. I’ve found that this really works for me.
Listening to mindfulness meditations designed for sleep can also help you to stay in the present and not focus on worries running laps in your brain, so that you can fall asleep. I use Smiling Mind for mine, and honestly, they’re really great. The breathing exercises can usually help me to focus on one thing instead of everything else in my head.
Eating well is the next best thing for us, both physically and mentally. When we eat well, we have energy for our daily life. And for our mental health, it’s just as important.
When I say “eat well”, I don’t mean you’re restricted to salads and you have to deprive yourself of your favourite foods, because that doesn’t work either. It’s about balance, that’s all.
The healthy fats found in fish are supposed to be high in Omega 3, which lowers blood pressure and prevents the risk of heart failure. And carbohydrates like rice, pasta and bread, provide us with our main source of energy. So you can still have your fave pasta for dinner.
But add fruits, veggies, nuts, and wholegrain to your diet too. Studies have shown that a healthy diet can actually improve your mental health. When our body is properly and regularly fed with good food, our mental health benefits too. Physical and mental health go hand in hand here.
And another important thing to remember is to drink lots of water! This is something I’m guilty of not doing. So if you’re reading this right now, consider it your reminder to go and drink some water. Stay hydrated, friends.
#3 Stay Active
I’ve been getting a little bit more exercise in every day recently and holy shit my mental health went 📈. Self care and activity works wonders and calms you down so much :,)
— Uz (@uzzybois) June 24, 2020
Speaking of physical health, keeping your body moving is so important too. This is probably the one a lot of us hate to address, especially when we’re feeling like shit and just want to stay in bed binge watching 90s sitcoms on Netflix.
But fresh air and the circulation of oxygen in our bodies can improve out moods too. I found that even just walking up the road to the shops to buy food was enough, because I was getting out of the house. Chuck on some upbeat music while you walk too.
Bring a picnic blanket or something and walk to your local park and just chill with music and a book for a while so that you aren’t cooped up inside all day with negative thoughts running rampant around your head.
Exercise releases endorphins and serotonin. Endorphins relieve stress and pain, while serotonin is often referred to as the “happy” chemical.
Staying active can help to reduce stress and symptoms of anxiety and depression, and can also help us to sleep better. It also pumps blood into the brain, which can help us think clearer too. It’s all connected when it comes to mental health – sleep, food and exercise.
According to Health Direct, adults should be getting at least 30 minutes of exercise every day . They also say that practicing mindfulness while you exercise “also reduces your stress and improves your mental health”. Have a look into some mindfulness exercises, but again I’d recommend Smiling Mind, just because they have a lot of different categories to choose from.
Connecting with the people we love is super important for our mental health. If you aren’t able to see your friends or family in person, text them, or suggest a video call so that you can see each other.
My best friend is living in Italy at the moment, so I haven’t seen him in about a year now. I was supposed to go and visit him in August, but sadly coronavirus had other plans. So now we video call as often as we can – like on Tuesday night.
And I’ve found myself reaching out to friends a lot more recently too, just to maintain that connection to another person. You don’t always have to open up to every single friend about how you’re feeling. Sometimes it’s just about knowing that there are people you can talk to, even if it’s to spam each other with memes so that you aren’t sad anymore (thanks Sarah, your memes are always appreciated <3 ).
So jump on Facebook, Snapchat, WhatsApp, or whatever you use for messaging friends and get chatting! You’ll feel connected and a little less alone.
“Connections matter. Strong ties with family, friends and the community provide us with happiness, security, support and a sense of purpose. Being connected to others is important for our mental and physical wellbeing and can be a protective factor against anxiety and depression.” – Beyond Blue
#5 Seek Help
Seeing a therapist and a doctor tomorrow. Don’t be afraid to seek help. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Love yourself.
— jaehyung (@NALanguage) June 24, 2020
IMO, this is probably the hardest step to take. To actively seek professional help when we know something isn’t right. If you’re anything like me, you probably convince yourself that you can deal with how you’re feeling on your own.
But I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to do it alone. Society finds it normal when we see a doctor about a physical issue that we can see, but not when it comes to our mental health. This is the stigma that we have to try to break down, and that can only come when we talk about it.
It took me a while to recognise and accept that I don’t have to do it alone, and that it’s okay to ask for help.
It’s so important to find someone to talk to about your mental health concerns. Being able to get it out of your head and try to put it into words can do wonders for how we’re feeling. It’s like a weight gets lifted, as clichéd as that sounds.
The first step would be to go and see your GP to get a mental health treatment plan. I’ll be speaking to my GP about this next week, so you’re not alone. If your GP bulk bills, Medicare will cover the cost of the appointment for this. Doing this treatment plan will also let you claim up to 10 sessions each calendar year with a mental health profession through Medicare.
On the Services Australia website, they say:
“Health professionals set their own fees, so we may only cover some of the cost. Ask how much you’ll pay and what you’ll get back from us when you make your appointment. If they bulk bill, you won’t have to pay anything. If you have private health insurance, you may be able to get some money back. You can check with your insurer.”
And if you’ve seen those online tests and assessments where you can almost self-diagnose any mental health issues, don’t rely on those. They’re helpful to understand how you’re feeling, but they shouldn’t replace the advice of doctors or mental health professionals.
On the Black Dog Institute website after going through their Online Clinic Assessment Report, they say that “An accurate diagnosis for any mental health condition or disorder must be provided by a health professional”. So, please keep this in mind if you decide to do one of these tests.
Some Final Thoughts
You are not alone. You don’t have to suffer alone and in silence. You’re allowed to ask for help. And you shouldn’t let anyone make you feel like there’s something wrong with you if you do seek professional help.
One in five Australians aged 16-85 (so 20% of the population) will experience mental illness in any year. And 18-24 year olds have the highest prevalence of mental illness than any other age group.
It’s so common, but it seems like it’s still something that isn’t discussed much in public. When we talk about mental health openly and honestly, either with our family, friends, mental health professionals, and even with ourselves, we can begin to shift how society views mental illness.
If you or someone you know needs help, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. This line is open 24 hours a day, so no matter what time, someone is there to help you. They also have a nightly online crisis support chat that you can use to talk to someone from 7pm-12am (Sydney time) seven days a week. Or you can contact your GP.
They also say “If you or someone you know is in danger or needs immediate medical attention, please call 000.”
Image Source: Pexels (Riccardo Bresciani @riciardus)