Australian actor Katherine Langford has taken on a challenging, yet necessary role, in playing Hannah Baker in the Netflix hit show '13 Reasons Why,' a character who has already committed suicide citing constant bullying and harassment from her High School colleagues, and releasing 13 'tapes' to the perpetrators to explain her actions as her parting thoughts.
I will preface the remainder of this article by saying, I have not made it all the way through the series. It is heavy. There is subject matter in the episodes that takes me a few days to process, but I am eager to finish it off, not merely to find out what happens in the end, but for the over-arching message that this series is sending out.
Suicide and mentally ill-health have been a taboo topic for far too long - particularly in Australia - we've got a "toughen up" reputation and it seems we like to keep it that way.
There are reasons for not reporting or bringing attention to suicide as a whole, and these reasons are valid, don't get me wrong, but they are also part of the problem.
The fact that we don't talk about either of these things, particularly as teens, means that we fail to understand exactly what they are, how to cope with and deal with such feelings, and importantly how having these thoughts doesn't mean that you need to - or are intending to - take action.
The Black Dog Institute and Mission Australia collaborated to produce the latest 'Five Year Mental Health Report' in Australia and it found that almost a quarter of Australian teens are suffering from the symptoms of a mental illness. Thats one in four, in classrooms and hallways all around the country. This has risen from 19% in their previous report released five years prior.
Mental Illness' prevalence continues to soar among the general population in Western cultures. Whereas there are many individual triggers that may vary peoples' onset of symptoms, many could be identified as societal pressure and peer pressure.
So why don't we start talking about it? Why don't we lift the supposed 'ban' that seems to exist over suicide, over the absolute epidemic we are facing?
13 Reasons Why is a step in the right direction for the acceptance of mentally ill-health in the grand scheme of things, and a step in the right direction to aid the discussions we need to have, but seem to not be having at all.
Back to the young, 21 year-old Katherine Langford who is at the centre of it all during her portrayal. Imagine how difficult a decision taking this role must be for someone of her age, confronted - no doubt - by things she would have witnessed (actively or passively) at her own time in High School; chastised on one side for the role but praised on the other; the flood of fan mail, messages, tweets and interactions she must have faced. Not all of it good.
With a role like this, comes something very harrowing. There will no doubt have been people suffering from a bout of differing symptoms that would have seen Hannah Baker as an idol, that would have fogged the glass between entertainment and reality, and I am absolutely certain that young Katherine Langford has had to be privy to some disturbing content over recent times.
People will have reached out, people will have praised her but most dangerously, people will have probably told her that her portrayal gave them the courage to leave this world.
Playing Hannah Baker is the bravest and most significant part of this series, because not only is it opening the world up to a long dismissed and forgotten about area of society, but it comes with its own set of stressors and challenges of which we can only imagine the outcomes and the pain that it may have caused.
Things could have been done a little better - if anything I'd like to have seen a content warning or conselling numbers displayed at the beginning of each episode (NOT the end, because the habit of Netflix users is to skip the credits), that being said, I for one believe that the positives of bringing these issues to the fore far outweigh what negatives may lie within.
We need to progress as a society. We need to remain inclusive and we certainly need to understand - more than ever - how our actions could potentially affect others. Possibly fatally, as in Hannah's case.
Look out for each other.
If you are uncomfortable with the content in this article or are experiencing any symptoms of a mental illness, please contact (Australia only):
LIFELINE - 13 11 14
BEYOND BLUE - 1300 224 636
SUICIDE CALL BACK SERVICE - 1300 659 467
In the early hours of the morning - American time - on the 9th of November, 2016, society failed.
Society failed and entrusted the most powerful economy in the world to a man whose entire campaign was fixated on the idea of fear.
Fear of people who are 'different' to the lowest common denominator. Fear of people who do vow to change society's views and stretch our entrenched fabric. Yet that is the exact thing he has brainwashed his followers in to believing he will do, whilst he closes the opportunities for everyone else.
My deepest fear with Trump isn't what he might say - although that is a problem in itself; it isn't who he will segregate - although that is a problem in itself; it isn't about who will get left behind, who will be worse-off, which country he will antagonise - although all of these things are problems in themselves.
No, my biggest fear, is how his supporters will react when he can't do the things he has told them he is going to do.
There are many extreme policies in a proposed Donald Trump presidency, the most famous ones we know - building the wall between Mexico and the USA; ousting all Muslims and banning them from entering the USA; removing trade arrangements with China - and many of these policies were proven to be unpopular within his own party. So we wonder precisely just how much control he will have, given the division that exists within his own standing members.
And the followers, they aren't a group of people that I want to see get angry. The litany of uneducated, free-wheeling bigots that Trump spoke to with aplomb is outstanding. He has forced people out of political hibernation, who had never voted before and probably planned to never vote in their lives, because of the measured and diplomatic speak and tone of politicians.
Up steps Candidate Trump with his blatant racism, misogyny, and disregard for decency. A loose cannon ready to fire no matter where he's aiming. BOOM! Black America; BOOM! LGBTIQ; BOOM! Latinos; BOOM! Women.
The other fear that strikes me is with America itself. The fact that they couldn't bear the idea of a female president.
Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't endorse Hillary Clinton as a candidate in the first place, but it is who we had, and it is who was expected to lead the charge and come out victorious for the good of humanity on Wednesday.
America couldn't handle it.
They think they have voted for progress - they have voted for regress. A return to the height of fascism for the so called 'Greatest Place on Earth,' I tell you what, it was a much greater place on Tuesday evening.
The political thought bubble in the United States of America is flabbergasting to an outsider. It is a land that believes universal healthcare is the only step you need to take to be labelled as a communist nation, yet the right to owning a gun and being able to fire it at will is something that is sacrosanct and should never be removed from the rights of the people.
I would like to say that I am surprised, but quite frankly I am not. Having spent some of my formative years living in this country, and having close family still living there today, I am privy to exactly what the psyche of much of the population is, and how little they actually know how to think for themselves.
My fear is that America has voted for Progress and for a state of 'Revolution,' yet both progressiveness and revolution are dirty words on the right side of politics, and I'm sure the Republican Party would not stand for these types of labels.
Donald Trump's only interest in this election, in this position, in gaining the title of President, is entitlement for the entitled. The poor middle and upper-class white man is finally seeing things shift to an equilibrium (I said shift - there's a bloody long way before it gets anywhere near there!) after centuries of domination and having the world at his feet, and he feels he is entitled to his entitlement.
Trump will govern for Trump. He is a billionaire businessman with his own interests at heart. He's certainly not Richard Branson, whom if elected I would have no doubt would do a sterling job as he displays the qualities of compassion, empathy and resolve with his fellow man. Donald Trump identifies with a certain type of person, but he certainly doesn't feel for them, he doesn't care for them, and he certainly isn't going to defend them if it comes between him or the people.
It is clearly disparaging to me, and to many other decent folk, that such a horrible man could become so powerful. A man with no morality, the stability of a see-saw and the rationale of a fascist.
America has elected the face of capitalism to try and take it to capitalism.
Can anyone else see how this isn't going to work?
Society has failed. Failed to be a society. Failed to care about the lives of others and succeeded in confirming that being selfish is a human trait that no extent of evolution will ever absolve.
I was somewhat shocked to receive such belittling and insulting comments in my personal Facebook inbox lately, from someone whom I'd previously respected in the sector of local, independent music. After his offering of slander and what I pretty much have taken as "stop making music because you are not good enough," this person has lost all respect and dignity from my end, and I wanted to point out how much some people just do not understand what it means to be creative.
To defend my so called "negative" comment; I merely asked "why?" In response to the news that a friend and fellow songwriter was going to be appearing on a Television talent show, which I thought nothing of; a mere valid question, as I am always interested in knowing what drives somebody to make that jump.
Most people who know me well, will know that I am a staunch supporter of local & original music, and certainly not a supporter of such television talent contests.
The indecency of this person to use this opportunity to talk down my musical ability absolutely astounded me, particularly during a well-documented period of personal crisis (which, if he "ignored" me so much, he probably didn't even contemplate), which completely tipped me over the edge.
Never in my 9 years in the music industry have I been confronted by such hateful and sinister criticism - which is why I love Melbourne and music & artistic communities I find myself in - all they have done over that time is commend my tireless effort, my constant learning, and my vast improvement over time; obviously someone that has ignored me wouldn't have the slightest clue about.
As for my "negtivity," sure; I'm first to admit that my immediate reaction to some things can certainly be negative, and that I don't have the most optimistic outlook on life, partially - but not entirely - due to my ongoing struggle with a mental illness, which again is something that somebody who has ignored me wouldn't know about.
And so, I thought, "fair enough; this guys is mad about me reacting a certain way to one of his friends, I can deal with that," but it went on...
Continuing to deface and insult my status as a performer, referring to a point in time (probably 3+ years ago) where I was upset by a lack of support from the community and my friends, whilst going through a difficult time and using my "ability" as the reasoning that OTHER PEOPLE probably weren't turning up, as if channeling some sort of psychic ability to think that everyone else's subjective opinion on my music would be the same as his.
I am truly sorry that this guy has the expectation that every local performer should instantly sound like some sort of pop superstar, or else they don't deserve the space that they are singing on.
I am also truly sorry that I never got a true an honest response from the artist I initially asked the question to, but instead got a tirade of unwarranted and shameful abuse from a bitter old man who obviously never had the talent or drive to be a creative himself, so has to sit back on his high horse and constantly, day in, day out, comment and judge and nitpick the abilities of others.
Well, bravo, Mr. Arsehole, your abuse worked. I got off the stage. I couldn't even do the show I had booked later in the week that you sent this, because I was so overwhelmed with depression and anxiety over the words you said that I couldn't even bring myself to physically be on stage, in front of people, performing my songs - something that has given me some of the most joy in my life. You have ruined that for me.
I am hugely proud of my achievements over the past 3 years. My ability is continually improving: in performance, in writing, in recording and engineering. I know this because of the praise I get from people like Kevin Murphy, Karl Huttenmeister, Anna Cordell, Jakksen Fish, Georgia Rose, Tracey Hogue, Tim Woods, Al Parkinson, Liam Dixon & Michael Yule - among others. These are all people who know what they're talking about, who are around original music at its grass roots level, day in and day out; who appreciate what amount effort goes into everything that I do - because it's what they do to.
So I choose to listen to these people, not an old fogey who used to be on Community Radio so has some sort of heightened sense of musical royalty, that he can brandish things around, no matter how hurtful, destructive or potentially career-shattering they can be.
I'm standing up to this bully of a man, and I am making a new record, and this new record is going to be so many times better than anything he would have expected me to bring out, because that is how far I have come; whether he chooses to like it, or know it, or not.
My message to you all is, don't let anybody talk down YOUR dreams and YOUR art. YOUR art exists because it came from a place inside of you. YOUR art will connect you with the people that WANT to consume it; who hear the effort in it; who acknowledge what it takes to bring that art to fruition.
People that don't understand it will try to bring you down, but they can't; because it is not THEIR art to bring down. They don't connect with it, they don't understand your process or where any of it came from. So bad luck to them.
And bad luck to this arsehole.
At the tender age of 27; it's fair to say that I've already lived a lifetime worth of disappointment; fear; sadness; disadvantage and the like, and the unfortunate thing is, that even when I don't expect it, it appears that more is just waiting right around the corner for me.
So, I've done what any person in similar circumstances might be expected to do: I've taken advantage of support & welfare services, but even I can admit that I've done it for far too long.
The problem, I guess, is I have never had a substantial period of time away from hardship to be able to let go of my dependence on taxpayer-funded support.
I'm not writing this piece because I am proud of that fact, I am writing it mostly for the purpose of self-reflection, and to give some insight into people who think I'm "no good" or a "bludger," typical of that 'stuck on Centrelink' stigma.
In the past, I used to feel that I deserved something for my hard work, my dedication and my suffering, but the truth is, deserving anything is something we're conditioned into believing, and generally, nothing could be further from the truth.
Variables exist, opportunities may be missed, mistakes may be made, undesirable outcomes occur and your mood and emotional state through all of these things will fluctuate greatly.
So, I'm no more deserving of a steady income and something to fill my time than anyone else. I'm no more deserving of a roof over my head than a man that has been homeless for a long period. I'm certainly no more deserving of a life full of everything you could wish for, than Cardinal George Pell (minus the child sexual abuse thing, I suppose!)
In an interesting conversation with a friend a few nights back, I identified that in the history of my life's ups and downs, and with all the battles I appear to face on an everyday basis (whether they be reality or negative mental concoctions), there exists somewhere deep, deep inside of me, the belief that I am destined for something better - and I do hate to use the term 'destiny' or 'fate,' but am finding it hard to pick another word there - for that simple believe that is held deep below anything on the surface that tells me how disappointing and cumbersome my life has been, is the key reason that I am still here today and that I still fight for myself.
I didn't ask for this life, nor was I given it, despite my thoughts in the past. Each moment, each decision and everything I've been through has led me to here. I realised that it was high time that I took ownership for my own reality, that I stopped blaming others; blaming society; blaming every external factor under the sun for it being 'outside of my control'.
I, whether I like it or not, put myself here - BROUGHT myself here: to a position where I am heavily broken; my life terrifyingly uncertain, and without a place to call home.
So, no - there is no way that I deserve 'the best' of anything; I do however continue to hope that something 'better' eventually comes along.
There's been a question rattling through my head of recent times, following the announcement of the women's national AFL competition, and the inaugural Women's Big Bash League in the past 12 months. That question is merely, why do we not pay as much attention to valid forms of female professional sport?
Curiously, that question extends to the premise that we need to pay women considerably less for following the path of a professional athlete than we do with their male counterparts.
Of course, if we're talking dollars and cents, the answer is that women's sport doesn't attract the same amount of sponsorship dollars as men's sport; but then again, there still lingers the question: why?
From the outside looking in, it appears that as a society that we completely devalue the realm of female professional sport. In a world where were are constantly playing catch-up on the dark ages where men brought home the bacon and women cooked it and cleaned up afterwards, it feels that the intricacies of the modern world just aren't being paid enough attention.
Professional sport for females is nothing new; Australia has posed long-term success in athletics, field hockey, swimming, golf and pro surfing just to name a few, but it is within the sports that are earmarked as 'male-dominated' or perceived as 'men only' where problems continue to present themselves.
First is the problem in the above perception. With this at play, it is no surprise that women aren't valued in these sports. They're (apparently) only for men, so women that play it mustn't be serious. Right? Wrong.
Absolutely anybody that pursues a career in professional sports: male; female; straight; gay; African; Asian; European - they are all serious about it - mark my words. It takes constant hard work and determination to gain success in an industry that is largely dog-eat-dog. Most athletes start with next to nothing, and have to build their profiles through endorsements and public appearances before they even begin to make a living out of their performances on the field - and yes, this is typical of MALE sportspeople; so let's take that difficulty and multiply it for women.
The main idea of writing this article is to pose the question; "Why do we not hold female sport in the same regard as male sport?"
It is not uncommon for a talented female athlete to be trained-up in multiple sports, and playing multiple sports, just so that they can make some sort of a living off their chosen career. The most recent example of such being professional cricketer and soccer player, Ellyse Perry, who has successfully represented her country in both sports at the highest level.
I can't see any valid reason why we should be treating the two any differently. Sportspeople are sportspeople. They undergo the same training, the same setbacks, the same grueling schedules to attain the best possible results for themselves, and - if relevant - their teams or their countries.
Luckily enough, in 2015, the Victorian Athletic League, Stawell Athletic Club and, major sponsor Woolworths, eventually agreed, and presented equal prize money for both the men's 120m Gift and Women's 120m Gift; the richest foot-races in Australia.
I feel a change is afoot, and may have been led by the aforementioned announcements of national professional leagues, however, until we are seeing women sportspeople getting equal recognition, admiration, coverage and - most importantly - equal PAY; then it is very hard to take these steps towards professional female sport in this country seriously.
If you've been out of work recently like me, and going about the usually demoralising task of reading the latest job ads, you've probably noticed a somewhat odd trend in the way jobs are being advertised of late.
It seems to me, that advertisers are now using 'click-bait' to get you into the ad itself, but then completely repelling your application by asking for unattainable years worth of experience for the position.
It might not be a new strategy, in actual fact, it is something that has been plaguing Gen Y applicants for quite some time, but it certainly seems to be a tactic which is in much more frequent use than ever before.
Countless times have I personally been lured by the attraction of an 'entry-level position' in the mental health, support & community services fields, only to either find that somewhere else within the application, I'm to have 3-5 years of similar experience to be considered for this 'entry level' role, or following the application, I am notified that I don't have the necessary experience to obtain an entry level position.
So, what's going on here? Is it an entry-level role or not? These advertisements are surely bordering on false advertisement, and somebody needs to start calling companies out on this!
It seems to me that the way of the world at this point in time, is that employers are expecting people to work unpaid internships, volunteer indefinitely to gain the said 'experience', or only motivated to hire internally.
How is this an acceptable way to get people into the workforce, and what indeed does it say about the value of modern education?
It doesn't just sit exclusively in my graduated field - I've also been thrown the "not enough experience" line for customer service and retail positions, of which I hold around 4-5 years experience in.
So, my question to prospective employers is, is this 'experience' thing just a complete and utter cop-out? Why, indeed are you advertising a job that says one thing, but is in fact another? And how are people expected to find work in this day and age, if nobody is willing to offer the opportunity of 'experience' that is required by so many of you?
For me, it sends me into a state of mass confusion, often ending in complete and utter surrender to the workforce and the application processes.
I know I'm not alone in these experiences, and I know that deep down it is rousing a feeling that I have perhaps wasted valuable time, resources and money in to an educational program, my Diploma, that now means absolutely nothing.
What I'd like to start seeing are some answers, because all I have experienced in the past 9 months are an endless cacophony of questions without answers.
I refuse to believe that I am unhirable, and that my qualifications mean nothing; but how else am I expected to think, given the messages this world is sending me?
It's one of the hardest feelings to shake, yet one of the ones we desperately want to avoid. Loneliness has a deep-seeded connection to the human being.
From our heritage as pack animals to our "happily ever after" driven social cognition, loneliness has been a constant and long struggle through human existence and evolution.
So, how do you shake it? Well, if I had the answers, I'd probably experience the feeling a lot less than I do right now. I think that very much, an individualistic approach has to be taken to your own experience of loneliness.
What works or doesn't work for you may not necessarily be true for others. Take a couple of examples from my own life:
When the battle with loneliness sets in, things are amplified for me. I notice couples more; I see how happy they are together; a blinding rage begins to take form inside me for not having that level of companionship that I so deeply desire, so I tend to isolate myself until the feelings are not strong enough to affect me.
Another example is, to combat lonely feelings, I have often had a pet by my side. From ages 12 - 23 we had a family dog whom I would share most my daily experiences with. I took her busking and shared my new songs with her as she intently listened, and begged for more when I stopped playing. I'd tell her things that I told nobody else, and even though she was a dog, completely incapable of verbally communicating back, she felt my feelings, my emotions and always reacted accordingly.
A few years back I got myself a puppy - much for reasons described above, loneliness had crept into my life and become a large part of who I was, and I didn't want that. The idea of the dog is not to cure the feeling or prevent it from ever occurring, but to make the bad times when it takes hold that little bit more bearable.
Some people, however, would find themselves in similar situations - out and about noticing couples - and use this to spring hope in the fact that there is somebody out there for everyone, and that they won't be lonely forever; similarly, some people don't see the benefit in having the responsibility of a pet under their care, and that's totally acceptable.
The key thing with combating loneliness is like any other emotion the troubles you. It has its time and place, and you need to allow it that time and place and minimise the effect that it has on you. This can only happen over time, and I am certainly the first to say it is not a process I have mastered with this particular feeling and group of thoughts!
Also, it is knowing your triggers: what amplifies this emotion? Is it seeing couples everywhere when you feel alone? Is it people talking about their own partners? What is the point at which loneliness takes over your consciousness and consumes your thoughts? This is the point at which these strategies must come into play.
Identify the 'point of no return' and reduce its pressure and presence in your every day functioning.
I would say, through my own experience, that loneliness is the absolute toughest feeling to master. Through my journey, I have been successfully able to apply and adapt the principles of ACT through a number of varying obstacles, emotions, traits, thoughts and experiences; yet loneliness still troubles me and still takes a hold of me at most of the times that it appears.
Unfortunately, I'm unable to eliminate the social cues that I react to or lessen the desire to be in an amorous and harmonious partnership - however, I can control these reactions and see them for what they really are, and I can have acceptance for these thoughts (usually negative or self-deprecating) and see them for what they really are.
Yes, I may be 'alone', but are all the circumstances in my control? Of course not. I've played the dating game, I've had successful and unsuccessful relationships in the past and I've tried too hard and I've just been me. It hasn't yet worked, and so be it, for me, the journey has just begun...
The most common misconception in modern psychology is that negative thoughts, negative sensations and negative memories are the direct cause of pain, and therefore we need to remove them before they get worse.
Nothing could be further from the truth. You would have noticed in my previous blogs that I concentrate on an angle of normalising human behaviour and emotion. This angle continues through this particular article, as we explore the normality of thoughts through the theories associated with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and various psychosocial rehabilitation models.
Thoughts, memories and sensations will always be there. Recent psychological treatment has however encouraged sufferers to remove, eliminate or distract from these thoughts. I don't need to tell you that this method doesn't particularly work in the long-term; the troublesome thoughts and feelings always come back eventually, and with a vengeance.
"So, where is the pain coming from, if not from these very things?" - a good and valid question at this stage of the article. As I have also focused on in previous blogs, perception is half the battle when you're facing something undesirable, or in a time of struggle.
The pain is merely associated with your thoughts by the way you perceive them, or allow them to infiltrate your conscious. This is called "fusion"; fusion with your thoughts makes them appear as if your thoughts and memories are the truth, are gospel, are a driving force and a master. The truth of the matter is, however, that thoughts and memories are only thoughts and memories.
They had a purpose in the time of primitive man; negative or harmful memories would be utlised to better inform us in the future of danger and also better evolve our decision making processes in light of this. Analytical thought also evolved throughout this process. Unfortunately, in the modern world, our minds are bombarded with information on a constant basis. The rate at which analytical thinking occurs within our skulls these days is almost incomprehensible. This is both a gift - given the sensational and incredible power possessed by the human mind - and also; a curse - given the over-analysis and constant worry of "fitting in" to our "tribe," as is one of our leftover attributes from primitive times.
Given our minds have evolved this greatly over - in evolutionary terms - a very short period of time, we should also evolve our thinking and perceptions in regards to what we experience on a day-to-day basis.
Thoughts and memories are ever-present. The mind has a whole system devoted to them, and the idea of 'removing' negative thoughts is one which should be met with a grain of salt. The only way to 'remove' thoughts and memories is through some sort of brain damage or a major neurolinguistic shift.
It is becoming a much more accepted premise to learn to live and accept our thoughts and memories as thoughts and memories, rather than allowing them to be implicit to our reception of emotional pain and anguish.
Pain comes from analysing our thoughts, and from believing each and every part of them. Fusing to their voices when they tell you that you can't complete a specific task, that you're going to die alone, that nobody loves you or that you'll never be a success. Getting us down is sitting with these thoughts, sinking into them and absorbing them as fact.
Alongside this is when our memories take hold of our daily life. Many a good person has been stuck residing in the past and struggling with memories which cripple them. I'm no exception, and I'm betting you aren't, either. Memories have an innate ability to exacerbate our worry, stress and fear, all side-effect emotions to the discomfort the memories cause. Fusing with your memories has the same result as fusing with your thoughts. You're buying into a story which is a recount of an event, and may not be an accurate representation of the truth.
The ACT model and Psychosocial Rehabilitation models owe a lot of their effectiveness to mindfulness techniques. I bring this up because the next step in accepting thoughts and memories is the difficult task of 'letting them be'.
As I mentioned, thoughts, memories and their consequential sensations are ever-present. You are going to have hundreds, if not thousands, each day for the rest of your time on Earth. So why not learn to live with them, rather than let them affect you, your judgement and your overall life? Letting thoughts and memories come and go as they please and reside in your mind or in your body is the first step into relinquishing their power over you.
It is a very real struggle and I'm sure there's some of you reading this that strongly believe that this is unachievable; that just because those thoughts are ever-present means that they'll never be able to lose their power. But if you dig deep and truly immerse yourself in the idea that thoughts are not your boss, merely by-products of your existence, and something we don't need to savour or hold on to the crux of, then you may just begin to see things change, and to see results in how you perceive your thoughts and begin to see distance between actual reality and your mind's perceived reality.
Note that I haven't asked you to challenge or dismiss any of these thoughts, as discussed those methods aren't the cornerstone of what we are trying to achieve here. The action we need to take here is being able to sit with the stories held in our mind, and see them for what they really are: stories - stories exist in our past, and perhaps in our future - but reality exists only in our present, and we need our minds clear to process and function in our present, not to process and function on the undesired outcomes of our past; the negative realities we have already lived, or; even the wishes and hopes for the future.
Using the skills I hope you have developed from my previous blogs, 'Riding the Waves of Emotion,' 'How to Measure Success,' and; 'Reconnecting Your Values System' you should now be able to identify what is important to you, how you measure it against yourself and not against others (a common theme for negative thought patterns), when and how you are able to process the emotions that you struggle with and now, how to begin a process of "defusion" from your thoughts, a concept with which I will explore further in my next piece.
Remember: it is normal to have thoughts, particularly negative thoughts. Research suggests that up to 80% of all human thoughts have negative roots or elements to them; it's also normal for us to allow thoughts to dictate our everyday selves - but you can do something to change it! You hold the power now!
As always, if you have any ideas, feedback or ways I could improve my delivery of information, please let me know via the comments. I'll respond to everyone - even the haters, as we've seen before.
Wishing you all the luck in your new found clear-headedness.
This week marks National Mental Health Awareness Week in Australia, and it comes at a particularly opportune time, given the recent and very national news of AFL star Lance Franklin’s ongoing illness and need to step away from the game.
It is unfortunate, for those such as I who advocate for the equal treatment and citizenship of those diagnosed with a mental illness, that it takes a person with the fame and ilk of Franklin to re-start a public awareness campaign that should probably be an ongoing matter.
The fact of the matter is, that even though Australians are a very accepting bunch, and we have come leaps and bounds in the treatment and care of those diagnosed with a mental illness, we are still at a cultural crossroads where the provision of care for these people is still considered to be a ‘weakness’; particularly for men looking in, and for non-sufferers who have never had to encounter a close loved one or indeed themselves becoming stifled by a diagnosis.
And it is stifling: whilst there are always stories of recovery and remarkable histories of success from people who have carried a diagnosis, the common theme is that, at least in the interim stage, the diagnosis and the emotion it carries – internal and external to the illness – is a road block.
That said, nothing to do with mental illness is ever a linear process, neither is the interrelation between a triggering life event, stress at work, or financial distress, which may often be labelled as the starting point. That isn’t always the case – mental illness does not discriminate, and it usually does not care what is going on in your life at that particular time, and a lot of the time, people carry it around for a long, long time before they even seek assistance from a professional, which can prolong the stifling affect and no doubt cause further problems without treatment.
So, we come back to Franklin: a man at the top of his game; the highest-paid athlete to play AFL professionally in the history of the game; a well-respected champion player whose reputation for being a match winner is unsurpassed in this day and age, a man who you would quite frankly think would be feeling like ‘King of the World’. Alas, he has his own battle with mental illness. Kept from the public for who knows how long. We don’t need to know – of course – it’s a personal plight, but who is to say he hasn’t been holding this secret for a long time. Moreover, the point is that this is a guy who you’d least expect to ever suffer from something like depression.
Those of you who have been following my blog for a while will remember the article I wrote in response to the untimely passing of Robin Williams to suicide; yet another man who you would envisage having no reason to be sad or to suffer – he was a man who the world was absolutely in love with, but with which the feeling was not mutual.
It certainly brings to mind that old adage, that ‘money can’t buy happiness;’ which becomes particularly important, as there are still many people around who think that it can. Money is one piece of a very large and complex puzzle that is your life, and where it may improve things on the outside, if you’re at war with yourself on the inside, none of that ever seeps through to the core.
Nobody is to blame for contracting a mental illness: not the person themselves; not their family or friends; not their boss or their doctor. There is no blame for being debilitated by these things. They are what they are and that’s why weeks like this week exist, so that we can properly acknowledge how these things affect people’s everyday lives and how we can continue moving forward on dispelling the rumours and myths that surround each and every diagnosis.
As I mentioned, as a nation we are keen to take steps in the right direction. There are plenty of people just like me advocating for better care provisions and better citizenship for people with a mental illness. Due to my own experiences, I tend to avoid referring to them as ‘sufferers’ or ‘patients’ or ‘victims:’ these types of words devalue an individual further, and the basic and most underlying principal of mental health care is empowerment, independence and living a life free from labels, stigma and discrimination.
The advocates are only one part of the voice of those with a mental illness, the advocates only get to push things but the decisions lie in the hands of others, perhaps people who have never been touched by the dark world that exists around a mental illness, perhaps people who have never encountered it closely.
Mental Health is a national priority, as we race towards the year 2020, when the World Health Organisation has pinpointed that depression & other categories of major mental illness will become the most debilitating health condition on the planet, we need action. Speaking about it isn’t quite enough for me to classify as ‘action’. There need to be plans, social enterprise start-ups and regular policy and legislative change to enhance and prosper the lives of those with a mental illness.
I do hope that following this National Mental Health Awareness Week that we can keep this discussion at the forefront of the national agenda. It can’t keep being the role of the advocates and the start-ups to facilitate a change in culture. This sort of widespread action needs to start from the top, a call to the politicians, to the leaders of big business and to those in the public eye: be ready to be a trailblazer, tackle the finer points of our epidemic. Offer and show your support for our support.
The time for change is now – the time to offer the same level of care and respect is now, for nobody can predict when or who this rapidly growing cluster of illnesses is going to strike: your brother, your mother, your best friend, your work colleagues, or even you.
Two words which should ignite the fury in anyone who is suffering from any type of mental illness are the two words, 'I understand," these are the two words that are generally the shortcut to perceived empathy, but what is the underlying meaning of understanding, and does the respondent and their personal experience really lead to a level of understanding?
The modern and widely-accepted form of treatment for mental health conditions is recovery-oriented and person-centred. For those of you who are unfamiliar with these terms, I'll explain a little further:
Recovery-oriented refers to the process of returning to independence, empowerment and possessing a meaningful life focus. Recovery is a non-linear process, and from time to time, there will be peaks and troughs within each person's own individual recovery experience, but recovery is the goal from which people can still exist meaningfully in society alongside their diagnosis.
Person-centred refers to the way in which recovery-oriented practice and psychosocial rehabilitation is delivered, and that is that each individual has his or her own experiences, and only the individual can inform and take hold of his or her own recovery.
With these two things in mind, how is it that people can be so magically understanding of a person's plight, when indeed, it is an experience of their own.
Eliminating 'I understand' could go a long way to improving people's displeasure with public stigma and indeed their reservations within the service system.
'I understand' is often used as a way in which people in positions of authority may attempt to lower themselves or remove the perception of being higher, and also is more of an emotional connection with usual human emotion of being upset or disappointed. That's all good and well, but being depressed, anxious, grief-stricken, paranoid, etc. are not the same thing; sure there are elements of the aforementioned emotions existing within the overall blend of the experience, but they are not the driver, they are not the constant and they most certainly do not respond to 'understanding'.
The third word which might strike a chord with people who sit with a mental health diagnosis is often a suffix to the initial 'I understand,' and this word; 'but...'
'I understand, but...' is the perfect example of exactly why you don't understand, and until you have the experience of paralysing discontent, of being a mind frozen in a body, of being completely disconnected with the world as you know it for days, weeks, months on end; you never will understand.
If you truly understood, you would never continue with 'but...' - and this is what infuriates and frustrates these people, their carers and the community service workers employed to assist these people, the most.
A physical illness is easily defined, it is easily conveyed, and it is, within reason, almost widely and completely accepted by society as a legitimate barrier to productivity and to functionality of a person; however something is not quite right in a world that can't define a mental illness as the same sort of barrier, and asks the individual to 'toughen up' because 'everyone else goes through it'.
You don't understand, and you do not recognise it as an illness; so stop telling us that you do.