The ordinariness of mental illness.

On the 25th of this month it will be one year since I started writing Potential Psychology Blog. It has never been anything other than fun and I'll keep doing it for as long as my enthusiasm lasts. So it was a lovely first birthday present to be included last week on Australia Counselling's list of The 34 Best Bloggers Who Advocate for Mental Health and Wellness.

Australia Counselling Best Mental Health Blogger

I never intended this blog to be about mental health. In fact I used to feel like a fraud, even as a psychologist.  I have never worked in mental health. I have no training in clinical psychology or even counselling.  I have never personally experienced anxiety, depression or any other mental health issue, although I know plenty of people who have.

My first direct experience with mental illness was a stint of several years travelling country New South Wales and Victoria interviewing individuals who had lodged a WorkCover claim for 'stress'; more accurately known as psychological injury.  I met many. many people who were struggling with their emotional well being.  

Regardless of whether their illness was work-related or not (some were, some weren't), they were ordinary people who had been working in their chosen field; teachers, police officers, court workers, public servants. They lived in big cities and country towns.  They were parents and single people. They had hobbies. They played sport. They spent time with their families.  

The ordinariness of mental illness

There was nothing special or unusual about these people.  They were just like you and I and at that point in time they were really having trouble staying on top of things.  Many of them had no prior experience of mental illness. Many of them had very little idea of what was happening to them.  Many of them lacked the kind of support they needed to get well.  

This was a real eye opener for me.  I realised that mental illness is not confined to any one group of individuals. It is not strange, or odd, or unusual.  It is very, very ordinary and far more common than we may think.  

Some stats for you from MindFrame (a national media initiative on mental health):

  • In each year, approximately one in every five Australians will experience a mental illness. 
  • Mental illnesses are the third leading cause of disability in Australia. 
  • About 4% of people will experience a major depressive episode in a 12-month period, with 5% of women and 3% of men affected.
  • Approximately 14 % of Australians will be affected by an anxiety disorder in any 12-month period.

This experience, ten years ago, made me realise just how few of us understood mental health issues (myself included) and how little we talked about it.  

These days I run workplace training courses in mental health awareness for Communicorp Group.  I am always humbled by the willingness of people to share their stories.  It is not uncommon for someone to come up to me at the end of the course and tell me about their personal struggle with mental illness.  Ordinary working people leading ordinary lives.

We talk about what mental health issues at work look like and how to help.  We talk about suicide.  We talk about resilience and what each and every one of us can do to look after our own mental health. I talk a lot about the importance of being good people managers and colleagues.  Of treating each other with respect and understanding.  They get it. They share their thoughts and ideas. They enjoy the opportunity to talk about this stuff. It's not uncomfortable. It's very ordinary.

My inclusion on Australia Counselling's list last week coincided with me running several workplace mental health and well being courses for a Melbourne-based manufacturing company.  The courses were each four hours long and I ran them back to back over two days.  It was exhausting but it was also very satisfying.  It has reminded me that mental health needs to be an ordinary conversation, held by ordinary people.

Mental health needs to be an ordinary conversation, held by ordinary people.

So I will keep writing about mental health, mental illness, happiness, resilience and well being. I want to do my bit to keep the conversation going and I applaud my fellow mental health bloggers who write from so many different perspectives. Together we can do more. 

Does mental health gets discussed at your workplace? What do you think we should do to make the discussion more ordinary?

October is Mental Health Month and I'll be sharing a range of resources for staying mentally healthy. Make sure you see them all by staying in touch.

Other posts you may like...

  1. 3 Simple ways to stay mentally healthy at work
  2. The ordinariness of mental illness
  3. Mental Health: Their words