If there can be any silver lining to COVID-19, it is that it has increased the number of people thinking about their mental health and that of their family, friends, staff and colleagues which opens up more opportunities for lifesaving conversations, Man Anchor founder Steven Gamble says.
In the latest Real Media Collective Rebuild Together webinar, Gamble discussed the importance of keeping an eye on your mental health with the risks of people sliding into poor mental health greatly increased due to the pandemic.
Gamble provided some statistics which showed one in five Australians suffer from a mental illness at some point during their lives, marking 20 per cent of the population.
Suicide is the leading cause of death for males aged between 15 and 44 with 3,046 suicides in Australia in 2018.
These are sobering statistics and if anyone feels triggered by this article or the webinar, they are advised to seek help immediately.
The phone numbers can be found below.
Gamble says, “a conversation can save a life” and this simple act of reaching out to someone who you suspect may be suffering mentally or you yourself seeking help if you recognise you don’t feel right can be integral for getting back on track.
It can often be hard to read the signs as those suffering mental health become very good at masking their true feelings but setting up an open and non-judgemental communication where there is a sense of honesty and safety is paramount.
Signs that someone is suffering from a form of mental illness could be that in the last two weeks they have become withdrawn, indecisive or have lost their appetite.
He said Brain and Mind Centre modelling has predicted suicide rates will increase by 25 per cent if unemployment rates rise to 10 to 11 per cent which is possible with the pandemic.
“The key to reducing this number is simple communication. This will help remove barriers and stigmas and normalise the conversation so there are opportunities for people to reach out,” Gamble said.
“I think we are all really aware that once the pandemic has seen its way through the fall-out from the social isolation and the financial burden and economic fallout will be a much larger problem for people’s mental health.”
“History shows that during financial crises male suicide does increase, there is a slight increase with females but with males it is quite dramatic. If we go back to the Great Depression there was a huge spike in male suicide rates and that continued on through to the late 1980s and early 1990s with the recession and stock market crash. Then with the GFC there was another spike, so we need to be really mindful about the wellbeing of males.”
Gamble outlined some useful tips for maintaining mental wellbeing, which like physical health, is best achieved through early intervention.
Communication is the key strategy in preventing mental health declines, he says.
Employers can help their staff through the crisis by checking in with them to see how they are coping with the changes that we are all experiencing whether it be social isolation or the pressures of working from home or worries about job security.
Putting signage up in workplaces that it is OK to talk about mental health and help numbers to call if there is a problem are also a good idea.
Exercise is also crucial for mental wellbeing, along with a healthy diet.
Gamble also noted that alcohol consumption had increased dramatically at home with lockdowns and advised that stress over job security, the stress of being made redundant and potential relationship issues as a result of this are not a good combination with alcohol.
He also advised limiting the amount of news and information you take-in as this can also effect mental wellbeing.
Mindfulness, which Gamble was quick to point out as “not just for hippies” is also a great way to centre yourself and relieve stress.
“Mindfulness is not just for hippies, it is unbelievably important and we should practice it in our daily lives. From mediation to breathing exercises. It really helps you get more sleep and cope with stress,” Gamble said.
Early Intervention: knowing the signs
For Gamble recognising the signs of poor mental health is as important as knowing resuscitation.
Gamble said it was crucial to recognised the signs of a behaviour change in the last two weeks and if this occurs to reach out to a GP or medical professional, friend or family member.
“I use these signs every other day in conversations I have both with my work with Man Anchor and also through my role as national sales manager at Bottcher,” Gamble said.
He also dispelled any notion that reaching out would make the situation worse.
“You will not make the situation worse. Living with a mental health disorder can be extremely isolating and completely scary and having someone reach out to support you can change your life,” he said.
Gamble outlined a series of common triggers that could set off a mental health decline: stress, loss of loved one, relationship breakdown, loss of job, bullying, workplace pressures, personally unrealistic expectations, infertility, pregnancy and menopause.
A number of these triggers are also more pronounced in the current pandemic, he said, pointing to being made redundant, relationship breakdown, stress on the family unit, alcohol and drug abuse, increased risk of domestic violence, workplace pressure and putting too much pressure on ourselves.
“If we know someone has lived with one or two of these triggers and then we notice they may be drinking a little bit more or they may be really indecisive, these are good signs that it is time to reach out,” Gamble said.
“You do not need to be a GP or have a medical degree to reach out,” he said.
Simple tips to reach out include:
- Stay calm
- Ensure the place you are reaching out in is safe and private
- Remember you are there to listen not fix
- Give the person time to reflect on how they are feeling. Let them find the words to explain how they feel
- Use empathy. Try and understand how they are feeling.
- Don’t be dismissive or judgemental.
Gamble says as you would see a physiotherapist for a hamstring injury, likewise you can just as easily and normally see a psychologist or a GP about your mental health wellbeing.
A mental health plan will be set for you, in same way a physio would give a plan for hamstring injury recovery.
GPs, counsellors, mental health nurse, psychologist, psychiatrist and complementary health professionals are all good places to start.
Gamble also said many larger companies have mental health support services available to staff and these often go underutilised.
“We all have mental health and it lives on a spectrum from positive to poor,” Gamble said.
“Like physical health, it takes work to keep on the good side of the spectrum.”
If you have been triggered by this article or would like to access some assistance around mental health, please contact any of the services listed below:
Lifeline 13 11 14 https://www.lifeline.org.au
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 65 94 67 www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au
Beyond Blue 1300 22 46 36 www.beyondblue.org.au/home
Men’s Line 1300 78 99 78 www.mensline.org.au
1800RESPECT -Domestic Violence 1800 73 77 32 and Sexual Assault www.1800respect.org.au
Kids Help Line (5-25y) – 1800 55 1800 www.kidshelpline.com.au
Q-Life 1800 184 527 https://qlife.org.au
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