I have been spending lots of my time recently thinking about the services, or lack of, that we have in regional South Australia. In particular services available to those needing support for their mental health.
I have to say that I am excited by organisations such as Mentally Fit EP that are passionately promoting how to be ‘Mentally Fit’. They are a not for profit group that have no government funding and are involved in many community events. One such way they help to squash the stigma surrounding mental illness is by spreading the reality that mental illness affects a large proportion of the population and we all need to work on strategies to support those affected and their families.
I am sure there are other organisations doing remarkable work in the field of mental health, however from the experience I have had and anecdotal information from others around me, they are not easy to access. Gaining services in our regional communities is difficult at the best of times. However, I want to mention a few of the reasons that it can be almost impossible for someone with a mental illness to successfully get the help they need.
Here are a few hurdles that are put in our way of getting help:
- Putting on a ‘happy face‘. Not everyone with depression walks around crying. In fact for many people the task of ringing up to make a doctor’s appointment and travel into town to go to their appointment uses up enormous amounts of energy. They get themselves in the ‘zone’ to get in and out of town drawing as little attention to themselves as possible.
- Telling your story….again. For so many of us this is not the first time we have tried to get help. You almost go on auto pilot trying to explain what has led you to your current need for support. Consequently, despite the fact you will probably cry in the car the whole way home and spend the rest of the day in bed, for some reason you are unable to express yourself on cue for the professional.
- How far to go. So your feeling low, really low. You have your loved one at the doctors with you and you are trying to get a referral for a mental health professional. It is indescribably heartbreaking to then admit to those deep dark feelings that are hounding you day and night. So sometimes you do, and sometimes you don’t.
- The Stigma. There are many reasons why some people are not able to get the help they need, but for today I will end on this one. In smaller towns in regional parts of our state there is little chance of complete anonymity when accessing services. Couple this with the fact that the contemporary views on many issues, such as an open mind and understanding of mental health, take a little longer to ripple through areas outside of the CBD. Also the fear of being judged by those around them as well as themselves prevents many from reaching out for help.
As you can imagine when someone struggles with the above hurdles it does not make it straight forward for them to get help. If you were a concerned friend, a hospital worker or a busy doctor (responsible 24/7 for everyone in the district), having someone who subconsciously or consciously hides the severity of their illness can understandably make it appear less of an urgent matter.
What can be done?
On a large scale we need more health professionals, experienced health professional with better access to services and support. This will require improved retention and remuneration provided to encourage more practitioners to live and work in our communities. We need money directed at Mental Health and Wellness for Regional Area’s from the Government.
On a grass roots level get involved in local services that are raising awareness and support for mental health. Take the time to really listen to the response you get when asking someone how they are. Don’t judge when someone has shared some of their story with you, don’t make them try to justify anything. It is tricky to articulate to anyone what it is like inside your mind when you are suffering a debilitating mental illness, let alone to someone who has not experienced it themselves.
But if you take only one thing from what I have written today please make it this:
As you go about your life day to day, recognise people. Recognise them by offering a friendly smile, giving eye contact when you speak and having a genuine interest in asking them how their day is going. Do this as often as you can to all people. Young and old, happy or sad. People you know or those just passing through. In todays faced passed world you can never underestimate the power of sharing the human spirit.
Love and Peace