Why it’s important to talk about our mental health

Why is it that many of us find it so hard to talk about our health? After all, not of us have perfect bodies and we do suffer illnesses or injuries from time to time. We also suffer from mental and emotional health issues such as stress, anxiety or relationship problems. While none of these are ideal, they are part of life. So, why the taboo?

One reason is we are worried that others may see us as weak or whingy. Many of us have family or cultural backgrounds where we were taught to ‘soldier on’ when things got tough. This is especially true for many men who were taught at an early age that ‘boys don’t cry’ after being hurt or upset. We are getting better at dealing with physical health issues, especially if they are visible or short-term, but many of us just don’t know how to talk about chronic health or mental health issues.

Issues such as anxiety and depression are often associated with behaviours that we are ashamed of, too. Who wants to admit to a gambling addiction, being bullied or having irrational fears, for example? Also, those who are struggling to cope with invisible chronic health issues often get told that their problems are ‘all in their head’ or that they don’t ‘look sick’.

No wonder many people feel it’s easier to shut their mouth and say nothing rather than discussing their experiences and seeking help. However, when we have no way to release strong emotions like fear, anger, and hurt, they can build up and cause radical changes in our behaviour and even in our physical health. Sometimes, they can make us so depressed that we no longer see the point of living.

On the flip side of that are those of us that suspect someone we know may be struggling but we avoid asking them directly about it because we don’t want to intrude or don’t know what to say. We might fear the repercussions, especially if we’ve judged incorrectly or maybe we just don’t want to get involved. Has that happened to you?

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s, summary of the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, around 45% of adults are likely to experience a common mental health-related condition during their lifetime. The figure rises when you factor in less common conditions or those that go undetected. So, the chances are that you or someone around you will face an issue like this at some stage (if you haven’t already). Therefore, it makes sense to know what to do about it.

The R U OK? website has a vast range of tips and tools to help you get difficult conversations like these started.

Factors that can make us feel down

Having some stress in our lives is normal. We all have times where we’ve got a big event or deadline approaching, when money is tight, when we’ve disagreed with a friend or countless other situations. Some people thrive under pressure as it pushes them to perform at their best. However, when it starts to affect your physical health or your usual behaviour, then it’s time to stop and assess the situation.

Of course, stress on its own isn’t the only thing that can negatively affect our mental health. There are many other factors that can lead to anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and other issues. For example:

  • Poor self-image
  • Increasing household or business debt
  • Discrimination
  • Workplace conflict
  • Loss of a loved one
  • Trauma and adversity
  • Major life changes (such as changing jobs, chronic illness, divorce or even having a child).

Signs to watch out for

John Drury didn’t realise he had a problem until he found himself working 60-hour weeks as a pastor, giving all to others but nothing to himself and his family. He eventually suffered burnout and his marriage didn’t survive. It took him several years to re-build his life to the point where he now looks after his health and runs a business mentoring practice helping hundreds of others on the verge of burnout to learn to integrate all aspects of their working and personal life in a positive way. (To hear how John turned his life around, listen to him tell his story on The Mentor List.)

Unfortunately, many of us get so caught up in our daily lives that we fail to recognise the early signs of potential mental health issues. We not only have blinkers on concerning our own health but we can miss the signs in those around us, too.

Other signs include:

  • Withdrawing from social interactions
  • Difficulty staying focused or making decisions
  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Feelings of isolation, disconnection or despondency
  • Being constantly worried, anxious or tearful
  • Feeling overwhelmed or frightened into inaction
  • Increased use of cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs
  • Increased indulgence in addictive behaviours.

Mental health in the workplace

Employers can do a lot to facilitate positive mental health in their workplace. This doesn’t just mean promoting harmonious relationships at work, it can also extend to helping staff with personal issues that may be affecting their work.

The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a government-funded program run through a network of approved providers across Australia. The work-based intervention program was developed to provide preventative and proactive interventions for the early detection, identification and/or resolution of both work and personal problems. To find a provider of these services, contact the Employee Assistance Professional Association of Australasia.

Another resource that businesses can access is Beyond Blue’s Business in Mind website. It is full of practical tools to help SME owners and managers with their own mental health as well as with managing issues that others may experience in their workplace.

Where to get help

If you are worried about yourself or someone around you, start by raising your concerns with your friends and family if you are comfortable with that. Your GP is also a great person to approach as they are trained to recognise the signs of many mental health issues and can refer you to other health professionals and organisations as needed.

For more information and help with mental health issues in Australia contact these service organisations:

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Sane Australia: 1800 18 7263

Beyond Blue:  1300 22 4636


Call to action…

Brendan Maher is a passionate advocate for suicide prevention, and a former member of Lifeline Australia’s senior leadership team, where he spent seven years before stepping into his current role as the CEO of R U OK? Brendan leads a small, responsive, and dynamic team who are experts in community activation, social media and integrated marketing campaigns. Their aim is to encourage people to reach out and check on the people around them by asking the simple question, “Are you ok?”

To learn more about the work of Brendan and his dedicated team, tune in to his podcast interview on The Mentor List. You could discover how to help change someone’s life –maybe even yours.


Kick start your personal journey to success from the conversations David has with his inspirational guests on The Mentor List. www.mentorlist.com.au

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