We all know what number to call for emergencies. It’s 000 in Australia. In US it’s 911. In this day and age even when personal data security is everything, our mobile/cell phones are still designed to let us make emergency calls without needing a password. It goes to show how important it is to have quick access to assistance during a crisis. On that front, where can you go to if yourself or someone you care about is battling with mental health problems? Can you name at least three places on top of your head? Do you know their phone numbers by heart?
In Australia, there’re charities like Lifeline, Reach Out and Beyond Blue. They all have done a wonderful job on educating the public about the mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression which affect 20% of the population. To that effect, we can never say we’ve done enough as long as the stigma of mental illness is alive and well in all corners of our society. It’s true we’ve come a long way to raise public awareness and put the mental health topic on the table for discussion. The opportunities are all there, the challenge is to encourage more people to step up and speak freely about it.
Right now it’s December, a festive season, the happiness is in the air everywhere you go. What on earth am I bringing up the issue of mental health again? I don’t mean to drag you down. But here’s how it came about: Over a month ago, I bumped into a friend while taking a bus to work. He looked like he’d lost a big chunk of weight, just not the same person I used to know. I couldn’t help but ask him what had happened and if things were OK. In brief, he told me he’d gone through a tough time in his personal life. He was made redundant late last year as a result of the workforce restructuring. Thereafter, a series of unfortunate events such as not being able to find another job caused a whirlwind of emotions. It was hard to take. By his own admission, he suffered from depression – a condition he only kept to himself. Why so? He didn’t feel like bothering anyone especially his family in overseas. It was understandable but what stunned me most was when he talked about his suicidal thoughts. That was a real shock. On the surface and on paper, he was someone of a high calibre, who seemed to have his life figured out. As a young millennial, he already had amazing credentials under his belt – a certified chartered accountant, a master degree, have worked for one of the big four accounting firms in the world and other prominent employers alike. However, none of these achievements guaranteed a success he desperately needed. When people are out of job not by choice, life can be a brutal place and that’s exactly what happened to him. Being unemployed for too long is like being an outsider sitting on the sidelines, not participating in the game and just watching the days go by. His confidence was eroded, his mind played a dirty trick on him. He began to wonder: Is that it? Is that all what life is about? They say: All good things come to an end. Sure, so do bad things. At last, it took him a total of ten months to land a current job – even though it was only a fixed term six month contract with no possibility for extension. For now, life is back on track as he said but the uncertainty over what would happen after six months worried him. He feared that he’d relapse into old depression again. I took a deep breath, paused for a few seconds before asking him this question: When you were coping with those stresses, were you all alone by yourself? He replied with a straight yes. I wasn’t surprised by his answer. That’s the thing, behind a closed door, there can be a depressed person we never know existed.
I came up with this catchy headline “Mental Health Is An Issue That Won’t Go Out Of Print“, while drafting this post in my head. I’m a firm believer that you and I have the ability to write or re-write the next chapter and the next etc.. We can do so in a way that sees mental health as normal part of our lives and treats it with ultimate openness. It’s important to note that the stigma of mental illness wasn’t born out of nowhere. It was something we created right under our noses and passed it down year after year. So, what are we going to do about it? It’s all in the attitude – how do we act towards people (including ourselves) with the mental health conditions. In my friend’s case, what he said to me that day hasn’t changed a thing about how I see him as a person. If anything, it’s only more of him, not less of him…