One in five Australians is affected by some form of mental illness. Depression is the most common. There is a lack of awareness in the general community about the difference between feeling sad and clinical depression. Clinical depression is a medical condition that has a significant impact on a person’s life. It not only affects the way a person feels but also interferes with how they function.
Symptoms can include prolonged feelings of extreme sadness, loss of motivation and interest in activities that previously brought joy, changes in appetite, sleeping patterns or weight, feeling worthless or guilty, impaired thinking or concentration and physical aches and pains.
There is no single cause for depression. Some of the more common factors that may contribute to someone experiencing depression include traumatic or stressful experiences such as the death of a loved one or loss of a job, hormonal changes such as occur during puberty or following childbirth, problematic use of alcohol and other drugs, or a family predisposition to depression. Depression can also occur as part of another mental illness such as bi-polar disorder.
Despite its prevalence, there are many misunderstandings about depression. The most common is that people with depression could change their lot if they just tried. They may be urged to ‘cheer up’ or told to ‘snap out of it’. These sorts of mistaken beliefs can make it harder for people living with depression to seek help and thereby contribute towards unnecessarily prolonging their distress. It is about as realistic to expect a person living with depression to snap out of their illness as it is to expect a diabetic to snap out of having diabetes.
Stigma around mental illness is a serious problem. Stigma means people are made to feel ashamed of their illness or that they aren’t as good as everyone else. Apart from being socially debilitating, stigma prevents people from getting the help they need to manage living with their illness.
Mental Illness Education ACT (MIEACT) is a local not for profit organisation, with a unique approach to mental health promotion. MIEACT recruits and trains volunteer educators who have either experienced living with a mental illness, or cared for a loved one who has a mental illness.
MIEACT volunteers conduct interactive education seminars on the topic of mental health in Canberra’s schools, workplaces and within the community. All of our education sessions incorporate each volunteer’s real life story of living with a mental illness, including the factors contributing towards their illness, its effects on family and friends and effective treatment. The emphasis on personal narrative is not only incredibly powerful, but it is also very effective in increasing the audiences understanding of mental illness while simultaneously reducing the stigma that continues to surround mental illness.
Research from the University of Canberra reveals that not only do the seminars increase participants’ understanding of mental illness but that volunteer educators benefit greatly from being involved with MIEACT’s programs. Having the platform to speak openly about living with a mental illness is empowering and is an important step on the road to recovery. Improved self esteem, confidence and making new friends are other positive outcomes from being involved with MIEACT.
If you think you might be experiencing depression, contact your GP or
Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
Life Line 13 14 11
SANE Australia 1800 18 7263
Mental Health ACT Triage 1800 629 354
If you need an education session about mental illness for your school, workplace or community group; or want to channel your experience of mental illness in a positive way, contact MIEACT on 6257 1195 or go to www.mieact.org.au
Story telling for Community Development
‘Stories Changing Minds’ is the MIEACT motto. Storytelling has been a highly effective tool for MIEACT in delivering health promotion, both in educating the public and empowering people living with or caring for someone with a mental illness., To demonstrate these dual benefits, MIEACT will be hosting a panel discussion at the ACT Writers Festival at 1.30pm Saturday June 21 entitled ‘Storytelling for community development’.
For community service agencies, we hope to show how storytelling can be used as a core element of projects. For ACT writers, we hope to show how storytelling skills can be used for social justice. The panel will consist of MIEACT’s Youth Projects coordinator, Jenni Savigny; AIDS Action Council Community Education Manager, David Mills; and Anecdote storytelling consultant Mark Schenk. Light refreshments will be offered at the end of the discussion. Please contact Pip Blackwood on 6257 1195 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.