By Francesca Nyilas, International Studies/Law, III
Seeking help relating to mental health issues can often feel confronting, embarrassing and scary. Public, perceived and self-induced attitudes towards mental illness create an embarrassment and fear of identifying with a mental illness or seeking help relating to it. Prominent amongst youth is also a perpetuating concern regarding what others, including the source of help, might think of them if they were to seek help. Projecting an image of being “normal” is a common desire amongst youth, who often fear the negative stigma of mental health issues being attributed to them. The stigma surrounding mental health can act as one of the largest barriers to seeking help. It is therefore important to raise awareness amongst youth regarding ways to lessen these barriers so they can feel comfortable accessing the help they need.
Surrounding oneself with positive encouragement from others can assist in lessening stigma and embarrassment. Influences such as parents who are supportive and open to professional support as a factor in good health and wellbeing, or friends who have had positive experiences, were positive influences on help-seeking. Interestingly, young people were observed to be more likely to seek or recommend help for a friend, than to seek help themselves.
Often, receiving advice from a close friend regarding effective sources of help can assist in building youth’s confidence in accessing help. Talking to a friend who has had similar experiences or similar worries can lessen feelings of feeling abnormal or isolated. Furthermore, talking to a friend can assist in helping youth to articulate their feelings and worries. Talking to a close friend is an important step for young people towards accessing professional mental health services. Interestingly, for young adults, intimate relationships become an important source of support; this applies particularly to men. Intimate partners have been shown to exert a strong influence on men who seek specialist psychological services.
When seeking help, young people often feel more comfortable talking to more familiar sources such as family doctors and school-based counselors. A good place to start is your local GP. Let your GP know if you think you might be experiencing a mental illness. Many GPs are used to dealing with depression and other mental health issues. Some take a special interest and undertake additional training in the area. Your GP may conduct an initial general check-up to identify whether there are any physical causes to your symptoms. Depending on the nature of the problem, your GP will either conduct an assessment of you, or refer you to mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or a psychologist. There are also help sources available at schools and universities, such as university counselling and psychological services. These services are generally free to students and often begin with an initial, whereupon psychologists decide whether further counselling is needed. Furthermore, online services are available for seeking help, which are often beneficial for youth who wish to remain anonymous. Beyond Blue offers a web chat service for youth experiencing mental health issues:
There are also other support services to reach out to! headspace is a one stop shop for young people aged 12-25 who need support regarding mental and physical health concerns. They have a team of psychologists, social workers and GP who are all accessible for free after an initial assessment. Lifeline is a 24 hour helpline that is reachable in times of distress. Further, CAPS on campus have psychologists that offer counseling services for UNSW students.
You have every right to a mentally healthy life and to support services.