Struggling to open up about mental health concerns? We called in an expert, social worker Hayley Lloyd-Jones, who shared a story on the importance of opening up.
Sitting together in her bedroom, she stared silently at the floor while I explained to her the purpose of my visit. Despite the unbearable summer heat, she wore a long sleeved jumper, skinny jeans and a pair of purple cons. My heart felt heavy with sadness, seeing the uncomfortable lengths she had gone to in order to hide her body from the world. After a little while, she cautiously started to tell me how she hadn’t been to school for the past four weeks due to suffering uncontrollable panic attacks.
Just talking about it was making her visibly anxious. Her hands were shaking and she was shifting a lot in her chair. Trying to fight against the anxiety that was slowly overwhelming her body, she stood up to get a drink of water. As she reached for the glass, the sleeve of her jumper shifted. For a brief moment, I saw a deep cut running across the inside of her left wrist. It looked like a new wound and it looked like it needed stitches.
One in four young Australians currently has a mental health condition and suicide is the most common cause of death for young people, accounting for more deaths than car accidents. As a mental health social worker and previously a youth worker, I have had the privilege of supporting many young people through their teens and early adult years. Tragically though, I have also witnessed the suffering and turmoil that can devastate a young person’s life when their mental health issues are suppressed, hidden or untreated.
While mental illness can affect both females and males during their adolescence and early twenties, the statistics show that young women are more vulnerable to suffering psychological distress. Anxiety, worry, depression, low self-esteem, body image issues, eating disorders, PTSD and sexual and gender identity issues are just some of the difficulties that many young women battle. Sadly, this battle is often kept very private or is fought in complete silence.
The young girl that I met that day had kept her suffering a secret for four years. She feared her teachers would tell her parents, feared it would cause her mother too much worry and feared her girlfriends wouldn’t understand. These fears prevented her from accessing support and in turn, only multiplied her suffering.
Nobody is immune to mental illness. In fact, 45% of people will experience a mental health condition at some point in their lives. As women, we experience some unique biological, psychological, social and cultural pressures that can leave us vulnerable to mental health issues. To manage life’s difficulties, it is crucial that we support ourselves and each other by becoming more open and honest about our experiences.
Talking about emotions, fears, pain and suffering is not an easy task and often we feel ill-equipped to begin a conversation about such topics. I myself, remember being a teenager and feeling completely out of my depth when a girlfriend told me she was suffering with depression. I knew what she had told me was incredibly important, but I had no idea what do to with the precious information she had entrusted in me. Whether it be a girlfriend, sister or colleague, one of the best gifts we can offer each other is a patient and non-judgemental ear. The act of listening, without forming opinions or judgments, is one of the most basic yet helpful things we can do to support someone with mental health issues.
Being able to talk openly about emotions not only offers support and comfort, but it also opens the door to acknowledging problems and receiving help. Treating and managing mental health issues is very achievable and I have witnessed many of my clients overcome severe episodes of emotional distress. As the facilitator of a Cognitive Behaviour Therapy program, it is very common for women to approach me on the final day of the program and comment on how the treatment has changed their lives and how they only wished that they had spoken up and sought help years or even decades ago.
Talking about mental health issues and seeking support is not a sign of weakness, but a testament to one’s courage and strength. It took a lot of courage for the young woman to show me her cuts that day. There wasn’t just the one cut on her left wrist, but several others on her thighs and waist too. While the journey was not an easy one, her recovery began when she started the conversation.
If you have mental health concerns, it’s always best to talk to the people around you: your parents, friends, teachers and relatives. If you’re not sure who to speak to, Beyond Blue is a great place to start. You can also call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14. Remember, you’re not alone. If you want to bring some more mindfulness and calm to your day, try HeadSpace.
Written by Hayley Lloyd-Jones.