a blog about mental illness and community

Archive for September, 2013

How to live a full life

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

A central tenet of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) is the importance of creating a life worth living.

One way to do this is to work upwards through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

In 1943, Abraham Maslow penned ‘A Theory of Human Motivation’ – a paper that revolutionised psychological theory.

Maslow believed that people are motivated to achieve certain needs.

When one need is fulfilled, a person seeks to fulifil the next.

According to SimplyPsychology writer Saul McLeod:

“Every person is capable and has the desire to move up the hierarchy toward a level of self-actualisation.  Unfortunately, progress is often disrupted by failure to meet lower level needs. Life experiences including divorce and loss of job may cause an individual to fluctuate between levels of the hierarchy.

Maslow noted only one in a hundred people become fully self-actualised because our society rewards motivation primarily based on esteem, love and other social needs.”

The Hierarchy of Needs has strong ties to mental health.

Nothing like a denial of physiological needs, safety, loving relationships and self-esteem to fire up the old depression furnace.

For people with mental illness, it’s not so much a deliberate plan to be “less than you are capable of being” than a constant fight to be the best you can be despite immense barriers to self-actualisation.

What are your thoughts on Maslow’s pyramid?


Quote of the day

Source: flickr

Speaking of ‘your story’, why not share your experience of mental illness?

Maybe you suffer from PTSD.

Maybe you’re recovering from an eating disorder.

Maybe you’re the child, sibling or caregiver of someone with depression.

Whatever your connection to mental illness and the fight against stigma, your voice is invaluable.

Looking for inspiration? You can read about Alta’s experiences of severe anxiety here.

The biopsychosocial model explained

Source: flickr

Mental illness has nothing to do with personal weakness.

It’s a product of biopsychosocial factors, including off-kilter brain chemistry.

Source: Psychology Today

So if ever you’re struggling and someone tells you to “pull your socks up” or “stop being such an attention-seeker”, direct them to the biopsychosocial model.

We can’t control how closed or open-minded other people are about matters of mental health, but every bit of education counts.

And if all else fails, slip the sceptic a chill pill.

You can read one of my previous myth-busting posts, Fact versus fiction on bipolar and depression, here.

Drawn that way: depression in comics

BuzzFeed, that web-based conglomerate of pop culture awesomeness, has outdone itself by compiling 21 comics that capture the frustrations of depression.

And believe me, every one of the featured cartoonists has nailed it.

Depression is associated with lethargy, low mood, excessive guilt, hopelessness, and loss of interest in activities that were once fun.

These symptoms, and many more aspects of depression, are explored in BuzzFeed’s compilation.

Source: Sylvie Reuter

There’s a saying: misery loves company.

If that’s true, why do most people suffering from depression feel so utterly alone?

Maybe, secretly, we all feel the same way…

That’s why it’s so important to speak up about mental illness and kick stigma to the curb.

Honesty can’t cure depression or any other psychological ailment (darn!), but it can make the burden easier to bear. The same goes for comics.

Top Five Mental Illness Autobiographies

Source: flickr

If you’ve perused a list of psychiatric diagnoses, you would have noticed that there are very, very many types of mental illness.

There are depressive disorders, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, personality disorders – each of which has its own sub-set of labels.

For example, dysthymia (chronic low mood) falls under depressive disorders, while obsessive-compulsive disorder is part of the anxiety category.

Basically, there are a LOT of disorders.

Within this befuddling vortex of definitions and symptoms, it can be helpful to put a face to a given disorder, along with a person’s lived experience of it.

Here we have a shortlist of autobiographies that relate to a variety of mental illnesses.

Each book is fascinating; worth a read regardless of the status of your brain chemistry.

  • Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi – anorexia and bulimia
  • The Centre Cannot Hold by Elyn Saks – schizophrenia
  • All of Me by Kim Noble – dissociative identity disorder (aka multiple personality disorder)
  • Madness by Marya Hornbacher – bipolar disorder, alcoholism
  • Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel – depression, substance abuse

Bonus book: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. Not technically an autobiography, but the story very closely parallels the American poet’s experiences of a nervous breakdown, suicide attempt and hospitalisation in her early ’20s.

Do you have any favourite books about mental illness that I haven’t mentioned?

Coalition’s mental health policy could put EDs on the map

Source: flickr

Source: flickr

Unless you’ve been living under a media-proof rock, you’ll know that the LNP won the recent federal election and Tony Abbott is the new prime minister of Australia.

So what does the election result mean for Australians with mental illness – in particular, those with eating disorders?

In August the Coalition released its Policy for Efficient Mental Health Research and Services.

Key points include:

  • A pledge of $18 million over four years to establish Australia’s first National Centre for Excellence in Youth Mental Health
  • Investment in new research to explore how better mental health can lift Australia’s economic productivity
  • Tasking the National Mental Health Commission to assess the effectiveness of existing mental health programmes

An excerpt from the policy paper summarises the Coalition’s goal:

“We believe a proper evaluation of mental health programmes is necessary to ensure that the delivery of services gets to those most in need and that funding is provided to those programmes that have proven to be most effective on the frontline.”

This pledge is particularly relevant to Australians struggling with eating disorders.

Despite the prevalence and debilitating impact of conditions like anorexia and bulimia, current treatment services are woefully inadequate.

For instance, there are only 15 dedicated eating disorder beds in all of Queensland.

Five of these are public beds at the Royal Brisbane & Women’s Hospital. The other ten are private beds at Brisbane’s New Farm Clinic, a specialised psychiatric hospital.


Stacey Pike, 26, is a former inpatient at New Farm Clinic.

I spoke to Stacey about the “hell” of living with an eating disorder, a struggle compounded by difficulties in accessing effective, compassionate treatment.

The National Eating Disorders Collaboration (NEDC) has released some concerning statistics:

  • Anorexia and bulimia affect 2-4% of the Australian population
  • The risk of premature death for women with anorexia is 6-12 times higher than the general population
  • Eating disorders represent the second leading cause of mental disorder disability for young women

population percentages

Hopefully, the Abbott government will deliver on its promise to review and overhaul the country’s mental health care system.

Action in this area would improve recovery prospects for people with eating disorders, and help put these devastating mental illnesses on the map.

If you’re keen to find out more, this segment from ABC’s 7:30 program (aired in late 2012) explores the issue further.

You can read one of my previous posts on eating disorders here.

Quote of the day

Source: flickr

Everyone has a story…

It’s terrifically important to be able to share your experiences – the good, the bad and the ugly – with someone who shows interest in your life and listens wholeheartedly to what you have to say.

Plight-blurting is practically an accredited form of therapy!

For many people who struggle with mental illness, the accompanying sense of isolation and shame can make an already awful situation that much harder to cope with.

Ours is a fast-paced world, but please, make time to listen.

It’s a privilege to see someone “unfold quite wonderfully” through the warmth of your attentions – and a gift to the other person as well.

Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) was an American poet and author. She suffered severe depression for most of her life.

In her poetry and prose, Plath wrote about subjects that were highly taboo in the 1950s and 1960s, such as mental illness and suicide. Examples of this include Plath’s largely autobiographical novel The Bell Jarand poems such as Daddy and Lady Lazarus.

Sylvia Plath committed suicide in 1963, at the age of 30. In 1982, Plath was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer prize for The Collected Poems.

Find out how you can share your experiences of mental illness here.

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