a blog about mental illness and community


Defeating depression via MTV

Get a load of this!

MTV has announced it will air Life Continued: Defeating Depression at 7pm tomorrow to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

Life Continued: Defeating Depression is a 60-minute special produced by Rainn Wilson’s SoulPancake.

The documentary goes inside the lives of two young people from different parts of the US who have fought their way through severe mental health struggles.

It’s certainly not all doom and gloom though. The youngsters found hope and a path to recovery by seeking treatment and drawing strength from those around them.

The short doco responds to the fact that suicide is the third-leading cause of death among people aged 15-24.

It aims to empower viewers facing mental illness to get help or to support friends in need.

“Depression can be debilitating, and many teens and young adults are struggling to find their way to mental health,” Rainn Wilson said.

“SoulPancake is excited to partner with MTV to tell the brave stories of two college students who found their way out of the darkness. We hope this special can inspire viewers to seek help and support, and find the courage to heal.”

Reject Laguna Beach and watch Life Continued instead – at least on World Mental Health Day.

You can check out my post on the truth about suicide here.


Walk away from stigma
Source: Mental Health Association Australia

Today marks the start of Mental Health Week.

Mental Health Week is an annual national awareness event created to engage communities in activities which promote good mental health and increase understanding of the needs, experiences and issues concerning people with a mental illness.

It’s organised by the Mental Health Association Australia, and encompasses a wide range of initiatives throughout the country.

One major event is happening in Brisbane from 6:30am this Sunday at Kangaroo Point. The Mental Health Week Walk aims to raise awareness of depression and other mental illnesses.

So why not register? There’ll be live music, kids’ entertainment and a BBQ lunch to reward your support.

You can find a list of other Mental Health Week activities here.

Another great source of info and events related to psychological health – not just this week, but throughout the whole year – is the Mental Awareness Foundation.

It’s time to get out into the October sunshine and do something within your community to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Not only is Mental Health Week an important initiative, it’s the best excuse you can get for boosting your own serotonin stocks.


Coalition’s mental health policy could put EDs on the map
Source: flickrSource: 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.


The truth about suicide
With any luck you’ve been on the giving and receiving end of a bombardment of “Are you okay’s?” today.

Though the question can become tiresome and the typical “Thanks, I’m fine” response perfunctory, research supports the value of checking in with one another to prevent suffering and self-destructive behaviour.

After all, the worst case scenario may be suicide.

suicide infographic

For people struggling with mental illness, suicide can seem like the only way to escape seemingly endless torture.

Depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, bulimia, bipolar disorder…

Living with these psychiatric conditions isn’t a picnic!

I am, however, a big fan of the following message:

Something to keep in mind on those particularly rotten days.

If you’re feeling suicidal, you can call Lifeline 24/7 on 13 11 14.

You can find an awesome quote about resisting the urge to throw in the towel here.


Fact versus fiction on bipolar and depression
Nothing like a good myth-busting session!

And, unlike these guys, you don’t need a beret or crazy moustache to partake.

Source: flickr

Joking aside, falsehood is often the foundation for stigma.

The more we spread the truth about mental illness, the sooner acceptance will flourish.

myths and facts about depression and bipolarSource: healthline.com

You can check out one of my previous posts on stigma here.


Chats can be life-changing
Source: R U OK? Foundation

This week is an Australian mental health bonanza!

Not only is today World Suicide Prevention Day, it’s R U OK? Day on Thursday.

Both initiatives are dedicated to encouraging conversations to prevent suicide and reduce stigma surrounding mental illness.

You can get tips on how to best broach a chat with someone who may be struggling with life at the R U OK? Foundation website.

There’s also a wealth of information at the Suicide Prevention Australia website, focusing on upcoming events and mental health resources.

Both organisations support the Australian Government’s National Suicide Prevention Strategy.

So why not strike up a convo with a friend, family member, classmate or colleague?

All you have to ask is “Are you okay?”

If you’re struggling with mental illness or you’re feeling suicidal, there are lots of places you can get support.

You can call Lifeline on 13 11 14

You can also reach beyondblue on 1300 22 4636

Another valuable contact is the Suicide Call Back Service at 1300 659 467

All of these are 24-hour helplines.


Optimism or insensitivity?

Aspiring filmmaker Thanh Huynh has struggled with anxiety for years.

He prides himself on being an open-minded kind of guy, but there’s one sentence he simply can’t abide: “Don’t worry, everything will be all right”.

According to beyondblue, 3 million Australians are living with depression or anxiety.

We all feel anxious now and then, but for a person experiencing an anxiety disorder (when stress is ongoing and excessive), these feelings wreak mental and emotional mayhem.

When it all becomes too much, people who struggle with anxiety may reach out to family and friends for support.

As Thanh Huynh explores in his short film, it can be very invalidating if someone shrugs off the issue with vague optimism or suggests an unrealistic quick-fix.

It’s important to spread the message that it’s okay to not be okay.

Most people say “Don’t worry, it’ll be fine” with the best intentions. However, a friend’s desire to comfort doesn’t make the sentence any easier to hear.

Often, the best thing you can offer as a friend or family member is acknowledgement: i.e. “yes, things are terrible right now and the situation can’t easily be fixed, but you have my full support”.

Hugs are good too.

Have you ever been told not to worry – that “everything will be okay”? How did it make you feel?

When you’re anxious or going through a rough time, what would you like your friends and family to do or say?


Love the skin you’re in

Spring has sprung, but that’s not the only reason you should be celebrating on this sunny Wednesday afternoon.

This week, the Butterfly Foundation’s campaign to support Australians experiencing eating disorders has gone turbo.

It’s Body Image Awareness Week!

Eating disorders and poor body image present a severe problem for males and females around Australia (and the world). However, behaviours and feelings associated with negative body image are often kept secret by sufferers due to intense feelings of shame.

The Butterfly Foundation aims to raise awareness of eating disorders and poor body image.

Regardless of whether someone suffers from full-blown anorexia or is at a healthy weight but can’t look in the mirror without hating what they see, negative body image can be extremely debilitating to mental and physical health.

The Butterfly Foundation is setting this first week of September aside to celebrate our bodies – unique, diverse, strong and beautiful.

You can visit the Butterfly Foundation’s Awareness Campaigns page for tips on how you can join the positive body image revolution.

Other mental health organisations, including headspace, are getting on board with the initiative too.

This infographic shows a breakdown of the facts associated with body image and its relationship to youth mental health in Australia.

body image infographic

Ramsay and Medibank Private make peace

Exciting news update, peeps! Drop what you’re doing and read on…

Ramsay Health Care and Medibank Private announced earlier today that they’ve settled their contractual squabble.

The result of the negotiation process (mediated by the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman) is that Medibank has renewed its contract with Ramsay for another three years without any extra charge to clients.

This is fantastic news for all Medibank clients receiving treatment at Ramsay-owned private hospitals around Australia. Ramsay’s facilities include a number of hospitals specialising in mental health care, such as Brisbane’sNew Farm Clinic.

Basically, everything will go on as it did before the bickering went public. Consensus is that the issue was – thankfully! – a storm in a teacup.

Here’s an excerpt from the press release published on Ramsay Health Care’s website:

The new three year contract covers the benefits paid by Medibank for hospital accommodation charges for Medibank and ahm members at all of Ramsay Health Care’s hospitals.

Mr George Savvides, Managing Director Medibank and Mr Chris Rex, Managing Director Ramsay Health Care, said that the three year agreement provided certainty for members, patients and doctors.

“This agreement demonstrates that Australia’s biggest health insurance fund and Australia’s biggest private hospital provider are working together to keep quality private health care affordable,” Mr Savvides said.

The new contract between Medibank and Ramsay Health Care commences on 1 September 2013.  Medibank and ahm members continue to be covered as normal when they attend a Ramsay Health Care hospital.

Hurray for happy endings!

You can read my previous article on the Ramsay/Medibank kerfuffle here.


Pathology or personality?

How much scope is there for poor judgement or mood fluctuation before it’s deemed psychopathology?

This timeless and universal debate has reignited over the past few months after the May 2013 publication of the DSM-5. This new version of the “psychiatrist’s bible” was 14 years in the writing.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is an attempt to provide doctors with a definitive list of all recognised mental health conditions, including their symptoms. But attempting to categorise mental illnesses in black and white terms is fraught with danger.

The two main criticisms of the DSM-5 are that the revisions showcase:

  • an unhealthy influence of the pharmaceutical industry
  • an increasing tendency to ‘medicalise’ patterns of behaviour and mood that are not pathological

The first version of the DSM was published in 1952. Since then, the manual has been periodically updated to keep up with society’s evolving understanding of mental health.

The most scathing criticism of the DSM-5 relates to what constitutes major depressive disorder. Previous definitions described MDD as a persistent low mood, loss of enjoyment, and disruption to everyday activity.

These definitions specifically excluded a diagnosis of MDD if the person was recently bereaved – an exception that has now been removed.

A range of individuals and organisations have argued that the DSM-5 is “medicalising grief”. The argument is that grief is a normal (though unpleasant) human process that should not require treatment with antidepressants.

In defence of the DSM updates, a standardised diagnostic guide is invaluable to doctors. While the DSM may be a flawed classification system it’s probably better than anything else currently available.

You can find out all about the DSM-5 here.

What are your thoughts on ‘classifying’ mental illness? Is it useful or futile?


High drug costs under scrutiny

Here’s a simplistic statement: it’s better to be mentally ill in America or the UK than in Australia.

No, depression and anxiety aren’t more ‘fun’ in the northern hemisphere – however, many of the prescription medications used to treat a range of mental illnesses are significantly cheaper overseas.

A report on the ABC news last night revealed that Australians pay up to 10 times the amount British citizens pay for the same drugs. One example cited was olanzapine, which is a go-to drug in the treatment of bipolar disorder.

High prices particularly affect those who are under the PBS safety net threshold and do not have a concession card, which can significantly lower the cost of scripts.

Dr Stephen Duckett, who represents the Grattan Institute and has co-authored a report on this issue, made some salient comments earlier in the year:

We have been far too timid in our policies. To give you an example, currently the policy is that when a drug comes off patent there is supposed to be a 16% drop in the price. If I contrast that with Canada… there is to be an 82% drop in price. So compare a 16% drop and an 82% drop.”

“First of all we are paying $1.3 billion too much and obviously a lot of that will just go straight to the budget bottom line or to allow new drugs to come onto the PBS which have been delayed right now. We’ve got ever increasing demands in the health sector, and that $1.3 billion could go a long way to actually improving the system.”

The full interview with Dr Duckett is available here.

Also in recent and related news, three consumer groups have joined forces to campaign against expensive prescription medicines.

The Consumers Health Forum of Australia, Choice, and the Australian Council of Social Service want the Government to continue to accelerate price disclosure, which was announced in the days before the election date was set.

The groups are also calling for the cost of medicines, paid for under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), to be brought more into line with what pharmacy owners pay for them.

This is clearly a topical developing issue in the field of mental health and in the broader community.


beyondblue to redevelop MindMatters


Adolescence can be a painful period under even the best circumstances. School work, homework, hormones, burgeoning romance, balancing priorities, learning to drive… It’s more than stressful!

Worst case scenario, the situation is complicated by early-onset mental illness.

Researchers from the National Institute of Mental Health have found that half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and three-quarters by the age of 24. The study also reveals that an untreated mental disorder can lead to a more severe, more difficult to treat illness, and to the development of co-occurring mental illnesses.

In terrific news, beyondblue has been appointed by the Australian Government’s Department of Health and Ageing to lead the redevelopment and delivery of MindMatters through to mid-2016.

MindMatters is the national mental health initiative for secondary schools. The initiative, first implemented in 2000, will be updated to meet the changing mental health needs of Australian school communities. The program will help students in their vulnerable teenage years.

The redeveloped MindMatters initiative will be free to all Australian secondary school communities and will commence in 2014, with the ambitious target of reaching 1500 schools by 2016. The initiative will include training and programs for teachers, students and parents:

  • Teachers: How to recognise and support students with mental health difficulties
  • Students: How to manage stress and  become resilient; how to recognise the signs of mental health difficulties and where to get help
  • Parents: Information on current and emerging youth mental health issues and where to access support.

KidsMatter, a program for primary schools, is already underway and has been hugely successful.


Comments on: "News" (1)

  1. […] By Kathryn Stumpf via Savvy, Willing & Able […]

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