Member Wellbeing: Mental Health Week

This week is Men­tal Health week in WA and the theme is ‘how we work, live, learn and play’ recog­nis­ing that men­tal health, more specif­i­cal­ly good men­tal health, incor­po­rates all aspects of our lives.

One of the most com­mon ques­tions asked about men­tal health is “Why do so many peo­ple suf­fer from poor men­tal health?”  The answer is very com­plex and as the theme of this year’s Men­tal Health week sug­gests, mul­ti-faceted.

As men­tioned in pre­vi­ous arti­cles, how we work has changed sig­nif­i­cant­ly over the past few decades most­ly due to advances in tech­nol­o­gy.  You don’t actu­al­ly have to be in one phys­i­cal loca­tion to work any­more with many work­places encour­ag­ing flex­i­ble work­ing arrange­ments such as work­ing from home and mobile work­places.  What this means is that the lines between work and home becomes blurred and the sense of belong­ing expe­ri­enced from attend­ing one’s place of work dis­ap­pears.

Humans are rela­tion­al and hav­ing a sense of con­nec­tion to each oth­er helps us to cre­ate our iden­ti­ties and feel as though we are val­ued and belong.   The sim­ple act of see­ing the same peo­ple each day and the rela­tion­ships we build from our work used to last a life­time, how­ev­er, these expe­ri­ences are dis­ap­pear­ing with many peo­ple hav­ing sev­er­al career changes in their lives and the chance to build long and mean­ing­ful rela­tion­ships with col­leagues often no longer exist.  If we add to this the fact that many young peo­ple now have to delay their pro­gres­sion to adult­hood until late into their 20’s due to extend­ed peri­od in edu­ca­tion and lack of long-term employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties, work no longer pro­vides the same sta­ble oppor­tu­ni­ties to devel­op mean­ing­ful rela­tion­ships that it once did.

The same can be said for how we live. It has been sug­gest­ed that this gen­er­a­tion of adults are the loneli­est we have ever been as a soci­ety.  We are indi­vid­u­al­is­tic, liv­ing in our own homes, not know­ing our neigh­bours and many fam­i­lies no longer live in the same coun­try, state or town as their rel­a­tives.  The rate of mar­riage break­downs adds to the dis­con­nec­tion between mem­bers of fam­i­lies.  Sim­ple acts like the fam­i­ly din­ner have dis­ap­peared and rather than com­mu­ni­cat­ing face to face, we text or email each oth­er, some­times whilst under the same roof.

Our places of edu­ca­tion and learn­ing have had to adapt to the changes in fam­i­ly and the make-up of the wider com­mu­ni­ty.  Teach­ers have to add resilience and how to appro­pri­ate­ly express one’s emo­tions to their cur­ricu­lums.  Some schools have tak­en the step of hav­ing a ‘Kind­ness Week” which is actu­al­ly real­ly sad.  We are born to seek out oth­ers and to live in packs and to form mean­ing­ful attach­ments with those we care about who are pre­dictable in their behav­iours and with whom we can share a sense of safe­ty.  Kind­ness is for most, an innate behav­iour and schools hav­ing to ded­i­cate a week to teach our chil­dren how to be kind is frankly quite con­cern­ing.

As for how we play, the obe­si­ty cri­sis in Aus­tralia is tes­ta­ment to the fact that play time is also dimin­ish­ing in our com­mu­ni­ties and with it the chance to prac­tice impor­tant skills like shar­ing, win­ning, co-oper­a­tion and loos­ing.  Like every­thing else in life, if we don’t have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to prac­tice skills, then we don’t know how behave when we win, lose or fail.  There­fore, we sim­ply do not have the lan­guage or skills to be able to cope when life throws us a curve­ball.

Add to this, 9,000 peo­ple sleep­ing rough on our streets every night, the ever increas­ing rates of sui­cide and domes­tic vio­lence in our soci­ety, it is no won­der that our rates of men­tal ill­ness are also increas­ing.

So, what can we do about what seems to be an over­whelm­ing prob­lem?  Like every­thing else that seems unsur­mount­able, we need to start with the sim­ple acts.  Here are a few sim­ple things you can try this week to improve not only your men­tal health, but the men­tal health of those in your com­mu­ni­ty;

  • Pay atten­tion to how many elec­tron­ic com­mu­ni­ca­tions you are send­ing this week. Can you replace some of those with a face to face con­ver­sa­tion or some­thing more per­son­al?  For exam­ple; instead of send­ing a sms or emo­ji for a birth­day, spon­ta­neous­ly vis­it them, phone them to say ‘Hap­py Birth­day’ or send a card with say­ing some­thing thought­ful.
  • Say hel­lo to your neigh­bour when you see them. If they are elder­ly or poor­ly, offer to get them some shop­ping or put out their bin.  A sim­ple act of kind­ness can mean so much, if you do this with your kids, they will learn to care for oth­ers from your exam­ple.
  • Have a board game night with friends and fam­i­ly, let the kids loose and show them that this can be okay (you can also let them win one or two and remind your­self that loos­ing is okay too).
  • Attend one of the local com­mu­ni­ty events for Men­tal Health Week or go to a com­mu­ni­ty event like a school fete. Click here for events.
  • Have a go at doing the well­ness wheel it might help you to iden­ti­fy areas of your life that you may need to pay atten­tion to.
  • Want to know how to invest in your own hap­pi­ness, watch this Ted talk 
  • Go for a walk with the kids around the block before or after din­ner with no devices, you might find out a lot in that walk.
  • Watch a fun­ny movie, laugh­ing togeth­er builds bonds and good mem­o­ries.
  • Book a hol­i­day, you are prob­a­bly due one!
  • Leave work ear­ly or at least on time.
  • If you want to know how lost con­nec­tions adds to the expe­ri­ence of anx­i­ety and depres­sion, watch this Ted talk by Johan Hari or read his book, Lost Con­nec­tions.
  • Final­ly, if you haven’t watched old people’s homes for 4 year olds yet, give it a look. It gives a very insight­ful look into how the sim­ple acts of con­nec­tion and kind­ness change the rates of depres­sion and anx­i­ety.  It pret­ty much sums up the entire theme of men­tal health week and gives some real­ly good feel good moments too!

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