World Mental Health Day has just passed on October 10th.  In N.S.W., Victoria, and the A.C.T. the entire month of October is actually Mental Health Month!

The theme for Mental Health Month this year is ‘Tuning In’. Tuning in means being present, and being aware of what’s happening within you and the world around you. This is timely considering the enormous impact on mental health in recent times as a result of the Black Summer bushfires, COVID-19, the economic recession, and many other challenges that have happened in the world this year. What a year 2020 has been!

Tuning into ourselves

We all live busy lives where we are often faced with stressors. It’s natural for our mind to focus on the future and anticipate problems. Usually this means thinking about things that haven’t happened yet, or things that may never happen. Worrying can help us to prepare for (or avoid) future challenges or dangers, however worrying can also cause problems when it happens persistently and intensely. Often the cause of our worry isn’t happening right now, so it can be helpful to take a break from worrying and focus our attention on the present moment- tuning in to ourselves.

One way to do this is  mindfulness- increasing our awareness of what we are feeling and thinking in the present moment. There are many ways of practising mindfulness- a simple example is to set up a regular reminder on your phone (e.g. every hour). When the reminder occurs, ask yourself: 1) What am I thinking? 2) What emotions am I feeling? 3) What sensations are happening in my body? Our minds will inevitably wander and start thinking about something else (usually the problem that we were worried about in the first place). It’s important to notice when this happens and bring our awareness back to the present.

The Free Mindfulness Project has lots of free resources, including some great meditation exercises that can be really helpful.

Being mindful is easier said than done. Personally, it’s something that I found really difficult when I started – like anything though, the more you practice, the easier it gets!

Tune into our local communities

We can also Tune In to our local communities and look for opportunities to give back. Arnold Schwarzenegger accomplished many things in sport, business, entertainment, and politics, however he once said: ‘reaching out and helping people will bring you more satisfaction than anything else you have ever done’. Tuning In to our communities can be an act of kindness towards a neighbour, colleague, or a complete stranger; it can be volunteering for a community project; it can be donating to a charity organisation; or it can be anything else you can think of!

The Go Volunteer website is a great way to find meaningful volunteer opportunities in your local area.

A small act to ‘Tune In’ can make a huge difference for someone else.

Tune in to stigma

Mental health stigma still exists and can be a significant barrier to treatment. Stigma can occur because of the negative consequences of mental illness, or because mental illness isn’t ‘observable’ in the same way that physical illness is. Stigma about mental health can be reinforced by its portrayal in the media, as well as movies, T.V., etc. Mental health month draws our attention to ‘Tune In’ to the stigma that exists regarding mental illness.

Below are some important things that we can do to reduce mental health stigma:

  • Be mindful of language that we use when discussing mental illness. For example, it’s important to avoid insensitive words such as ‘nutter’, ‘crazy’, ‘psycho’, etc.
  • Learn more: if someone you know has a mental illness, try to learn more about it by having a conversation with the person (if they want to), or doing some research on your own.
  • If negative stereotypes occur in the media or in your personal experience, it’s important to address this and provide education if possible.

Tuning In to ourselves can improve our mood, help us to reflect, and provide clarity. Tuning In to our communities and the impact of stigma can provide measureless benefit to others. If you would like to find out more about Tuning In, check out the Mental Health Month website.

Get in touch

Benjamin Martin

Psychologist, Beam Health

References

Health Direct. (2020). Mental Health Stigma https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/mental-health-stigma
N.S.W. Ministry of Health. (2020). About Mental Health Month. http://mentalhealthmonth.wayahead.org.au/about-mental-health-month/
The Free Mindfulness Project. (2020). www.freemindfulness.org
Verplanken, B., & Fisher, N. (2014). Habitual Worrying and Benefits of Mindfulness. Mindfulness, 5, 566–573.
Volunteering Australia. (2020). www.govolunteer.com.au