This week is Mental Health Week in Australia, an important time to bring attention to an issue that often goes unnoticed in the public eye. When it comes to mental health, people in small regional communities often face unique challenges. It’s no secret that life on the land, and in the bush, can be hard, but often the impact this has on mental well-being can go unnoticed. Environmental pressures – such as drought, floods, and bushfires – isolation and the high levels of rural unemployment coupled with health services that lag far behind those available in metropolitan areas, can contribute to serious mental health issues in small towns.
But the future of mental health in Australia is looking brighter, as new programs are being put in place to strip away the stigma of mental illness Australia wide, and to improve health services available to people living in regional areas. This week has seen a number of fantastic initiatives launched to raise awareness about mental health and to provide a platform for sharing stories of illness and recovery. The ABC have been running ‘Mental As’, their biggest ever cross-platform programming event, Mental Health Australia have been touting the Mental Health Promise initiative, and many of the major cities have had special events running all week.
A major feature of many of these programs is a focus on storytelling and sharing, and it should come as no surprise that the team here at Big Stories have thrown all our support behind these initiatives. Storytelling has been a part of our culture for millennia; a way of passing on knowledge, creating and maintaining individual and group identity. It is a fantastic way of opening up a dialogue about a subject that is often shrouded in stigma and taboo. For someone suffering from mental illness, hearing someone else tell their story, particularly someone in the media spotlight, or someone that they look up to, can normalize the situation, and prove that they are not alone. A story of recovery can give guidance for someone seeking treatment of support.
It’s not just people facing mental health issues that can benefit, but their friends and family too. It can be difficult for someone suffering mental health issues to ask for support, and their friends and family may not understand what they’re going through and might not know how to help. But by engaging with other people’s mental health stories, they can develop a better understanding of what their friend or family member may be going through and how they can provide support.
Of course, everyone has a different way of telling stories, just as everyone may have a different experience of mental illness. Listening to different stories of illness and recovery, from comedies like Josh Thomas’ Please Like Me to deeply affecting stories of PTSD, engaging with this wonderfully broad range of stories helps to strip away the stereotypes of mental illness and encourage the idea that just as every individual is unique, their experience of mental illness, and their way of dealing with it, is just as unique and should be treated and supported as such.
During our residencies in regional Australia, we’ve spoken to a number of people who have bravely and generously shared with us their mental health story.
We met Kelvin Kelly in Murray Bridge, and he gave us this fantastic film detailing his recovery from alcoholism. He spent three months in rehab centre, working hard to overcome his addiction so that he could be there for his family, his daughters and his beautiful grandchildren. For many Australians suffering from addiction, Kelvin’s story shows that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it can be reached.
After the devastating Black Saturday fires tore through Strathewen, destroying properties and lives, the small town was plunged into a period of mourning and grief. The community had to find a way to move forward, and looked to each other for support. Their community based recovery and support program was extremely successful as it recognized that each individual had experienced the tragedy differently, and were grieving differently, and needed to recover differently. The support network that they formed catered for that difference, providing a range of programs and initiatives that gave each individual the space and support they needed to grieve and move forward.
Big Stories worked in Strathewen after the fires, and provided a platform for community members to tell the story of their grieving and recovery process. This storytelling in itself became part of the process as people found different ways of expressing their grief, providing catharsis for the individual and new perspective and insight for those who watched the films.
Sharing stories is such an important part of our lives: catching up with friends over a coffee we always share a laugh over a well spun tale of office gossip or family feuds. Equally, storytelling is important for our health, our mental health, and we encourage everyone to tell their own stories, to enrich our understanding of each other, and perhaps provide hope for someone else out there going through something similar.
You can share your story with us, shoot us an email or a Tweet or a Facebook message: we always love a good story.
You can share your story through the ABC’s Mental As program, or maybe start a blog, or just tell a friend.
If you are living with mental health issues and need support, please contact Lifeline or any of these fantastic support services. There is help available 24 hours a day: