S1 E2 – Back to Basics

Original podcast aired on 2nd May 2019

**Quick content warning: we are going to be discussing mental-health and may discuss suicide and other content that may alarm you.** 

Welcome! This is the first real episode of It’s Not All In Your Head. Just in case we didn’t say it enough last time we would love rates, reviews, subscribes and shares!

In Stephs head this week.

I’ve been struggling a bit with prioritisation and organisational skills so probably something that everyone struggles with, but I’ve really been struggling to fit everything on my plate without something falling off and how to fit everything together into the 24 hours of the day. I’ve been pretty overwhelmed and a bit stressed, even with this podcast which is probably one of the best things that ever happened to me… apart from my dog and husband and house oops I’m so sorry… 

Apart from those wonderful things that have happened even good things like this podcast, they do overwhelm me and I do have times where I think “God can we do this?” but I think it is normal to feel those times where it’s a bit overwhelming. What’s helping for me is just sitting down, writing out everything that I’ve got on my plate at the moment (both work and outside of work) and allocating a time that’s appropriate for them for the week. 

So obviously podcast is sitting at 72 hours which is all my time outside of work! Done! So yes that’s what’s been going on in my head this week.

And in Ems head this week.

I actually think I have made a bit of a big mistake. When we first discussed this podcast and decided I wanted to be really open and tell everyone everything so that would make everyone else be able to be open… I’m immediately wishing I hadn’t said any of that so that I don’t have to talk about any of her problems and she can just ignore them and they’ll all just go away! I like to avoid my problems and not talk about them and hope that they go away. This week, this thing resurfaced that hasn’t happened in a while and I ended up falling down a rabbit hole, kinda like Alice. I experience this thing sometimes where I will look in the mirror and all of a sudden what I see is just completely different to what I think is reality. Just for some context I’ve lost about 20 kilos in the last 2 years. So I’ve lost a fair bit of weight and the other day I looked in the mirror and I panicked I thought oh my god I’ve put on all of my weight! I had this back issue, but only for 2 weeks so it’s not possible that I’ve put on 20 kilos in 2 weeks… I panicked. Literally all I could think about it for the last couple of hours at work was “I need to go home I need to weigh myself” it was an obsession. It was this loop in my brain almost, and it was kind of like being on a carousel just going around and around and around, I would feel like I had talked to myself out of it but then I would come back around to those thoughts and be back in it again. it’s kind of funny to explain… in the moment it’s uncomfortable but it’s not a catastrophe, the worst thing was when I came home and weighed myself and realised oh, I haven’t put on any weight. then I kind of went about my day. It was more the next day all of a sudden I was like fuck… I can’t trust my brain. How do I trust my version of reality? For the moment I weighed myself I felt a bit better, but then all this other stuff surfaced and I felt like my brain was tricking me. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter what I look like I’m relatively healthy and working on my body imaging confidence levels, but that feeling of “Can I trust anything that I see?”… so yeah that’s what’s been going on in my brain. The only thing that has helped has been talking about it with lots of different people, saying “This is what’s going on with me”. I had a couple of people surprise me a little bit, in my brain, I always think that when I talk about these things people are just going to say “Oh no you look fine, don’t worry about it”, and that’s not what I need to hear because that’s not what it’s about, and so to be able to have open conversations with people where they say “Oh you know actually I’ve felt that before” or “I felt similar before” and not be judged for what I’m going through has been amazing. 

So! This week we are going to talk about what mental illness is. Honestly when we first sort of started talking about it but we need to do a back to basics episode I felt like I knew it all… but actually I know very little! We thought for our first episode it would be good to touch base with our own knowledge but also get back to basics about what mental health is, what mental illness is, who is at risk, and what can we do about it. We also want to know; what are some red flags…. but of course we are not professionals, we needed someone who is a professional to help us out with this so today we are chatting with psychologist Richard Brown. Richard studied to be a psychologist in his third 30s, so he hasn’t always been a psychologist, and yet over his career as a psychologist he’s been involved in Men’s Sheds community groups the Black Dog Ride, and he even started his own practice, as well as doing workshops, providing training, and posessing a really amazing passion for mental health and suicide prevention… basically, he is a busy little beaver!

We sat down with Richard in our humble little studio. We wanted to know, where does Richards passion for mental health come from?
He told us he’s always had a fascination for how people tick, and figuring out how people think, and it had really gone from there. He’s had first hand experience with mental illness which is a story for another day.

This was the perfect segue, so we asked what is mental illness?
Richard said this is a bit of a tricky question, however he would try and answer it simply. If we have distortions of perception, or we have emotional problems that are what we call clinically significant then they are classified as a mental illness. Clinically significant means that it impairs our functioning and stops us from living our lives to the fullest. There is a sort of spectrum, and it’s really when it’s interrupting our lifestyle that it becomes a mental illness. When you look up the book on mental illness (the DSM/Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) there are around 300 different types of mental illness classified, a huge list. In comparison, mental health is looking after yourself in terms of your emotions, trying to reduce stress levels, all of those sorts of things.

We wanted to know… can you have bad mental health without having a mental illness? The answer was yes a lot of people have that! A line can be drawn; there are a lot of people out there who may be stressed in their job, or worried about paying the bills, or their relationship however it’s not to the point where it’s a mental illness, this is very very common. Stress is a big issue in our society these days.

Then Em asked the question that had been on her mind the whole day… what is the quirkiest mental illness that Richard had heard of out of the 300 odd.

The answer: Paruresis. This means a phobia or fear of people hearing you urine.

Emilie immediately reacted “I have that!!” she exclaimed. A little awkward that the one Richard picked out happens to be one that Emilie relates to! She admits that she has gone to a public toilet, and then stayed in the cubicle and then left without even using it because there’s someone in there and it gets in her head. So out of interest we then discussed the best course of treatment, which would be for a phobia desensitisation. Steph thinks that the best course of action is for a whole heap of people to pee around Emilie, however Richard seem to think she perhaps had it the wrong way around and it’s in fact about Emilie getting out there and challenging her fear. We decided against peeing on the podcast, however let us know if that interests you at all…

We moved on from this bit of lightheartedness, and onto the causes and triggers for mental illness. We want to know if a mental illness is simply an imbalance in the brain, or is there more going on that. 

The answer is yet again, very complicated. Richard told us that “we” being the brain industry as a collective, don’t know as much about it as we say that we do. There are a lot of people out there saying you’re down on dopamine or you’re down on serotonin blah blah blah, and there’s a lot of scientific investigation gone into this however there isn’t a lot of evidence that we actually know exactly what is happening, we know medication can assist neurotransmitters in our brain and help us but we don’t really know why. Also, when we look at mental illness we can divide it in different ways; some forms of mental illness come on us for no apparent reason, we just can’t track back and figure out why it actually started, however a lot of the time with mental illness we will actually find that some sort of situation has caused it, usually some huge or long lasting stress in our life. Stress is a big trig trigger for the development of mental illness. We do still have a tendency in our society to think of those negatives and think of the danger when we’re not necessarily in real physical danger. For example, primitive man or woman faced with a sabre tooth tiger would have what we term a stress response, a shot of adrenaline, and a lot of other things happen in our system, prompting us to fight or to flee. This is vastly different to what happens nowadays, which is that the stresses aren’t short term, dangerous physical situations. Most of the stresses that we face are long-term. We are built to experience a stress response and then to recover. What is happening now is that our stresses are more psychological and ongoing, so we don’t get that recovery time we still have that fight or flight stress response but because the stress is so different it isn’t working. If we are in this state long-term we do develop certain types of mental illness but also it depletes our immune system and we can actually start to find that we are getting sick often. Being stressed takes your immune system down a bit, so when you see people who are really stressed, you’ll notice that they’re getting every flu and every cold that’s going around, that could be a warning sign of impending mental illness. If this is the case, is there anything that you can do to prevent a mental illness before it happens? Going back to the term mental health; if you’re looking after your mental health and being proactive about it, that should help avoid the onset of a mental illness, or at least drastically decrease your risk factor.

Richard tells us there are medical treatments such as medications for symptoms of a lot of illnesses. For some conditions and for some people they are very good, and for others they are a bit rough. Then we have talking therapy, or counselling. Sometimes medication is all someone needs, other times they simply need talking therapy, and on some occasions finding the perfect balance of both is needed. So, it really isn’t a one-size-fits-all, and it depends on the condition as well as each individual. As an example; if someone suffers from generalised anxiety disorder, which is the most common disorder, in a relatively mild way it’s possible to overcome that with counselling and learning self management strategies. If someone is suffering from the same disorder in an extreme way then it’s very very hard to treat that with counselling alone and usually people need medication plus counselling.

Very often it is after they’ve been suffering from a mental illness for quite some time that people seek help, Richard tells us, and there is a bit of an age and gender factor. He finds that if we are looking at young men 18 to 25 or 30, they very rarely show up for assistance. It’s more frequent to get men in their 40s and over, and then they are describing that they’ve had this same conditions for 20 years at least. It’s an old fashioned gender thing, however young women aren’t a huge amount better at seeking help, maybe a little bit better but still not perfect. In saying this, if we have been suffering from some mental illness for 20 years for example it has become chronic by that stage and it becomes a lot harder to treat, as a rough rule of thumb. The longer someone has been suffering from a certain illness the harder it is to treat.

Richard does see the big disparity in the way that we view physical vs mental illness, which is partly caused by people not understanding enough about mental health and mental illness, but is also caused by the fact that you can’t see it. Even physical injury such as chronic back pain; people don’t really understand or relate to that either even though it’s a medical condition and it’s real. It’s not just that we need to catch up and make people more aware of mental health, it’s also that you just can’t see mental health. Talking about mental illness is so important since you can’t see it… you can’t just wrap your head up with a bandage! Em suggested forehead tattoos that say “I have mental illness” however that was shot down pretty quickly. 

The most important thing ahead of us at the moment is raising awareness.

Everyone should be working on their mental health. If you don’t already suffer from a mental illness obviously you’re not going to take yourself off to the psychologist necessarily, but Richard had some insight into what we should be doing as it a mentally healthy person to ensure that we are never at risk of developing these illnesses. One big way to do this is looking at your lifestyle. Physical health contributes to our mental health so making sure you get enough exercise to lift your mood and de-stress, also things like making sure that when we leave work we leave it behind us mentally, and making your mental health part of your routine and what you do in your day.

We waved our magical mental health wand for Richard and asked what he hopes for the future of mental health. “I actually am involved with a national charity, and recently we were reshaping our mission and vision statement, in the vision statement we have written something along the lines of; our vision is for a community in the future that is well educated about mental health and knows what to look out for and a community that is well educated about suicide and suicide prevention. I guess I would come down to those couple of things.”

If you ever need to reach out for support, please do so;

**And if you are ever in immediate danger please call 000, or the emergency number in your country**

Beyond Blue – 1300 22 46 36

https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

Lifeline – 13 11 14

https://www.lifeline.org.au/

Mind Australia

https://www.mindaustralia.org.au

Sane Australia

https://www.sane.org/

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