Did you know that as many as one in five Australians are affected by mental illness every year? This is a problem that we cannot afford to ignore. The impacts are being felt across our communities, both on the health system and the justice system.
Despite great progress being made, people with mental health conditions often experience discrimination and stigma. This is regardless of the fact that many mental health conditions can be treated effectively. But the issue of those needing care and not being able to access it remains.
Brett and Kate Ryan from Focus on the Family recently joined us on Rise and Shine to urge us to keep talking about mental health. They say that we shouldn’t just ask if someone is okay; we should also ask if they are really okay.
Go Beyond the Superficial
‘We can be very superficial,’ says Brett. ‘We don’t often stop and wait for the response and allow other people the opportunity to actually share what’s going on. If you’re prepared to listen, people are more likely to share. We don’t have to be okay all the time.’
We need to accept that it’s okay not to be okay. But we also don’t want to stay in that place. It’s important to move forward, but we all need a little bit of help sometimes. We don’t have to solve everyone’s problems, but we can come alongside them and just be there.
‘We’ve also got to be careful and know our own limitations,’ says Kate. ‘Because a lot of us are not qualified if there are serious issues. If a person needs extra care, we can refer them on to a professional. We can be with someone and keep them company, but giving them wrong advice can be very damaging.’
Faith into Action
If we say we’re going to be there for someone, we need to actually do it. That can be things like taking them out for a coffee, or providing a listening ear. We are God’s hands of faith. So we need to put that faith into action and actually do something.
‘You might just need to add your presence emotionally, physically and relationally,’ says Brett. ‘Sometimes because of the fog the person may be in, they might not know what they need. You can ask, do you want me to sit here with you, or would you like me to go and pick up the kids? Would you like me to make a meal? Give them one or two choices.’
Going out for a walk and getting some exercise is another thing that can be hugely beneficial. You can also use it as an opportunity to talk. It’s refreshing because you’re not just sitting there staring at each other. You can think outside the box, and being in nature has so many benefits.
‘It’s a very humbling and courageous thing to say I’m not doing well,’ says Brett. ‘But sometimes people don’t know what to do. We have to realise that some people aren’t comfortable with that. You might have to go and hunt for those people who are willing to listen.’
We all need to be a bit more confident in equipping ourselves to approach people. Statistics show that one in four young people will suffer from a mental health issue, and one in five adults. It’s likely that someone you know and care for will experience a dark period at some stage.
‘Unless a person is at risk of harming themselves or someone else,’ says Kate, ‘it can be kept confidential. But if they are, you have a duty of care. You can also ask their permission to go to a Pastor, or pray for them.’
‘We have to be much more aware and vigilant,’ says Brett. ‘We need to go beyond the mask and have the deeper conversation.’