The psychological state of our nation

WORDS: Genevieve Colling PHOTOGRAPHY Supplied

Registered psychologist and founder of Oasis Mind Body Genevieve Colling looks at the importance of a holistic understanding of body, mind and brain.

THE leading chronic health condition in Australia (20.1 per cent), mental health cost our economy approximately $220 billion in 2020 alone, according to the National Health Survey 2020-2021.

Gender does not discriminate, with men and women affected in different ways. For example, more men than women die from suicide and more women than men report anxiety.  Statistics show the prevalence of mental health in Australia is approximately 50 per cent, meaning close to half of us will face a mental health issue during our lives. Yet, recent data suggests only 50 per cent or less of those experiencing mental health issues seek support.

As much as mental health is more openly discussed, we seem to have normalised discussing our physical health in all aspects from viruses and diseases to diet and exercise. Yet mention mental health and depending on who you’re speaking with, you will likely see many individuals become uncomfortable, preferring to avoid or change the topic or become dismissive of it in some way.

As a society, we seem to have falsely acquired the belief that our mind and body are separate entities with our focus predominantly on the body, relegating the mind to something of a second-class citizen. However, we know that both mind and body are part of one operating system, with science continuing to uncover evidence to demonstrate that our mind and body have a bi-directional relationship. Indeed, the mind is increasingly seen as the preeminent power-house, so for many of us to only focus on our physical health is to not only neglect our mental health, but in fact, completely ignore one-half of our entire being.

Research has clearly shown mental health can manifest as physical issues. The bi-directional mind-body relationship is no more evident than that described by British neuropsychiatrist Professor Edward Bullmore. In his book The Inflamed Mind, he demonstrates that to treat depression and inflammation as separate diseases is to not actually understand the client’s presenting issues and therefore restrict the patient’s potential level of improvement or recovery. Instead, to facilitate best possible patient outcomes, Professor Bullmore encourages the use of a holistic understanding of body, mind and brain in any treatment(s).

The stigma that continues to be attached to ‘mental health’, I believe, results from a lack of understanding. Limited knowledge to comprehend that mental health is extremely personal to each individual and not simply rectified with a ‘harden up’ attitude – something I am unfortunately still hearing about from current clients. In fact, it is my belief that it must always start with ourselves.

Mental health is a term that essentially means the health of our mind. It refers to the full spectrum of health and wellbeing – not just illness, nor the absence of illness. No doubt many of you reading this are conscious of your physical health and wellbeing. What you eat, how often you exercise and any concerning changes or sign of new physical ailments would result in you engaging the appropriate health professional for their expert advice.

However, as we know, often in life we may find we are not at peak physical health yet we are also not ill – the same can be said of mental health. It is actually unrealistic for us to be mentally healthy our entire life, however by understanding our own mind, we can notice when we move from healthy to stressed. This is vitally important, as it can be the difference between navigating our way back to health (by ourselves or with support) or beginning the decline to ill-health.

Being completely honest with yourself, how aware are you of your mental health? Are you more worried or fearful about a particular situation or a lot of things? How overwhelmed are you or do you feel you are becoming? In truth – how much do you pay attention to your thoughts, feelings and behaviours?  And how comfortable or uncomfortable does this question make you feel?

Being mental healthy is reliant on you raising your awareness of your thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Awareness, although simple in concept, is not just a skill you master once.  Rather, it is more like a muscle you train regularly to achieve and maintain optimum health.  Continually ‘checking-in’ with yourself is just as important as being aware of what you eat, how much you move and medical check-ups.

Self-understanding is the key we all have, a skill we can choose to practice and perfect to support our mental health and wellbeing.  Or one we can choose to ignore, often causing ourselves suffering in some way.  A lack of self-awareness is detrimental to ourselves and those around us. It is in the understanding of ourselves and increasing that awareness that we begin to see where we excel and also the areas that we may need to improve on. You need to become the expert of you. Understanding ourselves, our thoughts and perceptions, our mindset, our emotions and our behaviours can determine the health of our mind. The more you understand you, the more you have the capacity to intercept early on and prevent more serious mental health issues.

I teach each and every client of mine how to do this, whether it be for executive coaching or therapy, as it is critical to being able to not only improve now but also maintain health and thrive, without having to continually book appointments.

The status of our mental health affects not just us individually but our relationships and the world around us. The benefits of maintaining and improving our mental health are immense and to name a few, include greater clarity of thought, mood stability, confidence and improved relationships. The mental health of Australia is currently still based on a reactive model of therapy which is at breaking point, hence taking a proactive approach to your own mental health is necessary to prevent each one of us becoming part of the statistics.

So, I implore upon you – please get to know you, in all your glory (good and bad) and take control of your mental health.

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