A healthy perspective at Women in Print breakfast
With mental health emerging a beneficiary of the government’s latest budget review, it was timely that it too was the focus of the Women in Print (WIP) Breakfast Series currently being held around the country. Women in the Print21 team attended the Sydney event.
The well-attended Sydney event, held at Waterview in Bicentennial Park, was opened by NSW WIP Patron Debbie Burgess, joint managing director of Bright Print, who gave a brief overview of some of the new developments at WIP.
She set the context for the discussion to follow on mental health and well-being by reinforcing WIP’s three purposes: to support the contributions of women in print; to promote the effective networking and mentoring for women from all walks of life; and to promote career paths and encourage women to enter and work in the print communications industry.
Burgess said, “I believe that through education awareness programmes, we can empower our communities to create positive change, and develop a sustainable model to support the well-being of our friends, family and the wider community.”
When Wo/Man Anchor’s Steve Gamble, and Liz Whyte from Life Foundations, took the floor, it was clear from the get-go that this was a subject that touched everyone in the room, and although the topic was perhaps triggering for some, it was one the audience was keen to explore. And the speakers, experienced as they are at facilitating a range of mental health support programs, handled it with care and aplomb.
To set the scene, the duo ran through some sobering statistics, including: one in five Australians aged between 16 and 85 will experience a common mental illness in a 12-month period; only 35 per cent of people living with a mental health disorder seek professional support; suicide is the leading cause of death in males between the ages of 15 and 44; with 25 per cent of all suicides female; and in 2019 some 3300 people in Australia died by suicide.
Against this backdrop, Gamble and Whyte took the audience through the basics of the mental health – at any given time we all sit somewhere on the spectrum between being mentally ill and healthy – and guided us through the difference between stress, distress, and crisis.
Stress, they explained, is not a bad thing, it is a normal response to pressures and challenges. In an interactive session, the audience was asked to consider factors that cause stress, and its impact on the body, mind, emotions, and behaviour.
Distress was defined as unpleasant feelings triggered by something that impacts our capacity to cope in the moment, while crisis, they said, is usually triggered by an event and defined as a crisis because the person experiencing it does not have adequate coping skills.
Everyone copes differently with stress, distress and crisis. Maladaptive coping, which commonly includes substance misuse, often exacerbates the situation and is unsupportive to the individual. Adaptive coping, like exercise, breathing techniques, meditation and seeking help from a counsellor or friends, improves the person’s functioning and is supportive.
The pair talked about the barriers to getting support and to giving support, whether it is at home or in the workplace or the wider community.
“Reaching out for help can be a really difficult thing to do,” Whyte said, noting that often those who are seeing their friend or loved one in crisis, don’t know how to help. She said the best thing you can do, is not to try and ‘fix’ things, but rather ask “how can I best support you?”.
Cost was identified as one of the barriers to seeking professional support, and Gamble noted that one of the silver linings of Covid is the increase in the Medicare rebate for psychology services.
Addressing the notion that ‘stigma’ and ‘shame’ holds people back from seeking help, Gamble said (and made the audience say it out loud in unison) “health is health".
After all, he said, if you have torn a hamstring you wouldn’t hesitate to go to the doctor for help. There should no difference in getting medical assistance when any part of your health is in jeopardy, especially mental health.
Whyte added that just like physical health, it was better to address symptoms sooner, before the situation worsens to a point beyond help.
This led to a discussion on the importance of self-care, and strategies for maintaining good mental health, which are different for everyone. They said it is is important to work out what self care means in your life, and to make time for it.
Perhaps the strongest takeout for everyone in the room was this: to be an effective leader, and effective human in society, you have to practice self care. And when you take care of yourself, you are well placed to support others.
The Sydney WIP Breakfast was the second of five in this year's Series, and followed Brisbane the previous day. Next week sees the Breakfast Series run in Adelaide and Perth, before its final outing,in Melbourne on 25 May, with that event already sold out. All three remaining events have the same theme.