Graphic: Mental Health Week 2023
How many of you know someone struggling with a mental health condition?
How many have attended funeral’s for loved ones no longer here because of mental health issues?
I’m guessing too many.
Mental Health Week is a national campaign held in October each year to create awareness of and engage in discussion around promoting mental health and wellbeing.
It also aims to reduce the stigma of mental illness by increasing our understanding of mental health issues.
The Royal Flying Doctor Service, Tasmania provides free adult mental health services to the Flinders Island, George Town, Dorset, Break O’Day and Glamorgan/Spring Bay communities. We also provide free youth mild to moderate mental health services to the George Town, Dorset, Break O’Day and Glamorgan/Spring Bay, Meander Valley, Central Highlands, Northern Midlands, Southern Midlands, Tasman, Huon Valley and West Coast communities.
The theme for Mental Health Week ’23 is ‘Awareness, Belonging and Connection’. And this article focuses on Youth Mental Health.
What does mental health mean to you?
Because before we begin any discussion about mental health we need a common understanding of what is meant by mental health.
According to the World Health Organisation, “Mental health is a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realise their abilities, learn well and work well and contribute to their community.” WHO
And while most young Tasmanians feel happy, and are positive about their future, a Youth Survey conducted by Mission Australia in 2022 found that 27.1% of young Tasmanians reported mental health challenges affecting their lives. https://www.missionaustralia.c... health isn’t the absence of stressors, but the ability to cope with the stresses of life and to have a positive outlook for the future.
There are times when we all feel anxious, down, stressed, or unable to cope, but these are normally short-lived.
For some, however, these emotions persist and negatively impact their lives and their functioning within society.
Individual factors such as emotional skills, substance use and genetics can make people more vulnerable to mental health problems.
And exposure to poverty, violence, inequality and environmental deprivation also increases people’s risk of experiencing mental health conditions.
For young Tasmanians living in rural and remote areas, there are also barriers to accessing support/housing/employment/ and educational options.
Mental health issues experienced during developmentally sensitive periods, especially early childhood, are particularly detrimental.
Poor mental health in young people can impact their lives, affecting their school performance, relationships, employment opportunities and general health and wellbeing.
Creating awareness around mental health is vital to ensure young people reach out for help when they need it.
By removing the stigmas associated with mental health conditions, we can reduce feelings of shame that can cause a reluctance to reach out for help.
Stigma often involves inaccurate stereotypes. People with mental illness may be characterised as being more violent, those with anxiety as fearful, and people with depression unmotivated or lazy.
However, stigma arises from a lack of understanding of mental illness (ignorance and misinformation), and also because some people have negative attitudes or beliefs towards it (prejudice). This can lead to a person with a mental illness being treated differently or excluded from society.
The Mission Australia 2022 Youth Survey report found 38% of young Tasmanians reported being treated unfairly in the past year due to mental health issues. Also, the stigma or shame associated with mental illness stopped or delayed 48.5% of young Tasmanians from accessing professional mental health support.
And living in rural and remote regions, where everyone knows everyone in the community, creates barriers around stigma.
Mental health issues are no different to any other health issue in that they require help and care to manage, because they impact our lives, affect our functioning and diminish our enjoyment of life.
By increasing our awareness and understanding of mental health issues, we can create a society where everyone feels comfortable about reaching out for help when they need it.
We humans have a powerful need to feel connected and valued by others and belonging is one of our strongest motivations.
We desire to feel a part of something.
Therefore, mental health is not just an individual concern; it's profoundly influenced by the environments in which we live, work, and socialise. It’s a part of our social life!
Research tells us that the stronger our sense of belonging, the stronger our mental well-being.
Belonging has a significant impact on a range of factors associated with well-being, including general life satisfaction, cognitive performance, academic work and physical health. These associations have been demonstrated across a range of settings, including secondary schools.
And belonging is more than just fitting in; it's about feeling valued and accepted for who you are.
When individuals experience a sense of belonging, they are more likely to enjoy positive mental health outcomes. And this feeling of connection can serve as a buffer against stress, anxiety, and depression, while also enhancing self-esteem and resilience.
Conversely, social isolation and feelings of exclusion can take a severe toll on mental health.
A 2002 study ‘Sense of belonging as a buffer against depressive symptoms’ showed a lack of a sense of belonging has been shown to be associated with loneliness, emotional distress, psychological disturbance, and mental illness. Conversely, a sense of belonging was found to correspond with psychosocial health.
However, being surrounded by other people doesn’t guarantee a sense of belonging. Belonging is about identifying as a member of a group, which can take time.
We can feel a sense of belonging to many different groups, across various aspects of our lives, such as:
Family: A strong family unit can provide a deep sense of belonging and emotional safety.
Friendships: Close friendships can foster feelings of acceptance, understanding, and connection.
Communities: Being part of a community, whether it's a neighbourhood, or hobby-based group, can create a sense of belonging.
School: A positive and inclusive school environment that values each student for themselves can promote a sense of belonging and well-being.
Online Communities: For better or worse, online is part of our lives, and virtual spaces and social media platforms, if managed well, can also provide opportunities for connection.
Belonging and Mental Health Challenges -
For young people experiencing mental health challenges, a sense of belonging can be a lifeline.
Knowing there are people who understand and support them can make a world of difference. This is why peer support groups and mental health communities are so valuable—they offer a space where individuals can feel heard and understood.
So, how do we foster a sense of belonging for better Mental Health?
Creating Inclusive Spaces: Inclusive communities, schools, workplaces, and societies that embrace diversity can instill a sense of belonging for all.
Reducing Stigma: Reducing the stigma around mental health issues is crucial because it allows individuals to feel accepted as they are without fear of judgment, increasing their sense of belonging.
Building Support Networks: Encouraging individuals to build and maintain supportive relationships can help combat feelings of isolation.
Mental Health Education: Educating people about mental health and its connection to a sense of belonging can help create a more compassionate and understanding society.
Encouraging Open Conversations: Promoting open and honest conversations about mental health can create spaces where people feel comfortable seeking help and support.
A sense of belonging is not just a nice-to-have; it's a fundamental human need with profound implications for mental health.
As much as we would like to believe we are independent and immune to the influence of others, our need to connect socially is a powerful drive.
We human beings are inherently social creatures hardwired for connection.
And these connections play a profound role in our mental health and overall well-being.
When we feel a sense of connection, it can have a tremendously positive impact on our mental health, providing emotional support, reducing stress, and fostering a greater sense of purpose and happiness.
Connections matter. Our ties with family, friends and the community provide us with a support framework and a sense of place in the world.
And for young people, feeling a sense of connection is extremely important.
Reduce feelings of loneliness: Many people feel lonely at some point in their lives – it is a normal human emotion stemming from a desire for human contact. However, feeling lonely for extended periods can negatively affect your mental health and well-being.
Increase Emotional Support: Feeling connected to others provides a safety net of emotional support. Just knowing some people care and are willing to listen and offer help when needed can make a young person feel supported during challenging times.
Reduced Stress: When we have people to confide in, share our worries with, and lean on during difficult times, our bodies produce lower levels of stress hormones, leading to better overall mental and physical health.
Enhanced Self-Esteem: Healthy relationships and connections can boost self-esteem and self-worth. Feeling valued and appreciated by others can counteract negative self-perceptions, helping young people develop a more positive self-image.
Increased Resilience: Connected individuals tend to be more resilient in the face of adversity. Knowing that they have a support network to fall back on can help them bounce back from challenges and setbacks more effectively.
Sense of Purpose: Connection with others can provide a sense of purpose. Feeling like you belong to a community or a group with shared values and goals can give your life meaning and direction.
Connection can take various forms, including:
Social Connections: These encompass relationships with friends, family, and acquaintances who provide emotional support and companionship.
Community Connections: Being part of a larger community, whether it's a sport or hobby-based club, or school, can foster a sense of belonging and connection.
Online Connections: In today's digital age, online communities and social media can provide opportunities for connection and support, although caution should be used to safeguard young people and avoid negative impacts on mental health.
The Impact of Isolation
Not feeling a sense of connection can have detrimental effects on mental health. Social isolation, loneliness, and feelings of disconnection are associated with an increased risk of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and even substance abuse.
Sadly, a 2022 Youth Survey by Mission Australia https://www.missionaustralia.com.au/publications/youth-survey/state-reports-2022
found that 23.8% of young Tasmanians feel a sense of loneliness most of the time.
So how can we promote connection for better mental health in young people?
Cultivating Relationships - Actively nurturing relationships with family and friends and making an effort to stay connected and engaged in meaningful ways.
Joining Groups and Communities - Help young people seek out and engage with groups that align with their interests and values. These can provide opportunities for like-minded connections.
Encouraging them to try something different - a new hobby or sport where they might meet new people.
Supporting them to identify areas of interest to them – which may be unique to them and differ from the rest of the family.
Helping them find their people – people with similar interests and personalities.
Supporting Mental Health Initiatives – Become an advocate for mental health initiatives that promote connection, inclusivity, and support in your community, schools, and society at large.
Feeling a sense of connection is not just a pleasant aspect of life; it's a fundamental component of our mental health and overall well-being. Cultivating and nurturing these connections can provide a lifeline during challenging times and contribute to a happier, more resilient, and mentally healthy young adult.
In conclusion to our series on youth mental health, we refer to the Mission Australia Youth Survey 2022 which reported 27.1% of young Tasmanians stating mental health challenges as the biggest personal challenge experienced. It also reported 56.8% of young Tasmanians as needing assistance with mental help at some time.
Highlighting our need to support and nurture the mental health of our young people by helping them where, how and when they need it.
This is why the RFDS Tasmania is committed to bringing youth mental health services to the rural and remote communities of Tasmania.
Visit our website for more information on the mental health services we provide to rural and remote communities throughout Tasmania https://www.flyingdoctor.org.au/tas/how-we-help/mental-health-care/
Or contribute to the mental health services we provide to those in need, here https://www.flyingdoctor.org.au/tas/support-us/donate/