14. Keeping Your Wits without a Psychiatrist

How You Can Take Care of Your Own Mental Health
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In this program, the focus is on the mental health and wellbeing of men and boys – see also earlier programs 8 and 9. Services in rural and remote communities are thin on the ground to say the least. Even in some of the best-serviced communities health professionals only turn up once a month and have full waiting lists. Much about mental health and mental health services needs to be demystified. There are actually many practical things that people can do to take care of their own and others mental health – without waiting for things to deteriorate to the extent of needing medication or professional help.

Jane Higgins
Stephen Toon

Using technology to improve production. Photograph from Eyre Peninsula in South Australia.

Using technology to improve production. Photograph from Eyre Peninsula in South Australia.

Thinkabout Talkabout
Dr John Ashfield

Mental health is not so complicated as people have been led to believe. I remember during the last drought, a well organised community contacted the government health department and asked: ‘can you help us to take care of the mental health of our community?’ The government response was, oh yes, we are currently arranging funding to put more mental health nurses in doctor’s surgeries to deal with mental illness! Ironically, the community understood the role of prevention, the experts appeared not to.

Mental health professionals have a vested interest in setting themselves apart from others as ‘experts’; they tend to cordon off mental health as something only they can speak expertly about and practice.

And yet, in reality, only the most complex and difficult of mental ill-health requires the knowledge or skill of a mental health professional. There are now excellent self-help resources online and in bookshops that make the whole subject of mental health publicly accessible.

It’s time we demystified mental health, and put knowledge into the hands of communities to use – particularly in prevention. We need to put preventative mental health and suicide prevention back in community hands where it belongs.
It is my bet that communities can make a real difference where successive government programs have not. Just simple measures that can make a real difference to people’s mental health.

Chasing meals on wheels. Photographer Kath Kelly, Victoria

Chasing meals on wheels. Photographer Kath Kelly, Victoria

Much research indicates that daily health related physical exercise and activity can be almost comparable in effectiveness in relieving and resolving some forms of depression as antidepressant medication.

Simply limiting alcohol consumption can have a significant impact on reducing depression, sleep disorder, and anxiety conditions.

We now know that alcohol causes depression, and hugely increases the risk of suicide – particularly in men. And that alcohol may help people get to sleep, but it can drastically alter the quality of their sleep making them vulnerable to mood disturbance, day-time tiredness and fatigue, and heightened levels of stress and anxiety.

Learning to recognise and manage stress, can not only prevent many kinds of physical illness, but can prevent the onset of depression and insomnia.
Making breakfast and lunch the main meals of the day – rather than missing them (as some people do), can make a real difference to the level of anxiety and mood disturbance that some people experience.

There’s also much evidence coming to light about how important diet is to mental health. Diets high in saturated fat and simple carbohydrate, can lead to changes in brain physiology that have a negative impact on mental health.

Reducing or eliminating caffeine from your diet can very much help if you’re an anxious person, or under stress; and can improve night-time sleep markedly. There is now much evidence to show how crucially important sleep is to mental health. The most prevalent disorders of depression and anxiety can in some cases be resolved – or at least, very much helped simply by learning how to improve sleep habits. Again, there is now much easy to understand information online to help with this.

Spending time socially with positive people can have a significant positive impact on mental health. When people are anxious or depressed, they often withdraw from social interaction – when in fact what is needed is more social contact. And there is no doubt, that if we put ourselves amongst positive people – people who are also personally confident, their positiveness and confidence will help reorient our mood state and boost our confidence.

First broadcast – Monday 01 July 2013

Related Resources
Coaching Solutions for Men
The Odyssey Program

Doing Psychotherapy with Men, Dr John Ashfield,Australian Institute of Male Health and Studies 2011
Matters for Men, Dr John Ashfield, Peacock Publications 2007
Taking Care of Yourself and Your Family, Dr John Ashfield, Peacock Publications 2007

Men’s Health South Australia
Australian Institute of Male Health and Studies
You Can Help
Men’s Health Australia
New Male Studies
Australian Men’s Shed Association
Man Therapy