Have you ever been defined as a person because of a medical condition? Did you miss out on that dream job due to your diabetes, been discriminated against because of a broken leg? Despite the fact that 45% of Australians will experience a form of mental illness in their lifetime, the stigma surrounding those effected can be catastrophic. ‘Crazy’, ‘Psycho’, ‘Nuts’, ‘Insane’, ‘Drama Queen’, ‘Attention Seeker’. The labels are many and varied, hugely inaccurate and in many instances, can cause the person being effected not to seek medical help.
When I was growing up in country Victoria, boys we raised to be MEN! Crying was for girls, emotions made you soft, talking about your feelings made you weak. You needed to ‘Harden up’, ‘Get over it’, ‘Suck it up’. If a young woman showed personality changes she must have been on her period, or it was often just dismissed because ‘chics are crazy’. I have been one of those ‘crazy chics’ for most of my life. As a survivor of childhood abuse, I entered my teen years ill-equipped to deal with the trauma and have suffered from depression and anxiety since the age of 12. Then after a sexual assault in early adulthood, my conditions amplified; but I stayed silent for fear that I would be seen as different.
When I fell pregnant with my first child at 27, my depression and anxiety became so great, so all-consuming, that leaving the house was almost impossible. I had to quit my job, I couldn’t walk down the street without my partner, I slept only when I was so exhausted I passed out because of nightmares. This is not a healthy life for anyone, let alone a pregnant woman, so for the sake of my child I spoke to my doctor and was diagnosed with perinatal depression. With medication and therapy, I managed to restore my balance so that I could raise my beautiful daughter. I was lucky to have that purpose to drive me.
The thing is, there doesn’t need to be a traumatic life event or abusive past to trigger a mental illness. Many mental illnesses are influenced by heredity (meaning that they run in families), others can be caused by chemical imbalances in the brain and others by normal stressors that everyone experiences in their day-to-day lives. Divorce, death, work, family, substance abuse; all these things can be triggers for anyone at risk of developing a disorder. The problem is, talking about these issues and seeking help is still viewed as a weakness by many, as a character flaw or a defect. That’s what livin.org.au is trying to change.
After the suicide death of their best friend Dwayne Lally, two Aussie blokes from Queensland decided that the stigma surrounding mental illness had to go. Casey Lyons and Sam Webb witnessed firsthand the flow on effect that suicide has and have made it their purpose to challenge the way young people view their own mental health and change the negative perception of mental illness. The LIVIN mission is encouraging young people to communicate openly about their mental health, connect with others and to build a positive brand that people can have a lasting relationship with. Using education programs in schools and sporting clubs, a fresh fashion line and community events to spread awareness they hope to “launch a generational change” that will save lives.
The Livin Health Initiative has reached over 40,000 young Australians but in the end, it’s up to all of us to spread the message. So all the friends, the Mums, the Dad’s, the girlfriends and the neighbours, head over to livin.org.au and donate to the cause. Instead of buying that $100 designer hoodie, grab a LIVIN hoodie and wear the message (it’s good enough for Chris Hemsworth), share the #itainweaktospeak hashtag and your story, ask that person if they’re ok. Changing the way the world views mental illness is something that those of us who struggle with it can play an active role in, and having a new purpose can sometimes be the thing that saves your life.