Stigma

Religion and/or Spirituality on our Mental Health – A Conversation We Must Have!

“I prayed my anxiety away many times ” Sharon Orapeleng

“I prayed my anxiety away many times” Sharon Orapeleng

It is estimated that almost half (45%) of the Australian population will experience a mental disorder at some time in their lifetime (about 8.7 million people based on the estimated 2017 population). An extract from Our World Data estimates estimates that globally around 970 million people were living with a mental health or substance-use disorder in 2017. There is no denying that mental health issues are one of the biggest challenges in our world today. As a society - as we have more and more public conversations around this issue; and the traditional stigma associated with mental health slowly but surely fades away; it is perhaps likely that we have in fact underestimated just how many of us are impacted in some way by mental health challenges.

 Over the last ten years; as well as working in the Queensland mental health system; I have also been proactively raising general community and workplace awareness and understanding of mental health issues through the delivery of several mental health literacy courses including Mental Health First Aid. Lately I have been reflecting on this journey, trying to find the missing link in the narrative. That missing link in the conversation I believe, is the interrelation of religion and/or spirituality with our mental health and how we can harness this resource to positively influence our mental health and emotional wellbeing.

In 2014 after a very traumatic car accident, I was diagnosed with anxiety. As I navigated the system to get help and support for myself, I remember having a conversation with my mother about my diagnosis and she said something to me in Setswana (my mother language); that she often said whenever things were tough; and that is “Modimo o teng”  - which is translated in English as “God is there”. This is a phrase my mother used to bring me comfort, meaning and hope to soften any struggles of life.

Religion and/or spirituality is an important source of strength for many people who experience life challenges including mental health issues.

The 2016 Australian Census indicated that Christian religion affiliations were reported by 52% of the population. Non-Christian religions represented about 8% of the population. The 2016 Australian census also recorded that the combined number of people who self-identified as Muslim in Australia, from all forms of Islam, constituted 2.6% of the total Australian population. About 39% of the population stated they had no religion or did not state their religion. 

Religion or faith-based affiliation is a significant expression for more than 60% of Australians, therefore a conversation about religion and/or spirituality and its associated outcomes for mental health is overdue. Religion and/or spirituality provides an individual with a sense of connection to something bigger than self and how one fits in with the world. It also creates a sense of community and connectedness, and most importantly gives the individual a sense of purpose and hope. All of these are protective factors for mental health and have positive impacts on the individual’s wellbeing.

Although there are many documented positive impacts of religion and/or spirituality on the overall health and wellbeing of an individual, there is no denying that the religion and/spirituality is expressed differently depending on the individual belief system which is influenced by many factors including cultural factors. This differing belief system can also be detrimental to people’s own health and wellbeing.  For example, people who believe that prayer and/or meditation alone will cure their mental health issues are not likely to present voluntarily at a mental health service for care and support. Some individuals would choose different forms of spiritual cleansing such as exorcism over cognitive behaviour therapy and other evidence-based therapies any day.

There is also an increasing stigmatisation of mental health issues in the faith-based communities including the believe that mental illness is caused by lack of prayer and faith or sin; sometimes it is the believe that the evil spirit has influence on the individual experiencing a mental health crisis. This belief system is likely to lead to people being disconnected from communities of support and service providers resulting in a decline in people’s mental health.

Religion and/or spiritual interventions and mental health care and support are not supposed to be mutually exclusive but must interface and align to enable the flourishing of the whole of the person and challenge understanding on perceptions of mental health issues.

My belief is that as long as the mental health sector; and the messaging around mental health and suicide prevention miss this; I fear many people will simply choose to continue to just “pray about it” rather than a combination of prayer or meditation and professional mental health care. Similarly, in cases of individuals faced with severe illnesses such as cancer; this can be observed in evidence of increased mortality where individuals embrace alternative therapies at the exclusion of conventional medicine when often the best outcomes are seen by those who incorporate both in combination.

There is no doubt that religion and/or spirituality forms a part of the individual’s core understanding of the world they live in and how they interact with it and others. Most poignant on this is the application of religion and or/spirituality as a coping mechanism for people from ethnic communities which bring enormous implications in relation to explanatory models of mental health issues, service access and treatment.

If you were to ask me about the impact of my faith in my recovery journey from anxiety – I will tell you that “I was spurred on by my mother’s favourite phrase of ‘Modimo o teng’ – and yes I prayed my anxiety away many times, but I also saw my doctor, had a mental health care plan, took medication, saw a psychologist and did many other things to keep me well and still do”

Mental Health is such a challenging issue, we must identify and utilise every possible tool at our disposal in a collaborative sense so that no one is left behind, no one feels isolated and no one ever feels the need to choose faith and/or spirituality over professional mental health care and support. As unlikely bedfellows as it seems, they are not meant to be mutually exclusive.

Upcoming Community Conversations
If you are interested to be part of discussions on this topic – Sharon Orapeleng will be hosting a series of community conversations on Religion and/or Spirituality and Mental Health in Brisbane from September 2019. If you are interested to know more details please send email to sharon@psychedsolutions.com.au or check the website on www.psychedsolutions.com.au for further updates.

Follow Sharon Orapeleng on social media Twitter- @
sharonora  Facebook -  @SharonOrapeleng  Linkedin @SharonOrapeleng

If this topic has caused any concerns for you or someone you know, please call the following helplines or visit your local GP.
Lifeline Australia                           13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service           1300 659 467
Kids Helpline                                   1800 55 1800
MensLine Australia                        1300 78 99 78
Looking for support and advice, call beyond blue - 1300 22 4636

 

Lets have a conversation about saving lives!

I was recently speaking to a friend about issues around mental health, and the impact to the individual, families and communities. Somehow the conversation drifted to the topic of suicide and suicidal thoughts and behaviours.

My friend said to me “I truly believe that people who take their own lives are so selfish, there is no problem in the world that equates to ending your life”. As I sat there listening to this friend narrate the story of people she knows who have taken their own life, who she perceives as “ungrateful” and “going to hell” – passing judgement - I could feel the urge to immediately stop the conversation as it was becoming too “uncomfortable”.

I kept asking myself questions - How can I change the perception of people like her who believe suicide and suicidal thoughts and behaviours are an abomination? That suicide is simply unforgivable?

Unfortunately, her perception of suicide is very common. There is already existing stigma around people who occasionally struggle with everyday life due to various mental health issues and other social factors. There are good days and bad days, but some days are much, much worse.

When it comes to suicidality many people suffer in silence because of the “shame” of admitting to themselves and others around them that they feel like “life is not worth living”. That they may get called “selfish” “uncaring” and all other names. They carry the guilt of feeling how they feel, increasingly feeling isolated from the “accepted community judgement and perceptions”.

People who think about suicide are in pain, a silent pain that feels like a bottomless pit, it has no end and can be all too consuming and debilitating. To them it is not necessarily wanting to end their own life, it is more about wanting the pain they feel to stop.

This is how I explained it to my friend during our long conversation, and when she said to me “But how do you know this? How do you know it is emotional pain they feel?” I said to her “It is because I have known that pain”. She looked at me with almost unbelieving eyes – “but you are one of the strongest people I know, how, why…..”. She had no more words at that moment.

You see, there is no such thing as a “typical” sufferer, and those who do feel these thoughts are often very adept at hiding it even from their closest friends and colleagues – which is why it can come across as a seismic shock when someone within our circle of contacts succumbs to their internal demons.

I am grateful for the conversation like the one I had with my friend and; over the course of years, many others; because conversations such as this can help remove the stigma associated with mental health issues and suicidal thoughts and behaviours. Conversations such as this can change perception and conversations like this can help build understanding and compassion.

Conversations like this can help save a life.

How can we stem the tide of this preventable death by suicide if we are unable to talk about it? As for me, this is a conversation that must be heard!

Here are some facts about this suicide we should all be aware of:

  • According to Australian Bureau of Statisticsdata on suicide deaths in Australia, over 3,000 people died by suicide in 2015. That equates to around 8 people who tragically take their own live in Australia every single day.

  • Over 65,000 Australians make a suicide attempt every year

  • Around 400,000 Australians experience suicidal thoughts every year

  • Around 35,000 Australians are admitted to hospital for suicide-related injuries every year

  • Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians between 15 and 44 years of age.

  • Many people who die by suicide have experienced a mental illness.

  • Often people who are considering suicide are dealing with a combination of poor mental health and difficult life events.

Individual and community’s perception of suicidal behaviour can play an important role in preventing suicide or the degree to which suicidal behaviour is disguised. The great majority of people who experience a mental illness do not die by suicide.  However, of those who die from suicide, more than 90 percent have a diagnosable mental disorder. It is critical that we must learn how to have the conversation about suicide and how to safely support someone thinking about suicide.

To tie in with the National R U OK Day on Thursday September 14 - which inspires and empowers everyone to meaningfully connect with people around them and to support anyone struggling with life by starting the conversation around mental health – I am hosting “The MHFA for Suicidal Person”. This will provide you with practical skills and knowledge about how to safely support when someone is experiencing suicidal thoughts and behaviours and allows you to practice these skills in a safe environment.

You will learn:

·        Understanding accurate information about suicide in the Australian context.

·        How to identify signs and risk of suicide

·        First aid guidelines of how to help when someone is experiencing suicidal thoughts and behaviours

·        Practicing these skills in a safe environment.

MHFA for the Suicidal Person Course is not a postvention course and is not recommended for individuals recently bereaved by suicide. The MHFA for the Suicidal Person Course is not a therapy course but will help you to learn more about suicide prevention and how to have the conversation that can save a life as well as where to get help and support.

Course Format:

  • This is a 4-hour face to face course to be held on Thursday 14 September 2017 from 1pm to 5pm.

Please Note: We run this course in small group numbers which allows creation of a safe and comfortable space for participants and allows us to provide support and care needed. Reserve your space now.

Pricing: $99 (incl. GST) per person        

Course participants receive a Handbook to keep and receive a digital Certificate of Completion when you submit online feedback.

Places are limited. For registration or more information, please contact us on 0411 330 382 or send us email to sharon@psychedsolutions.com.au

Completion of this course does not accredit you to become Mental Health First Aider - you need to complete the 12 HR Standard Mental Health First Aid Course if you want to be accredited as a Mental Health First Aider.

If interested in the accredited 12 Hr Mental Health First Aid Course – our upcoming public course is on Friday 10 November 2017 and Saturday 11 November 2017. Spaces are limited so please reserve your booking here.

Changing Perceptions and Removing the Stigma about Mental Illness

Mental health issues are among the leading causes of disability across the globe. Many people do not associate mental illness with disability however moderate to severe mental health issues can be as disabling as physical disability. Mental health issues do not discriminate, anyone can develop mental illness at some point in their lives. In Australia 1 in 5 people will be diagnosed with a common mental health issue in any given year. The risk factors are wide and varied. The stigma associated with mental illness and the negative and discriminatory attitudes can have devastating impact on the person struggling with the illness. Community awareness about mental health issues is very important to help change perceptions and remove the stigma.

This week (04-10 October, 2015) is the National Mental Health Week held to coincide with World Mental Health Day on 10 October, 2015. These national events are an opportunity to create awareness around mental health and well being and equip people with the right information.

Connect with you local mental health organisations to participate in a number of events planned for this week.

Media is  important in changing perceptions and removing stigma about mental illness. Watch out for ABC TV and radio's Mental As programs during this national mental health week. From comedy, to documentaries, Q and A, and entertainment, ABC is leading to challenge the stigma associated with mental illness and start the conversation. Find out more here.

Mental Health Australia  is running a campaign aimed at acknowledging your role in looking after your own mental health and well being. The 'Mental Health Begins With Me' campaign is about making a mental health promise to yourself then sharing it with your family, friends and colleagues. Visit campaign website here to make your mental health promise.

Lets join together and change perceptions around mental health issues and urge services to appropriately and effectively support people with mental health issues.

If you live in Australia and are you need someone to talk to - call one of the following numbers:

Lifeline - 131 114           beyondblue - 1300 22 4636  Kids Helpline - 1800 55 1800

Suicide Call Back Service -1300 659 467

Translating and Interpretation Service (TIS National) - 131 450