Yesterday was World Mental Health Day, where students and staff came together to discuss mental health issues. The theme for this year, 'Do you see what I see', is focused on challenging perceptions and reducing the stigma around mental illness.
Discussing mental health is not easy for many of us - but this is an appropriate time to reflect on mental health - our own and that of others.
When I arrived at the ANU nearly twenty-four years ago, mental health was not really talked about in an open and constructive way. Today, we are doing better - we are talking about mental health as an issue we can and need to manage - and the acceptance that it is part of everyone's life is now widespread. I'm also encouraged that more people are talking about their own mental health - those who work in the Chancelry will know that I talk about my own mental state when I come under stress, and I very much value the support I receive from my colleagues, and from some of our experts on campus, in these times. It's important to seek help and remember that experiencing a mental illness is not something you have to handle alone, or be ashamed of.
Although we have made inroads to destigmatizing mental illness, there is still much to do. One in five Australians will suffer from a mental illness in any one year; 45% of Australians will experience a mental health concern in their lifetime, but only 50% of those will seek help. When you drill down to the why, one significant reason people don't seek help is because they are worried about how they will be seen by friends, family, colleagues and teachers. Every person on this campus has a role in removing the stigma around mental illness - from seeking support, to supporting others, to challenging outdated views, and if they occur - and I hope they do not - calling out disrespectful comments.
In my time as Vice-Chancellor, I have experienced a spectrum of emotions and stresses that go beyond anything I have ever experienced before. We all have moments of intense stress in our lives. These can be awful events in our personal lives, setbacks in our careers, or an accumulation of little things that add up to a lot. For me, it doesn't always make sense, and some days are just plain harder than others. On those bad days, it is important to know you have access to support, and that it is not just okay to reach out and ask for help, but the right thing for you to do for yourself, and those around you.
Yesterday, Professor Richard Baker, Pro Vice-Chancellor (University Experience) Andrew Staniforth, Head of ANU Counselling Centre and a panel of students shared their own, very personal, experiences of mental health and the ways they have been able to cope. Common themes included the importance of talking about mental health as well as seeking support when you need it. It was also apparent that the different generations deal with mental health issues differently, and our older staff and students can learn a lot from the younger generation. Hearing from Andrew Staniforth, it is clear that mental illness is not isolated to one group or type of person and we should all take the time to understand our own mental health, and look out for signs in others.
To look after your mental health, it is important to seek help when you need it, and know where to go for advice if you are worried about someone. The ANU Counselling Centre has appointments available daily for staff and students; staff can access an employee assistance program to see external counsellors for themselves or immediate family; or there are a range of support services and resources available online.
Looking after the mental health of members of our community is something everyone can contribute to. So if you see someone having a hard day, be kind, reach out and offer support.