VC's Update - Do you see what I see?

11 October 2018

Hi everyone,

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has a role in removing the stigma around mental illness - from seeking support, to supporting others, to challenging outdated views, and if they occur - and I hope they do not - calling out disrespectful comments.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.



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Comment by Anonymous
1pm 12 Oct 2018

Thank You Brian, this is a sensible and sensitive conversation about a very live issue. It is true that the attitude and approach to mental illness has changed (for the better) over the years.

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Comment by Negar
1.15pm 12 Oct 2018

Your note is a true relief and a path through achieving mental health. Thanks for that.

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Comment by Vanessa
5pm 12 Oct 2018

I am new to ANU and pleased mental health has become a priority issue BUT there is a long way to go before the teaching staff understand mental health, its impact or lexicon. I am alarmed by: the lack of concern for students wellbeing amongst the teaching staff; the lack of trigger warnings for affecting lecture material (eg sexual abuse; genocide); the failure to direct students to Access and Inclusion for mental health planning and support; the failure to acknowledge financial hardship or family pressures amongst mature aged students; the appalling and invasive treatment of students with mental health conditions who request extensions or special consideration; and the failure to communicate mental health issue in accessible language for international students. I wish the University well because it is a crisis issue.

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Comment by Christian
5pm 12 Oct 2018

Thanks Brian for staring this communique.

 But I have a few constructive buts. It is hard to talk about it and it is twice as hard to find suitable help. Helpers invariable have a on a mere academic view of what its is like .  You have to have lived inside the box to knwo what this world is like and how the world outside your box looks. You feel trapped ina  web fo failure and adversity. From personal expeirences  I have learnt that the best help comes from inside.  Know that what destroys you also makes you stronger - and when you beat it  you feel so much stronger. Dealing with failure - which some never have to do - is key to making you better, stronger and wiser. You can't get wisdom without some pain and adversity. You become better than those who have never had to beat failure and adversity. And failure and critism of yur hard efforts isa fact of university life.  If it was easy we  wouldn' t do it.

The first step to help is self help: find the strength that resides within.  By talking to some frined - such as I have found at ANU - your strength and self belief grows. Your fellow studenst know what it is lieke andthey more than anyone can empathsize. Know too  that failure is tempory quitting is forever and the effects last the same.  The first step is to know that no one knows you like you know your self. You are unique and have special strengths . Find those strengths and play to them. Your weaknesses will follow.  But you have to feel stong enough to tick your own box, recognise that each day you persevere is success where many many others fail. Once you get through that then find a good friend and talk, then maybe go to specialists for they have behavioural methods that you can practice and make a daily routine. Practice and rtoutine are key to dealing with anxiety and depression. Know that you are not alone and help is only as far awy as you make it. Don't lock it o  ut. Nothing succeeds like success and success becomes a habit. For some of us is just overcoming fauilure and continuous  negatives that would stop thso who are not as strong as you. And there is no greater success and no greater feeling than contribution: and helping others deal with theirs. I am 70 years of age adn four weeks from completion of my law degree. The jhourney has given few rewards but I have learn't much about my self and teh goodness and resilience that resides in others .  But is looking at others teh beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. Look at life and them in positive light and all eventually comes good. Just ask Jimmy Barnes.