A Friendly Chat About Mental Illness.

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As a person who has, admittedly, had a tough time getting into the workforce, I was quietly optimistic when offered the chance to participate in a Work for the Dole program with St Kilda News.

It was while I was getting to know one of the other participants in the program, Kellie, that I ended up having a rather illuminating discussion. We were chatting about the possible benefits of the program and how, for the long term unemployed, and for those stuck in a rut, it can be encouraging to simply have a place to go to, and be at, a couple of days a week.

It was when we were discussing people who were ‘stuck in a rut’ that we began talking about mental illness, and, more specifically, to depression.

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As we got to know one another, we were able to talk about how depression had affected us. Kellie quietly mentioned how she had gone through a stage of depression in her life a few years before. I told her that I was dealing with depression and anxiety myself.

It was in that comfortable moment of mutual understanding, that we realised that we had been discussing the topic of depression furtively – at times even with our hands over our mouths, whispering to one another.  We noted how this contrasted with how one is able to talk about the effects of physical injuries. Kellie said that she was able to talk about how she had suffered a physical injury, one that had prevented her from doing a job she had been doing for 25 years, quite openly.

It put into focus the stigma, often subconscious, surrounding mental illness. To confess to a physical injury is commonly acceptable, but, for some people at least, hearing that a person is afflicted with a mental illness can cause them to pause. For some it even brings words like, ‘crazy’ and ‘insanity’ to mind.

I was surprised when Kellie told me that her depression began to manifest itself and take hold, not a time of failure, but when she appeared to “have it all”. She was running a successful business, and she had a home and a child. Her revelation made me realise that mental illness is not just for the down-trodden or the unlucky. Sometimes it’s the most successful people who can feel most alone and depressed – even when surrounded by loved ones and by material prosperity.

Kellie lent an ear and offered advice. She told me how she had put in a lot of hard work to heal from those dark days – how she’d drastically changed her routines, adjusted her diet and began exercising. She also encouraged me to feel that if she could do it, I could too.

Talking to Kellie also reinforced a fact that I had heard said may times before: that silence is one of the biggest barriers to dealing with the problems of mental health.

Being able to have a meaningful, personal talk with Kellie, someone I had only recently met, was an eye-opening and encouraging experience. I hope that sharing this story might encourage others suffering from mental illness to speak up, share their stories and not be bound by stigma or shame. I hope that it encourages them to feel that they’re certainly not alone.
By Rohan R.

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