Heel our black dogs
The black dog has become a symbol for mental health – depression and bipolar disorders. Dr Samuel Johnson in 1782 first coined this term when he wrote in a letter to his colleague:
“The black dog I hope always to resist and in time to drive.” (Chapman, 1952, p. 41)
Our mental health is a treasure to be appreciated and preserved daily in our own individual ways.
Awesome is where we all want to be – reality is its not always possible. Mental health problems are common – it is likely in your lifetime that you or a loved one will develop a mental health problem. Unfortunately the stigma associated with these problems can hinder people from seeking professional help. Just as in accidents when a mental health crisis occurs professional help is not always at hand. Mental Health First Aid was developed by Betty Kitchener and Tony Jorm in response to the need to educate the public. The 5 keys steps in Mental Health First Aid are:
- Assess risk of suicide or harm
- Listen non-judgementally
- Give reassurance and information
- Encourage person to get appropriate professional help
- Encourage self help strategies
Kitchener, B & Jorm, A, 2007, p.3.
For mental health first aid education see: www.mhfa.com.au
“Just snap out of it”
Comments like this title are not helpful to a person living with mental health problems.
There is no quick fix or one answer with mental health it is negotiated daily by individuals. In coming to terms with a health problem there is a grieving for what was and a growing awareness for what supports wellbeing. A broken limb provokes people to support the individual. People working with mental health problems have the same needs for compassion. It is beyond the scope of this blog to outline all medical and psychological treatments for mental health problems. The courage to acknowledge there is a problem is a starting point to finding appropriate care. Helpful websites include:
When people cannot see their “Future me” sadly they may act in a way that ends their future. Suicide is a leading cause of death with Western Australia having the highest rate in the nation. For those that are left behind there are unanswered questions, grief and shame taking its toll on their wellbeing.
My mechanic shared how he had lost mates to suicide and whenever he sees someone isolate themselves he seeks them out and draws them in to chat. Standing at a friends funeral it was so sad to hear the praise and accolades he had not heard, leaving behind a family in shock and wondering.
Initiatives such as RU OK ? day highlight the importance of reaching out, not only on this day. If a person discloses they are having thoughts of suicide, self harm: don’t ignore it, notify their kin and seek help. The website www.onelifewa.com.au provides resources and education.
Black Dog Healing
It would be wonderful if we could instruct our mental health to heel or sit, but with such factors as stress, change, not taking medication, substance use, lack of sleep – mental health can deteriorate. Family and friends make the difference at these times when reality and the light of day are squewed for the unwell. Though there is a ripple effect for family with tension, uncertainty, emotions – while wanting to help and show care without being over involved.
Save our sanity
Care for the carers cannot be ignored or delayed. A friend prompted me with self care when she reminded me that when air hostess’s do the air safety talk on the plane, they instruct to put the oxygen mask on yourself then your loved one.
Self care is not selfish, it is essential. Ways we can look after ourselves suggested by SANE include:
- Allow for regular time out,
- Talk about how you feel,
- Be sensible about what you reasonable can and cannot do,
- Don’t try to do too much . Note when you are stressed and have a plan.
Helpful sites include
SANE help centre phone: 1800187263
Chapman, R.W. (1952) The letters of Samuel Johnson, Oxford University Press
Kitchener, B & Jorm, A (2007) Mental Health First Aid Manual, Parkerville
Photos taken by author at Awesome Children’s festival at PICA and Bathers beach. Thank you to Black dog: Jaxs and his family.