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Why mind over mental health matters

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How’s your ‘mental health literacy’? Do you know how to protect your own mental wellbeing, or recognise signs a mate might be in trouble? Dr Grant Blashki from Beyond Blue shares his insights into ways that housing professionals can take action to protect their mental health.
In the residential building industry, safety is a hot topic: we all want a safe, injury-free worksite, so we wear protective gear, follow protocols, look out for each other. But while we’ve all become experts in managing onsite hazards and looking after our safety from a physical perspective, a huge part of being safe also involves looking after our mental wellbeing, and making sure our mates are feeling okay too.

Many of us travel through life with a bit of a ‘she’ll be right’ attitude, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that this traditional Aussie stoicism simply isn’t serving us as a community anymore. Dr Grant Blashki, Beyond Blue’s Lead Clinical Adviser, says that in any given year in Australia, about 2 million people live with anxiety, and about 1 million live with depression. ‘It's really common. And the thing that strikes me and sometimes breaks my heart a bit, is about 50 per cent of people don't get any help for these problems.’

Gabrielle Chariton


Contributor to Housing

Look after your mind as well as your body 

We all go through good times and bad times, and it’s totally normal to sometimes have the blues or feel low. The daily pressures of running a business, providing for a family, and managing client expectations can feel overwhelming at times. ‘Sadness or worry are just part of being a human being, and we don’t want to medicalise the everyday ups and downs of life,’ Grant says. But being aware of and looking after our mental health, in much the same way we care for our physical fitness and health, helps us develop the resilience to cope with these feelings, and to bounce back after getting socked by one of life’s curve balls. 

Fortunately, Grant says there are plenty of simple things you can do to strengthen your mental health and become more resilient. These include: 

  • Sleep – ‘turn down some of the tech after 11 o'clock, have a bit of a wind-down’
  • Don’t let problems ‘boil away in the background’ – set aside time to problem-solve or talk to someone
  • Don’t over-do the alcohol
  • Practise mindfulness
  • Exercise regularly – Grant says ‘there's some quite interesting studies about spending time in nature,’ so get the most out of your run by hitting the pavement instead of the treadmill. 

‘One of the best things for your mental health is good connections with friends and family. Rather than leaving these connections completely to chance, particularly in this slightly disrupted world we're living in, make it a bit of a routine.’ Lock in a regular get-together with a couple of mates, or join a sports team — ‘it’s good for the soul.’

Dealing with anger or negative self-talk

Depression and anxiety can manifest in different ways.

‘A lot of people, when they think about depression, might have a picture of someone who's very withdrawn, perhaps tearful, doesn't really want to get involved in anything, not getting any joy from anything. But we do see, particularly in men, that the way it presents might be more getting into conflict, or aggressive behaviour that's not characteristic of their personality,’ Grant explains.

‘If you’re really finding that that starts to actually become a problem … whether you’re getting caught in conflict or bullying, or at home, relationships are blowing up and you’re finding that you can't control your anger … have a chat to your GP because there's lots of things we can do. As a GP I’ve seen lots of guys where that's how it's presented, and then we've sort of unpacked everything, got them to chat to a psychologist … that can make a huge difference to their life.’

Grant also suggests figuring out what triggers your feelings of frustration or anger, and how to ‘hit the pause button’ – that could be something as simple as deciding to go for a walk rather than getting into an argument.

And what about that voice that runs a constant narrative in your head? Is it being unhelpful? ‘All of us have this little self-talk voice. And very often with people with depression or anxiety, that type of thinking gets into a couple of ruts. One of them is what we call black-and-white thinking: everything's great, or everything's terrible, but there's no shade of grey in the middle, whereas most things in life are a bit more shaded grey.’ Some other examples of negative or destructive self-talk include ‘mind-reading’ – imagining what others are thinking about you, or taking offence when none was intended. Or ‘catastrophising’– amplifying small concerns into big ones.

The key here is changing your inner language. A psychologist can help you identify these thought patterns and teach you how to reprogram your thinking, Grant says. ‘These are learned skills, like you might learn any skill … just like drilling or how to put up a door … you can practice them and you learn them.’

What if you’re worried about a mate?

If you’ve noticed a mate or a work colleague is behaving differently, or they’ve been through a difficult or stressful time, it’s important to reach out – your help will be valuable. If you’re unsure how to open up the conversation, Grant suggests starting with a gentle observation, such as, ‘I've noticed that you don't seem to be joining us on Friday nights anymore’. To make the situation less intense and confrontational, try chatting during ‘parallel activity’ like walking or driving. Then, ‘shut up and just sit back and just see if you can get them talking’.

While they might initially say they’re fine, the important thing is that you’ve opened the door for them to come back to you if needed. Or, you might discover that they’re keen to talk. If that’s the case, listen – and resist the urge to interrupt. ‘The best thing you can do after you’ve had a good listen is to say, “have you thought about having a chat to your GP, or giving Beyond Blue a call? You want me to come to the GP with you? Let's get on to it and get the ball rolling”,’ Grant advises.

If you or a mate are having suicidal thoughts

Tragically, suicide is something that happens far too often, and the incidence is particularly high within the housing industry. ‘We can't sugar coat the fact that we have a significant rate of suicide in Australia … it's a pretty breathtaking statistic that on average more than 3000 people a year take

their lives,’ Grant says. ‘That equates to eight or nine people a day and three-quarters of them are men. So we've got to talk about it.’

If someone you know is talking about suicide, ‘take that pretty seriously. You could ring Lifeline. Or you could get them along fairly urgently to the GP. But don't mess around with it.’

The risk factors for suicidal thoughts and behaviours are complicated and different for everyone. ‘We know from the research some of the obvious things that put people at risk, such as being on their own and feeling like a burden and use of alcohol and access to means and things like that,’ Grant says. ‘But what we do know is a lot of people when they get this thinking it is like a wave … a very sort of despondent wave, but it generally goes. And so we want to work really hard to make sure they know how to stay safe until they get their heads straight about what's happening.’

One potential way to do that is by creating a personal safety plan that can be quickly accessed in times of crisis. Beyond Blue has developed an app that helps you compile a prevention plan – see the text box for details.

The keys to mental wellness: Prevention and intervention

Looking after yourself and learning strategies that help you cope with the daily ‘situational’ stresses is the first protective factor in maintaining psychological wellness. ‘Life isn’t always easy,’ Grant says. ‘But … it's about prevention. If you can … head off trouble, rather than get yourself in a hole, great. We'd much prefer that.’

But if life does tip you – or someone you know – over the edge, the path back to wellness may rely on intervention. Feelings of depression and anxiety aren’t cemented in anyone – change is always possible, and one of Grant’s main messages to housing industry professionals is that the first step to change is recognising that you’re not coping mentally, or that your emotions are out of control. You don’t have to be ‘tough’ or ‘stoic’.

‘There are lots of myths out there, [people think] if I put up my hand, I've got a mental health issue, am I weak, am I not coping? Is it going to affect my chance of being promoted or getting that next job?’

But it is okay to get help. In fact, it’s vital. There are many effective treatments available, and they’ve never been easier to access. ‘So we’re really encouraging people to put up their hand if they’re having a hard time.’

Get the help that works for you

As a builder or business owner, you routinely research the right suppliers or solutions to get the best result for your projects. It’s no different with mental health. There is no one-size-fits all solution when it comes to getting support, advice, or medical assistance — it’s about finding the pathway that best meets your needs at any given time. Following are some suggestions from Dr Grant Blashki, Lead Clinical Advisor at Beyond Blue.

  • In person: Your GP can offer immediate support and assessment. They may recommend medicinal interventions or they can put you onto a Mental Health Treatment Plan, under which you’ll be entitled to Medicare rebates for up to 20 psychological appointments per calendar year.
  • Telephone: Free confidential counselling services with trained mental health professional are available through Beyond Blue. For suicide or crisis support, call Lifeline. ‘Having mental health-trained people on the other end of the line can be a good way just to get some objective advice, to find out where you're at, and help you navigate the system a little bit’. ·
  • Online: Beyond Blue runs moderated online forums on a huge range of topics and issues. A million active users regularly log on to receive support from each other and the volunteer Community Champions. ·
  • App: The Beyond Now app allows users to create their own safety plan to support them through times of sadness or grief. Grant describes it as ‘Systematic suicide prevention planning’. Research has shown having a safety plan can be useful for reducing the intensity of suicidal thoughts and increasing people’s ability to cope with them. Download for free on GooglePlay or the Apple Store. ·
  • Downloadable resources: Beyond Blue publications What works for depression and What works for anxiety are comprehensive, evidence-based guides to the medications, psychological treatments options, complementary therapies and lifestyle interventions that have been proven to help.