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Teenagers are visiting emergency departments for intentional self-harm in record numbers since the pandemic, with some as young as primary-school ages.

The stress and pressures that lockdown has had on children and teenagers have seen reports of self-harm increase by 47% in NSW alone. In the year leading up to July 2021, there were 8489 instances of children and teens up to 17 years old presenting to emergency centers in NSW. This number had increased from 6489 in 2020.

Throughout March, June, July, September and September in NSW, VIC, TAS and the ACT, paramedics responded to 22,400 incidents involving suicide attempts or thoughts. The majority of this number was for young girls ranging from ages 15-19.

Statistics have shown that these numbers were already increasing before the pandemic; however, lockdown seems to have driven the numbers even higher.

The chairman for Lifeline Australia, John Brogden, confirmed that the daily average number of calls nationwide peaked at 3100 per day and has remained at this level since the start of the pandemic. Most of these phone calls are from people of all ages struggling with self-harm and suicidal ideation.

Federal Treasurer Josh Fydenberg called the mental health crisis a ‘shadow pandemic,’ caused partly by the impact of ongoing lockdowns and the research seems to suggest it is impacting young people the hardest.

Schools provide children and teens with face-to-face learning, interaction with peers, extracurricular activities, friendship, and social skills building, and, in most cases, access to mental health and resilience programs. However, with school-aged children already going through a crucial and sensitive time in their development, the added pressure of isolation and stress that is inevitable in lockdown has exacerbated the difficulties they already face.

Living through an unpreceded global event can be stressful for adults, and it is a lot for kids to take in as well. Meanwhile, things like school sports, dances, school performances and graduation ceremonies have seen teenagers lose access to many of the outlets that provide them with stress relief and fun.

Yourtown CEO Tracy Adams says, “The upheaval and stress Australian children and young people are experiencing from the pandemic is a cause for concern. Over the past six months, we have identified that 1,610 contacts to Kids Helpline were from young children aged 5-9 years of age up from 1,588 for the first six months of 2020.”

Adams confirms that Kids Helpline answered 1788 more calls for children and young people than ever in the first half of 2021, compared to the first have of 2020 and that, “Children and young people are increasingly experiencing mental health concerns, including suicidal ideation/behaviour and self-harm”

Self-harm is an issue that has been prevalent for decades and is becoming a predominant coping mechanism for young people.

What is self-harm?

Self-harm is the act of injuring oneself by either cutting or burning to achieve a momentary sense of calm or release of tension of emotional pain. Often, people will self-harm to gain a sense of control again or to momentarily be distracted from mental distress by the sensation of physical pain.

While not classified as a mental illness on its own, it is often symptomatic of a range of other mental illnesses or emotional suffering.

The physical signs of self-harm may look like:

  • cutting, burning, biting, or scratching the skin
  • picking at wounds or scabs so they don’t heal
  • pulling out hair, punching or hitting the body
  • taking harmful substances (such as poisons, or over the counter or prescription medications).

Motivations for self-harming could stem from trauma, anxiety, depression or overwhelming feelings of stress and pressure.

Sometimes children who are self-harming may be fascinated with the topic and spend time online reading about other instances of this. They may attempt to cover their bodies or exhibit a desire to hide their skin such as wearing long pants and long-sleeve shirts in warm weather.

Other behaviors might look like mood swings or becoming withdrawn socially and could be potentially triggered by a traumatic event or upsetting circumstances like bullying or difficulties in a peer group.

How to help

If your child or teen approaches you and tells you that they have been self-harming somehow, the most important thing you can do is have a compassionate response. According to Melbourne Child Psychology, the most common misconception about self-harm is that it is a form of ‘attention-seeking or ‘acting out.’

However, in most cases, nothing could be further from the truth and chances are your child is experiencing guilt, shame and genuine psychological distress and confusion. The best thing to do is provide support and be their anchor by acknowledging their feelings and letting them know you are here to help them.

It is crucial to fight the urge to have a shocked or angry reaction and say things like ‘why did you do this?’ or ‘you need to stop this – this is such a stupid thing to do!’

Instead, remain calm and let them know you are here to help by asking open-ended questions that encourage them to talk about why they did it or how they were feeling at the time.

Once they are emotionally assured, ask more open-ended questions such as what they used to harm themselves and where they got it. Be sure to ask if it’s ok to assess their injuries and appropriately dress them or bandage them.

Lastly, seek professional help

As a parent, watching your child self-harm can be heartbreaking, and it is ok to feel that you are out of your depth and need to seek professional help or advice. However, it is essential not to make the mistake of thinking that just because you have addressed the issue with your child, it will go away or get better.

Get in touch with a psychologist and communicate to them what the issue is before an appointment, so they know best how to help.

A child psychologist will provide your child with a safe environment to express themselves and learn effective coping mechanisms and strategies.

 

 

 

 

 

In 2016, 20-year-old Lucy Dawson was sectioned for an apparent mental breakdown. Even though she had all the classic symptoms of encephalitis, she was misdiagnosed and left in a psychiatric ward until it was almost too late.
But medical negligence in women’s health is nothing new. Read Lucy’s story and the history behind it.
Female Patient

For centuries, doctors diagnosed women with “hysteria” – a condition characterised by emotional excess. In Western medicine hysteria was considered both a common and chronic disorder among women. Some of its symptoms included sexual desire, irritability, depression, and anxiety. In extreme cases, women diagnosed with “hysteria” were forced into insane asylum’s or underwent horrific and irreversible surgical procedures such as lobotomy or hysterectomy without consent.

The notion that women are somehow pre-disposed to negative behavioural conditions goes back to Ancient Greece, when the womb was thought to wander around the body and cause trouble wherever it went. This theory was rejected with the advancement of modern medicine, but the connotations persisted in Western popular thought for centuries. Today, researchers of medical history point to evidence that hysteria was simply a way to pathologize “everything that men found mysterious or unmanageable in women”.

Female Doctor

They were mutilated or molested – clitorises cut off when sexual pleasure was deemed to be the cause, or ‘medically stimulated’ into orgasm when sexual pleasure was deemed to be the cure.

Supposed ‘cures’ usually involved punishment intended to turn a difficult woman into a docile one. They were mutilated or molested – clitorises cut off when sexual pleasure was deemed to be the cause, or ‘medically stimulated’ into orgasm when sexual pleasure was deemed to be the cure. Hysterectomies and oophorectomies were unnecessarily performed – often without the patient’s consent – with the intent to sterilise reproductivity and neutralise hormonal fluctuations. Not to mention the dreaded ‘resting cure’ which inspired a short story so psychologically tormented that it convinced the pioneer physician to abandon it as a form of treatment altogether.

While hysteria is no longer recognised as a medical disorder, women are far more likely than men to be told their symptoms are psychosomatic or the result of a mental illness. The implications of this can be devastating.

Lucy’s Story

Lucy
Lucy Dawson photographed in 2021 by Christopher Thomond for The Guardian

In 2016, 20-year-old Lucy Dawson was sectioned under the Mental Health Act 1983 for an apparent mental breakdown. Even though she presented with all the classic symptoms of encephalitis, including confusion, personality change, hallucinations, and headaches, she was misdiagnosed and left in a psychiatric ward for three-and-a-half months.

During her time there, Lucy was given electroconvulsive therapy in a last-ditch effort to reset her brain, causing a seizure which made her fall out of bed onto an exposed radiator pipe.

Lucy recalls, “It was the end of November, so the pipe was as hot as it was ever going to be, and I lay on it half dead and having just had ECT, until an old lady screamed for help.”

Anti-psychotic medication had turned her from manic to catatonic, so she was unable to move or call for help on her own. When nurses finally discovered her, it was too late. She suffered third degree burns and was inexplicably paralysed in her left leg. Staff members falsely attributed this injury to one of many violent ‘breakdowns’ when friends and family started to ask questions.

Disabled Model
Lucy Dawson Photographed in 2021 at Cleethorpes Beach

In January 2017, Lucy was finally seen by a neurologist and tested for brain injuries. It was only then that she was diagnosed with anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, a type of autoimmune disease where the body attacks otherwise healthy receptors in the brain. Lucy explains, “They call it friendly fire because your immune system identifies antibodies and healthy cells in the brain as being bad and attacks them.” This time, doctors explained that her paralysis was just another symptom of her disease.

Anti-psychotic medication had turned her from manic to catatonic; when nurses discovered her it was too late.

But Lucy was still not satisfied. She decided to hire a lawyer after being discharged from hospital and saw several specialists for her leg – none of whom could offer a real explanation. One day, a locum noticed the position of the scar the burn had left and checked it against a diagram for the sciatic nerve. It suddenly became very clear: the radiator had burned right through it. The damage was irreversible.

Since then, the hospital has apologised and launched a “robust internal investigation” to improve their standard of care for future patients. But Lucy insists nothing could ever make up for the physical and emotional trauma she endured at their hands.

Lucy
Lucy Dawson photographed in 2021 by Christopher Thomond for The Guardian

Lucy is now a British ambassador for disabled modelling and works to increase representation in the industry. She says that her success as a lingerie model “came out of nowhere. Because I’ve got quite a curvy figure, brands were interested and that became my niche.” She goes on to say that helping other disabled women to reclaim their sexuality “makes me feel what I do is worthwhile.”

In the five years that have passed, Lucy has encountered countless women with stories just like hers from all over the world. Australia is no exception.

Click here to follow Lucy on Instagram

A Bigger Issue

One in three women has had their health concerns dismissed by their general practitioner according to the latest figures from the Australia Talks National Survey 2021. It found that women were twice as likely to feel dismissed as men.

For instance, endometriosis affects one in nine women in Australia, but it usually takes six-and-a-half years to get a diagnosis.

“We literally know less about every aspect of female biology compared to male biology” – Dr. Janine Austin Clayton, director of the US Office of Research on Women’s health.

Research shows that health care providers prescribe less pain medication to women than men after surgery. In general, women report more severe levels of pain, more frequent incidences of pain, and pain of longer duration than men, but are nonetheless treated for pain less aggressively.

“It’s a huge issue in medicine,” says Dr. Tia Powell, a bioethicist and a professor of epidemiology and psychiatry at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. Medical professionals may hold implicit biases that affect the way that women are treated, she said. “Medical schools and professional guidelines are starting to address this problem, but there is still much to be done.”

Karen Magraith, a GP and president-elect of the Australasian Menopause Society, said the gender gap extended beyond reproductive health issues.

Female Patient at Hospital

“We have evidence heart disease in women is not recognised as early, not treated as effectively and women receive less evidence-based treatments than men do. I think that’s a good example of where women’s health is not as effectively treated as men’s health,” she said.

One of the main reasons for this is that women have been historically underrepresented in clinical trials for new drugs, treatments, and devices in Australia and across the world. And in the few instances where women have been included, the influence of sex and gender is often ignored. As a result, women are more likely to be withheld effective treatment and exposed to harmful side effects – including a higher incidence of adverse reactions when new (and insufficiently researched) drugs hit the market.

The result? “We literally know less about every aspect of female biology compared to male biology,” says Dr. Janine Austin Clayton, director of the US Office of Research on Women’s health.

Lonely Woman

It would seem that women are just too hard to study. For decades, women were excluded from clinical drug trials based on the unsubstantiated belief that fluctuations in hormones associated with the menstrual cycle would make results more difficult to analyse. When thalidomide was found to cause serious birth defects in the 1970s, women of childbearing age in the US were banned from participating in clinical research studies in order to ‘protect’ their reproductive capabilities. Even though this ban was lifted in 1993, and the inclusion of women was mandated in government-funded research, drug companies were not required to comply.

A 2008 report found that Australian Human Rights and Ethics Committees (HRECs) failed to enquire about the numbers of male and female participants in clinical trials. The same report showed that opinions were also divided on whether research cost and convenience justified excluding women from research.

As it currently stands, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has no policy comparable to those in the US or Canada requiring researchers to test on both men and women.

But organisations like the George Institute are calling for policy reform in order to standardise the way sex and gender is collected in clinical trials in Australia. Their demands include gender specific reporting in academic journals and a more equitable balance of female and male patients in clinical trials.

Patient Diagnosis

In response to such demands, a spokesperson for the Department of Health pointed to the $535 million package set aside for female health as part of the 2021-2022 national budget. It serves to improve cervical and breast cancer screening programmes, provide Medicare subsidies for testing of IVF embryos for genetic faults, increase support for the mental wellbeing of new and expectant parents, and boost women’s health initiatives including the Periods, Pain and Endometriosis Program (PEPP-Talk) developed by the Pelvic Pain Foundation of Australia.

However, this package amounts to less than $46 for every woman over the age of 15. More can be done to help.

What You Can Do

Standard consultations at the GP last just 15 minutes. Here’s how to make sure your health concerns are heard.

Come Prepared

Plan what you intend to talk about before you arrive for your appointment. Write down any concerns and questions so you don’t forget. Be specific.

Tell Your Story

According to Leana Wen, MD, author of When Doctors Don’t Listen: How to Avoid Misdiagnoses and Unnecessary Tests, “doctors end up asking about symptoms rather than the story. But studies have shown that over 80% of diagnoses can be made just by listening… By that, they mean listening to the story, the open-ended story of what happened, rather than asking a list of yes-no questions”

Be sure to mention:

  • When the symptoms started
  • Whether any life event/action coincided with the onset of symptoms
  • Whether the symptoms have appeared before
  • Describe how it feels
  • Whether the pain has increased/decreased
  • How often you feel the pain

Take Someone with You

If you are dealing with a particularly complex issue, have a condition that makes it difficult to discuss alone, or are particularly vulnerable, it might be appropriate to bring a patient advocate or a loved one along to an appointment.

Request a Female Doctor

Studies show that female doctors tend to listen more and their patients — both male and female — tend to do better.

Be Direct

If you still feel like you’re being dismissed, tell your doctor how you feel. Express concern that you are not being properly heard. A good physician should be able to listen and take your problems seriously.

Music therapy is proving to be a promising option for children with autism spectrum disorder, with recent research finding it promotes social and cognitive development. Studies have shown that receiving unsuitable care can cause long-term mental health issues.

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often struggle with traditional modes of treatment, along with undereducated health professionals who can do more harm than good to those on the autism spectrum, according to a Sage Journals report. However, there is evidence to suggest music therapy could be a safe and patient-centred option for neurodivergent children.

From ominous music in horror movies to a relaxing meditation soundtrack used in yoga class, many find music to be a powerful tool for managing, manipulating or expressing their emotions. But since the early stages of music therapy as an experimental form of treatment in the late 16th century, the practise has grown rapidly to become a structured, evidence-based treatment. In 1944 there was only one academic institution providing music therapy training, but by 2020 that number had increased to almost 250.

The Frontiers study, published in April this year, reported the positive effect of music therapy on ASD participants’ developmental skills, especially regarding speech production and social functioning. It reported that the method of beginning with the interests of the child, motivates them to learn and communicate more effectively, rather than imposing the treatment on them.

Music therapy can benefit children with autism.
Photo Credit: Jalleke Vanooteghem on Unsplash

Music therapy is reported to provide helpful techniques for those who struggle with typical communication, through the use of alternate forms of communicating. This includes singing, improvisation, listening, composition and using musical instruments as a mode of expression.

This therapy can embolden patients and develop social skills such as eye contact, conversation and joint attention; this refers to the ability to focus on an object mutually with another person such as when someone points to something while talking.

Music therapists employ techniques to teach patients new skills, through attaching skills to musical activities. After children understand these skills, they can continue without the activities and eventually learn to apply these skills independently in their daily lives.

Music therapists often use the Orff Method for children, as this treatment, created by Orff Shulwert, is child-centred and is found to produce better responses from children. It includes Carl Orff’s compositions and involves percussion, singing, and dancing.

Music therapy can involve percussion, singing and dancing.
Photo Credit: Anna Earl on Unsplash

Studies report masses of therapists are not educated on the autism spectrum or other neurodivergent conditions, and apply outdated and unsuitable methods to them, according to a Spectrum article. The article refers to the treatment commonly used, Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA), with advocates stating the treatment is not the only option for those on the spectrum. They also discuss the need for awareness and acceptance of neurodivergent people and why widespread education is vital for health professionals and organisations.

This issue is increasingly pressing, as children with autism spectrum disorder are at a high risk of coinciding mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety, according to the Sage Journals report. Science Daily reports the number to be 78% with another mental health condition.

Mental illnesses like anxiety and depression are more common in autistic children.
Photo Credit: Tadeusz Lakota on Unsplash

This lack of education around the autism spectrum also greatly disadvantages girls and women, who present with less widely researched symptoms. Only 8% of girls with autism are diagnosed before the age of 6, compared to 25% of boys, according to the Organisation for Autism Research (OAR). The research unveils girls are more likely to engage in ‘masking’, a concept involving hiding their emotions and urges, and imitating others to fit in. This means that many girls with autism go unnoticed by the adults around them.

The elements of masking include:

  1. Imitating facial expressions
  2. Concealing emotions
  3. Trying to avoid going non-verbal
  4. Zoning out of conversations
  5. Suppressing stims
  6. Putting on an act to fit in
Girls often go undiagnosed.
Photo Credit: Soragrit Wongsa on Unsplash

The OAR highlights how health professionals are letting down girls with autism, revealing that many perpetuate the stigma that only boys can have the condition, leading to girls being misdiagnosed, diagnosed later in life or even not getting a diagnosis at all. For those who do get diagnosed, treatment often doesn’t take into account the different symptoms girls can experience, including preferring not to be hugged, not following instructions, losing skills they previously held, avoiding eye contact and having difficulty explaining what they want or need.

With this widespread lack of education and insufficient responses, effective and safe treatments like music therapy can be a beacon of hope, according to Monica Subiantoro’s article in the Atlantis Press. Subiantoro writes that children with autism develop confidence and hope as a result of positive and validating interactions.

Studies discover symptoms of depression and anxiety can be reduced through mindfulness meditation practices.

Studies at John Hopkins School of Medicine reveal a strong correlation between mindfulness meditation and its ability to decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety.

After reviewing research on participants in mindfulness based meditation programs, lead researcher Madhav Goyal and his team discovered effect sizes ranged between 0.22 to 0.38 for anxiety symptoms and 0.23 to 0.30 for depression symptoms.

The Journal of the American Medical Association show these small effects are comparable with what would be expected from the use of antidepressants in a primary care population but without the associated toxicities.

“In our study, meditation appeared to provide as much relief from some anxiety and depression symptoms as what other studies have found from antidepressants,” Goyal explains.

While meditation can be dated back to ancient Hindu and Buddhist traditions, this age-old practice is gaining traction from its ability to ease symptoms of depression and anxiety without the harmful side effects of prescription medication.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all that mindfulness performs as well as or better than medication,”Adrian Wells professor of psychopathology at Manchester University states.

Mindfulness meditation works by establishing concentration to observe inner thoughts, feelings and emotions while focusing attention on the present moment to not be reactive or overwhelmed by what’s happening around us.

Meditation is a state of induced relaxation that focuses awareness on breathing and encouraging positive attitudes to achieve a healthy and balanced mental state.

Around one in six Australian adults now practice meditation, with the number of people who meditate worldwide rising by three times as much since 2012.

With studies revealing that mindfulness meditation can improve anything from memory in patients with Alzheimer’s to insomnia symptoms, it’s easy to see why this practice is being used by an estimated 200-500 million people around the globe.

The University of Oxford released a new study finding mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) to be as effective as antidepressants in preventing a relapse of depression, further enhancing the credibility of this ancient practice.

In the study participants were randomly allocated to either the MBCT group or antidepressant group. The rate of relapse in the mindfulness group was 44%, with the rate of relapse of those on antidepressants at 47%.

Nigel Reed, participant from the study explains how mindfulness based therapy gave him life long skills to deal with depressive thoughts and episodes.

“Rather than relying on the continuing use of antidepressants, mindfulness puts me in charge, allowing me to take control of my own future, to spot when I am at risk and to make the changes I need to stay well.”

Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, psychiatrist at the Centre for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders believes it makes sense to use meditation to treat disorders such as depression and anxiety.

“People with anxiety have a problem dealing with distracting thoughts that have too much power. They can’t distinguish between a problem-solving thought and a nagging worry that has no benefit.”

“If you have unproductive worries, you can train yourself to experience those thoughts completely differently. You might think ‘I’m late, I might lose my job if I don’t get there on time, and it will be a disaster!’

“Mindfulness teaches you to recognize, ‘Oh, there’s that thought again. I’ve been here before. But it’s just that, a thought, and not a part of my core self,’” Hoge explains.

While meditation can be dated back to 1500 BCE the benefits aren’t just an old wives’ tale as science and studies have repeatedly proven.

Meditation is known for changing the way the brain processes thoughts and emotions but new research by Sarah Lazar at Harvard University reveals it can also change the structure of the brain.

An eight-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program discovered increased cortical thickness in the hippocampus, and certain areas of the brain that regulate emotions and self-referential processing.

Decreases in brain cell volume in the amygdala were also found, with this area of the brain responsible for thoughts of anxiety, fear and stress.

These changes matched the participant’s reports of stress levels, signifying that the program impacted their feelings and subjective perceptions in a positive way through meditation.

Evidence from The University of Hong Kong also confirms Lazar’s study with further evidence suggesting meditation practices have the potential to induce neuroplastic changes in the amygdala.

Participants in an awareness-based compassion meditation program were found to have significantly reduced anxiety and right amygdala activity, which may be associated with general reduction in reactivity and distress.

These significant findings explore the powerful outcomes that can result from using mindfulness meditation practices to alter the way the brain processes thoughts of anxiety and stress.

While there is no magic cure for depression or anxiety, meditation brings hopeful benefits for those not wanting to take medication long term, or those who suffer from the intolerable side effects of antidepressants.

Although many studies suggest the benefits of mindfulness for those with depression and anxiety, it is best to consult a professional to find the best treatment option for you.

 

My life with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder has placed a strain on the very relationships that once gave way to warmth. It holds me close and tight and doesn’t let go until I am left feeling the brunt of its cruelty.

I suffer from disturbing, intrusive thoughts, over which I have no control. These intrusive thoughts can be cruel, and invade my brain throughout the day. With no warning. They threaten the very foundations in which make my life bearable – friendships and relationships.

These destructive thoughts hold me back from enjoying existence. They make me question who I am.

I feel there is something wrong with me.

I have OCD.​

I know the shame that intrusive thoughts bring about. So, I understand that only one-third of the 500,000 OCD sufferers in Australia seek treatment. For a long time, I refused to discuss it with anyone, but it becomes overwhelming and too difficult to keep locked away in my brain.

OCD calls on the demons hiding in the most remote corners of my brain to come downstairs and ruin my optimistic outlook on life. They convince me that I’m a despicable human and a danger to myself and others.

I won’t discuss in detail the context of my thoughts, what I will say though is that they cause such immense grief, I often feel my stomach may very well expel from my body.

The thoughts come in tsunami-like episodes, getting worse as time moves on, leading to one of the most heartbreaking episodes of all.

It had been a long night. I had been locked away from the outside world for just over a week. One could call it a self-isolation of a brain, my brain. It had been occurring for months, years even, somewhat episodically, but this time, it was all too much. I couldn’t handle the strain my brain placed over me. I had called a few helplines who suggested going to see someone but little did they know I was already in the process of finding someone. But as it was approaching Christmas, the wait for an appointment was well over 3-4 months.

My friend and I had planned to meet up for dinner and dessert, however, my eyes, stained red from distress, gave way to crucial evidence. She had been there for me two years earlier when the thought of still being around in 2019 felt like a mere fantasy.

It wasn’t an ideal situation. I sat in my car for 15 minutes trying to calm myself down. Once I felt the air float back into my lungs, I escaped the confinements of my car and made my way to her work. The sun, in its slow process of setting, shone a light shade of pink throughout the plaza.

“Just keep looking at the sunset,” I thought to myself. “It’s going to be a new day soon and this will all be a distant and faint memory.”

When you’re about to panic or on the verge of crying, the best thing someone can do is ask “R U OK?”, but I’ve found that this causes the flood gates to burst open, leading to a tsunami of emotion. The tsunami releases all the negativity trapped inside, explosions and cascades of gasps and tears tearing through the silence of their response. This occurred that night as I waited in the empty plaza outside the department store. Waiting. Breathing. Silence.

“Hey!” she said.

“Shit,” I thought.

Her smile often brings joy and the warm fuzzies, but on this day I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming army of joyless demons crush against my chest. The infection spread from my chest to my stomach as my hands started to tremble. I let out a nasty cry and fell into her arms.

She was the first person I told my thoughts to.

Everything spilt out in a rapid eruption of words and tears. I told her of the thoughts that caved away into the deepest parts of my brain, and how I had no control over them. These thoughts, intruding around my body as if on vacation refused to withdraw.

After 30 minutes of ugly crying, my friend thought it best that we call a mental health crisis helpline. Another 30 minutes went by. My ugly crying grew stronger and my friend performed her duty as a translator, relaying information onto the mental health officers.

I was too busy attempting to breathe. By 9:30 pm we were in the hospital’s mental health ward. Unfortunately, not my first time sitting in an emergency department due to mental health complications. What felt like a 30-minute wait turned into a 6-hour wait.

A lengthy couple of months ensued. I saw several mental health officers including a psychiatrist who put my mind at ease, informing me that these thoughts weren’t me. Asking me a very important question:

“If these thoughts, in any way, represented the type of person you were, then why would they cause you so much distress?” He said. “So much distress that it caused you to question your place on this earth.”

I finally had the answers, I was diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

It was a relief when I finally had an answer for the thoughts. These maleficent thoughts were so overwhelming that I questioned my place on this earth. And for the week leading up to that night, my brain spun into what felt like a never-ending cycle. Continuing to ask the same three questions:

Why are these thoughts in my head?

Why are they coming back with more ferocity than the last time?

Should I still be alive if I have these thoughts?

The truth is, at that time I wasn’t sure why I was having them; I didn’t realise that OCD could bring about such nasty thoughts. Thoughts that made me feel physically sick. It was as if a hand had made its way down my throat, stuck these ideas in my gut then withdrew in a hurry. Scurrying far away, leaving no evidence it was once there. It left doubt in the pit of my stomach. I asked myself – Am I this sick? Am I capable of these ideas? Is this me?

If these thoughts did in any way portray the kind of person I was, then in no way did I want them to be true. This is why that night I was in such distress. Once I was suffering from this “episode” it felt as though the thoughts would never end. With my previous episodes, I had managed to force the ideas to disappear after 2 or 3 days, but I couldn’t this time.

When I realized I had no control over them a wall of shame crashed into me. This was the moment I decided to lock myself away. Fortunately for me, I had already planned that dinner date with my friend. My stomach wanted to stay locked away, but my brain saved the day. My body activated the “Save Sarah Mode”, hoisting me up, out and into the car. On my way, I went.

Luckily for me, there are be people in my life I could and still to this day can trust. You can spill your guts to them, metaphorically that is.

Even if you feel like you are alone, stuck on a boat in the middle of the ocean, someone will eventually turn up, even if they are also stuck in the middle of the ocean, maybe in a dingy. Together you will form an unbreakable bond, forced together by the wildest of fears and thoughts and anxieties that crash against you like the wild, unpredictable waves they are.

 

My friend, that night, was my lifeboat.

There is this misconception that OCD only encompasses cleaning, organising, washing hands or turning light switches on and off. Now, even though these are common compulsions, it doesn’t represent everyone who has the misfortune of living with OCD. And for me, it made it difficult to speak up about my diagnoses.

Since experiencing this terrible uncontrollable episode, I have found peace. I am now able to open up to people regarding my OCD. I am able to accept that these thoughts aren’t me. And I am not able to control some thoughts that come my way.

 

If you or anyone you know require assistance in relation to distressing thoughts and/or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

With one in four Australian women on the oral contraceptive pill, few are aware of the link between the pill and mental health conditions.

With more than 100 million women worldwide and one in four Australian women taking oral contraceptive pills, new research is showing a strong link between the pill and mental health decline.

Researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York have conducted a study examining the brains of women taking oral contraceptives.

Research found that women taking the pill had a significantly smaller hypothalamus volume compared to those who weren’t taking this form of birth control.

The hypothalamus is a small region of the brain located near the pituitary gland responsible for producing hormones and regulating essential bodily functions such as moods.

Dr. Michael Lipton, head of the study, concluded that a smaller hypothalamic volume was also associated with greater anger and showed a strong correlation with depressive symptoms.

Depression affects twice as many women as men and it’s estimated one in four Australian women will experience depression in their lifetime.

Since the 1960’s, this tiny hormone-packed tablet has been treated as a miracle pill admired by women who now have the power to plan their periods and pregnancies.

With depression being one of the most predominant and devastating mental health issues in Australia, the prized benefits of the pill no longer outweigh the newly discovered evil it can create.

So what exactly is the pill?

The oral contraceptive pill is a tablet taken daily that contains both estrogen and progesterone hormones. It works by stopping the ovaries from producing an egg each month, preventing it from being fertilised.

The pill is used for many different reasons including; pregnancy prevention, improving acne, making periods lighter and more regular, skipping periods and improving symptoms of endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

While the pill has many benefits for women, research suggests that it can be linked to causing mental health issues, a detrimental side effect that doctors aren’t telling patients.

Evidence from a large Danish study on links between oral contraceptives and low mood rings alarm bells as 23% of women on the pill are more likely to be prescribed an antidepressant compared to those who aren’t.

The study also found that depression was diagnosed at a 70% higher rate amongst 15 to 19 year olds taking the pill and women between the ages of 15 and 33 are three times more likely to die by suicide if they have taken hormonal birth control.

Medical practitioners are quick to point out the less harmful physical side effects of taking oral contraceptives, yet seem to fail to mention the psychological damage it can trigger to a women’s mental health.

The praised pill has seen doctors handing it out like candy on Halloween to every women complaining of cramps, blemished skin or wanting an ‘easier’ option for birth control.

While medication should only be prescribed when medically necessary to patients, the pill is being prescribed routinely and by default from doctors.

So why are the mental health side effects of oral contraceptives being hidden from unsuspecting patients who are being prescribed them?

Dr. John Littell, a family physician, explains that the side effects of the pill are not often told to patients as they are seen as not important.

“Physicians in training during the past thirty years or so have been taught to find any reason to put women on some form of contraception without mentioning the possible risks associated with these methods.”

This is alarming news as Dr. Littell also mentions that when talking about the side effects, doctors are trained to see them as less of a concern than the overarching “problem” of pregnancy.

“The pill is often prescribed without any sense of hesitation from the prescribing physician, stating risks are viewed as less important than encouraging the woman to take it,” Dr. Littell explains.

Many women are now breaking free from the synthetic hormone cocktail being put into their body daily that is mixing with their emotions.

With research telling us what the doctors won’t, it’s no surprise why the most common reason women now change or stop taking the pill is because of mental health side effects.

Articles written by women titled “Why I’ll never take the pill again” and “My nightmare on the pill” explore firsthand the impact this pill has on women and the decline of their mental state.

Psychologist Sarah E. Hill suggests that almost half of those who go on the pill stop taking it within the first year due to intolerable side effects, with the main one reported being unpleasant changes in mood.

“Sometimes it’s intolerable anxiety, other times it’s intolerable depression, or maybe both simultaneously,”

“Even though some women’s doctors may tell them that those mood changes aren’t real or important, a growing body of research suggests otherwise,” Hill states.

Digital media brand The Debrief has launched an investigation linking mental health to the pill, surveying 1,022 readers between the ages of 18 and 30.

93% of women surveyed were on the pill or had previously taken it and of these women, 58% believe that the pill had a negative impact on their mental health.

45% of women experienced anxiety and 45% experienced depression while taking oral contraceptives.

43% of these women sought medical advice about their mental health, and over half the women believed that doctors did not take their concerns seriously.

With studies revealing the truth and doctors trying to hide it, the alarming facts point to a deadly pill polluting the brains of innocent, unsuspecting women.

While the oral contraceptive pill still remains the most popular and accessible form of birth control in Australia, it should be taken with caution and use should be monitored daily to prevent the occurrence of harmful side effects.

 

Kirsten from NSW, mother of two, shares her personal story on managing anxiety and post-natal depression.

When my son was born 10 years ago I was excessively worried about looking after him, both during and after the pregnancy, to the point where the fear was crippling. The five nights I spent in hospital I hardly slept, the anxiety just kept me awake. I started to obsess over sleep routines for him and for myself. My head was always full of what ifs. I feared being alone with him and didn’t want my first husband to go to work. The anxiety just increased and I started experiencing burning sensations in my back, arms and neck.

The anxiety and worry led to two weeks of no sleep and so I took myself to the hospital to get help. They administered some medication to help me calm down and I stayed there for a week. By that stage, I honestly felt like my body had forgotten how to sleep. The anxiety led to severe depression. I received some psychological help which allowed me to get by. Medication helped me to feel better and to sleep at night.

Eventually over the next few months I think I just got used to being a mum, gained confidence and eventually things went back to normal. I also went back to work part time where I felt safe and confident. When my second husband and I decided to try for a baby I started the process of gaining a better understanding of postnatal depression and anxiety through research. I guess I was doing all I could to prevent going through that nightmare experience again. So in 2014, I gave birth to our beautiful daughter and I felt so much more comfortable and so excited and full of joy.

Over the next eight weeks I didn’t recognise that the anxiety was slowly building. At eight weeks old she had one unsettled night where she wouldn’t drink her bottle and I started worrying so much about it that I couldn’t sleep that night. That triggered everything that had happened eight years before only much more intensely. I didn’t sleep for three nights and the burning sensations were back.

During one of my sleepless nights I was searching the internet for help and found a Mum and Bubs unit for anxiety and depression at a hospital. I booked in as soon as I could. Mentally I felt detached from reality, like I was going insane, like I was in a fog. I was so indecisive about the simplest things like packing the baby bag. I couldn’t believe that I had gone from being a confident capable teacher, who had who had a huge capacity and had achieved a lot of things in her life, so someone who struggled to put clothes on the line or leave the house with her baby and felt fear when she was alone with my daughter.

Mentally I felt detached from reality, like I was going insane, like I was in a fog.

After a panic attack in hospital, the psychiatrist on duty asked me what my plan was for getting out of here. That motivated and empowered me to work on the strategies I needed to get back on my feet. I wrote out positive affirmations and scriptures that challenged some of my irrational negative unhelpful thinking. I worked out what a daily and weekly plan would look like when I got home. That structure and support made me feel more in control and confident to leave the hospital. My faith kept me confident that God was with me and he would pull me through. My husband was my main support. I believe that where I’m at today is due to being proactive in my recovery and the support of my husband.

Today I try to manage my mental health by doing exercise, my faith in God, his word and prayer, medication, relaxation like yoga and mindfulness, attending anxiety support groups, psychologist and psychiatrist sessions. Today I look after my daughter with confidence and competence and I do not get anxious when I am alone with her. I have found looking outside myself to support and educate others about depression and anxiety has helped me stay well. I love my life today and I find enjoyment in my family and my interests but I still need to use the tools I’ve learnt to manage the triggers for the anxiety on a daily basis to stay well.

Republished from beyondblue’s Just Speak Up stories

Depression is a horrendous place. Despite it, unfortunately, now having a colossal army of recruits, it is the loneliest place in the world. In my experience, this was a result of Superwoman Syndrome.

I wonder who noticed we skipped an edition? In nearly eight years of publishing Offspring Magazine to simply not produce an issue was a big deal. It wasn’t just a blip to my staff either who rely on a regular income.

The reason? A Big. Fat. Meltdown.

I shouldn’t understate the reality… that’s what got me into strife in the first place … glossing over things.

Celebrating 2017 New Year’s Eve and the ensuing 11 days in Royal Perth psychiatric ward with “Ice addicts and prostitutes” (yes, shamefully, my words at the time before discovering we suffered from the same disease – Inability to Cope with Life) was a Superpowered meltdown. Otherwise known as BREAKDOWN.

So I won’t skirt around, in a misguided attempt at Superwoman heroism. Mind you, I was never under any such delusions of grandeur, but I guess trying to meet some self-imposed, perfectionistic ideals of running a successful business and having aspirations of becoming a Mary Poppins-style mother (albeit in her forties, and single…), and managing – was trying to utilise superpowers I simply didn’t inherit. As my therapist points out, “60% is Doing Great”.

Flagellating the self for failing at attempts to live up to an ideal which saw a Good Mum BAKING not BUYING $10-additive-ridden-cupcakes from Coles; Or, that my kids would become maternal orphans for spending more time at their dad’s than mine during press deadlines; contributed to the malady.

I did have real pressures. Being a single mum is tough – emotionally and financially. I personally find the burden of having to Provide the hardest part. As well as not having that special someone to confide in the stresses of each day. The isolation and load is taxing.

I had also been running flat out for a while, expanding Offspring during a relentless and fast-paced era of communications changes, in a cut-throat industry, while adapting to life as a single parent, in a new town with no family or friends. The isolation exaggerates everything. It has been gruelling, lonely and stressful.

Background: Several years after launching Offspring Perth, I packed up my then-five and two-year-old children, and husband, and moved interstate to launch our Sydney edition and then earlier last year launched Offspring Melbourne. The digital side was somewhere in between, and of course the requirements for that area are expanding all the time.

The timing was unusual. Depression can be like that…sneaking up on you while you’re convincing yourself you’re ‘doing fine’.

I was apparently doing everything right: I took time off work. I was running 6km every day. I meditated two hours a day. I had regular counselling sessions with a great psychologist. Confided with close family. Spoke candidly with friends. Had invested in a personal library dominated by Hay House publishing; I think I could write a PhD thesis on positive affirmations! Hell, I even gave up alcohol. No mean feat given it was the Festive Season.

But, still, I could not keep the Black Dog at bay.

I lost all interest in life. Including eating, I weighed 45 kg.

I just wanted to Not Exist Any More. To die.

I wanted to escape the pain. It was excruciating.

During my daily run, I had to continuously fight the urge to run in front of oncoming traffic. And would then curl over in a screaming ball of agony. The pain in my gut, in my solar plexus, was like someone was pushing a nine-inch dagger inside and twisted it around. It was physical.

I prayed like hell for help. And it came. I was lucky in that I had tremendous reprieve relatively quickly, and without medication.

I was prescribed Prozac and told I would be committed to a life-long dedication to a medication and counselling program. It would be about ‘managing’, not ‘curing’. As someone who hates to be confined to any one dogma or label, this prognosis irked me.

One afternoon, two days before I was due to be released back into to the Wild, er, world again, and five days into the administered anti-depressant regime, and hungover from Temazepam as the only means of sleep while battling mental train wrecks and sharing a dormitory with three other emotionally-fraught, insomniacs, I had a whim to do what, any rational, and very, very desperate person, seeking Hope, might also do. Go see a clairvoyant.

It was on one of my family excursions, out of the asylum, during which my supportive ex-husband brought the kids to visit, that I decided a trip to Fremantle might be useful. This was the kids’ Summer holiday, I didn’t want my ‘ineptness’ ruining their holiday. (Ineptness was precisely how I viewed my condition, not as an illness, which is not a helpful attitude for addressing this type of problem.).

It was here, in a Crystal Shop in Fremantle, I met Yvette.

Yvette could relate. She read my soul. She could feel my agony without me saying a word. She understood my pain and offered help.

The medical staff at hospital had done their jobs well and offered help but I’d tried their treatments previously, and here I was, worse than ever. I certainly open to alternative suggestions. Anything was worth a crack, even if it meant reducing the pain by placebo. I didn’t care.

Yvette referred me a Body Talk worker, Brenda, and while I didn’t know anything about this discipline, I was too exhausted and hopeless to care, judge or enquire. What the hell? I’d take a gamble on adding to present pain.

I went and saw Brenda and WOW. I went to sleep that night and awoke the next morning to have ALL PAIN REMOVED. THE DEPRESSION HAD GONE.

And it hasn’t returned.

I am not advocating against traditional medicine. This is very necessary, for many, but for me I had tried several times over the years and it hadn’t worked. There were blocks there not being addressed by traditional methods.

When I experienced the relief of the depression I also had a massive realisation: This pain wasn’t new. It had only intensified recently to become unbearable but I had been harbouring the aching for nearly 30 years.

Sounds miraculous, and it was. And I am very, very, very grateful. I am grateful to the whole experience, not just the healing, and the people and events that lead to that.

I am also grateful to now grasp the damage this ridiculous Superwoman notion causes. Not just to ourselves, but to those around us. My family in Perth missed spending time with me at home. My kids had to visit me in a psychiatric ward and deal with an emotionally-fragile mother. The only time I spent with my old Perth friends while visiting was in hospital. My staff lost income. My ex-husband had to take a week off work, not to mention, presumably, dealing with the prospect of his children having a basket case for a mother. And of course, I was getting no joy out of life.

Ironically, in my bid to ‘have it all’, I had nothing.

So Superwoman, or Superman (now that’s a whole new kettle of piranhas!), can superzoom off into the ether. Superordinary will have to do.

 

For those experiencing depression please contact:

Suicide helpline:

If you or someone you know is struggling with Depression please contact

Lifeline Australia

Phone: 13 11 14

www.lifeline.org.au/get-help

Expert in the field, Professor Marie-Paule Austin discusses why post natal depression is such a debilitating illness which affects a large number of new mothers.

Most new mothers sing the same song. You know the words. It goes, “I had no idea how hard it would be. I’m too tired to even make a cup of tea.” Repeat.
Everyone struggles to keep their head above water. But what do you do if you feel like you’re sinking? Professor Marie-Paule Austin is working as a lifesaver for women who are in danger of going under. She’s the Chair of Perinatal Mental Health at the University of New South Wales and runs the Mother and Baby Unit at St John of God Health Care in Burwood — and she is there for you.
In 2012, a Victorian woman suffering from postnatal depression killed one of her infant twin daughters and left the other brain-damaged. It is Marie-Paule’s mission to support women through their darkest hours so that they never feel pushed to such desperate, tragic acts.
Depressed women have a real handicap in the daily business of being a mum.
“Depression affects our motivation, our ability to think clearly, to make decisions, and to organise ourselves,” says Marie-Paule. “It reduces energy levels, can impact on sleep and appetite, and is often associated with increased anxiety. It can include low self esteem, a sense of hopelessness, and thoughts that life’s not worth living. All of those symptoms put together mean that if somebody suffers with a significant depressive episode, their ability to function day-to-day will be significantly impacted.”

“If the mother is isolated and there’s no one else to take over for a while, then that child is more at risk of what we call insecure attachment patterns.”

Caring for baby
“Depressed women have difficulty maintaining a routine with the baby. We’ve seen mums who just can’t remember when they last fed the baby or if they put enough spoonfuls in the formula. So in that sense the mother is not able to tend as well in a practical way to the baby.”

Bonding with baby
“What we find in most cases is that, even if a mother is able to provide the practical, day-to-day stuff — like feeding at regular intervals, settling the baby and so forth — she’ll more likely be affected in her ability to emotionally care for the baby.
“If she’s totally preoccupied with very negative thought patterns, she can’t be in the moment, picking up Baby’s cues. Babies are very communicative, right from the start. They don’t have verbal skills, but they’re doing all sorts of things to catch Mum’s attention and begin that lovely emotional bonding relationship that they need to develop with their primary carer.
“If Mum’s not able to attend to the much more subtle stuff, then the baby will, over time, learn not to expect that from Mum and will start to look for that from other key caregivers. That’s if the mother’s lucky enough to have one of her parents or in-laws or a partner who can give Baby that emotional input. But these days it’s very often the mother at home on her own with the baby. It’s very isolating. And that will impact on the gradual process of bonding and attachment that develops in the first year or two of the child’s life.”

“If she’s totally preoccupied with very negative thought patterns, she can’t be in the moment, picking up Baby’s cues.”

Baby’s future mental health
“If the mother is isolated and there’s no one else to take over for a while, then that child is more at risk of what we call insecure attachment patterns. In the more vulnerable, less resilient offspring, that may translate into an increased risk for their own mental health in future, and their own capacity to engage in meaningful, committed relationships. So depression can definitely have a trans-generational impact.”

Do you need help or a good zzzz?
Most of us will cheerfully admit that our beloved babies drive us crazy from time to time. So how do we differentiate between serious depression and just feeling overtired and stressed out?
Marie-Paule says, “Even clinicians don’t always know the first time, because sleep deprivation can send some people literally crazy. If you sleep-deprive someone and isolate them, in some cases they can become psychotic.
“Sleep-deprivation is inevitable with a newborn, even in the best circumstances. So we admit the mother and the baby to a Mother–Baby Unit, such as the one we have here in Sydney. We give Mum a period of time where she can catch up on sleep. Sometimes that’s all she needs.
“If we’re concerned about depression, what you’re looking for are some key features, like a sense of not being able to enjoy anything. So, even if someone got a good enough sleep and you’d think they’d have a bit more energy to enjoy things, they don’t. They can’t see any point; they can’t see any future. If there’s no sense of hope, no capacity to enjoy any aspect of their life, then we’re much more likely to think that this could be an episode of depression rather than sleep deprivation or anxiety with a new or unsettled baby.

“If she’s totally preoccupied with very negative thought patterns, she can’t be in the moment, picking up Baby’s cues.”

“At the Mother–Baby Unit, about 30 to 40 percent of the babies we see are actually quite unsettled. So we help with the routine, those mother-craft skills that many first-time mums lack — settling and feeding, things that create high levels of anxiety.
“We take pregnant and postnatal mums, with their babies up to one year of age, from across the whole Eastern States. Anyone who thinks that they or a relative might need help can ring St John of God Burwood Hospital on 02 9715 9200 for advice.”