8 mental health tips for 2021

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It has been a stressful year, to say the least. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned from helpful mental health resources.

Sophie Al-Bassam

When lockdown first started (a few decades ago, right?), we jumped into it with resilience and a twinkle in our eye. We baked bread. We boasted about what we were going to learn. We thought, “We’ve got this”.

But then it turned into a rollercoaster that went on for what felt like forever. Relationships have been tested. Parents have struggled through home schooling with a now-worshipful appreciation of teachers. Lockdown hairstyles have gotten ratty. Our activewear is falling apart. We’ve eaten too many biscuits. We may have learnt more about ourselves, but we certainly haven’t learnt the Mandarin/instrument/coding we were aiming for. And we miss our friends and family.

The stress of a global pandemic and lockdown has gotten to us all at some point. And if you’re struggling, you’re certainly not the only one. For many of us it goes beyond despondence and frustration. Rates of anxiety and depression have increased since the pandemic began.

If you are experiencing mental health challenges the first stop should be your doctor. There are, however, many amazing digital mental health resources to help.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned from my favourite mental health resources.

Check in on your friends and colleagues

R U OK’s vision is a “a world where we're all connected and are protected from suicide”. Started in 2009 by Gavin Larkin after his dad’s suicide, the campaign has seen extraordinary success. The website has simple resources for spotting when a friend’s not doing well, and how to talk to them about it.

They have community ambassadors and company partnerships to further the message. In 2020 KitKat jumped on board to support R U OK Day on 10 September.

For a simple guide on starting a conversation, see the animated video above.

Speak to others who understand

All in the mind podcast by ABC

In the episode “The anxious type’s guide to 2020” from the ABC podcast All in the Mind, Graham calls himself an “anxious type”. He has been documenting his response to the events of 2020, from bushfires to the pandemic. In this podcast, he shares how keeping his routines and getting to know other anxious types has helped him through.

He and his partner run a mental health club. “It's a little community for thousands of sensitive cats across Australia,” he says. “People with what we call 'big feelings', because when it comes to mental health stuff, sometimes the answer is finding other people asking those same big questions.”

Ask your kids how they’re doing

Navigating parenthood podcast by HCF

It’s a confusing and stressful time for kids too.

Our client HCF has taken the opportunity to support Australians in a range of ways, including kids. The health fund also created a page of resources that delivers child-focused mental health programs and resources for parents and carers, including articles with expert interviews, along with maximising its partnership with Netball Australia to create a hub of content to help kids manage this period of uncertainty.  There are even downloadable activity sheets.

Eligible HCF members also get free access to online sessions with mental health professionals, with its partner program Calm Kid Central, which supports kids aged 4–11 to manage their ‘big feelings’.

Another notable kids resource is downloadable book My Hero is You by the World Health Organization. While wordy for a children’s book, it does feature a bad-ass scientist mum, an anxious child, a dragon, and handy tips on hand washing. It remind us we can all be heroes by keeping our loved ones safe. You can also watch it being read above.

Switch off your brain before sleep

Smiling mind app

If you’re not getting enough sleep, it can affect your mental health. And if you have poor mental health, it can impact on your sleep.

If you’re having trouble switching off at night, there are many meditation and breathing apps that can help. My favourite is Smiling Mind because it’s free and straightforward. Headspace is also great but you need to subscribe to access most programs and recordings. Their ‘sleepcasts’ are wonderfully cosy but boring stories that I never make it through because I’ve fallen asleep.

Be kind to yourself

Lunarbaboon comic strip

The Lunarbaboon comic talks about parenthood, anxiety and depression in a simple, relatable and beautiful way. Lessons include knowing that you may not be able to help a struggling friend much, but it’s nice to be there for them anyway. And accepting depression but not letting it get the better of you.

There are also posts about simple human kindness that reignite your faith in the world. 

Be realistic about what you can achieve

It’s easy to think you can be as productive as ever in really different circumstances, but I’m learning that I can’t. As someone who loves beating deadlines and finding solutions, that’s hard to accept. 

This was one of the lessons that stuck with me from Heads Up by Beyond Blue, a mental health resource for the workplace. They also have helpful tips on working from home.

Learn more

THIS WAY UP courses

If you want to know more about depression and anxiety but don’t want to see a psychologist just yet, these online courses by THIS WAY UP may be helpful. They are developed by psychiatrists and clinical psychologists at St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney.

A course costs $59 and will give you practical skills to combat your mental health concern.

An online course may not sound world changing but THIS WAY UP gets great outcomes. Trials show that with their depression course, 80 per cent of people who complete all lessons benefit substantially, 50 per cent to the point of no longer being troubled by depression. 

Ask for help if you need it

This one is hard. But know that if you’re struggling, your doctor is there for you. And if you aren’t comfortable with that, speak to a trusted colleague or friend or call a support service. 

If you need help right now, call Lifeline any time on 13 11 14.

Sophie Al-Bassam, senior managing editor

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