Mental health. As a GP, one of the most common things I see in my practice are patients presenting with stress, anxiety and other mental health issues.
Often patients aren’t even coming right out and saying they have mental health issues, but are presenting with physical symptoms- such as problems sleeping, stomachaches, headaches. Sometimes it’s because they’re embarrassed to admit they’re struggling, and sometimes it’s because they aren’t even aware it’s mental health-related.
This isn’t surprising, because even though according to The Black Dog Institute, one in five Australians aged 16-85 experience mental illness in any given year, there is still stigma surrounding mental health. It has improved in recent years, thanks to organizations like Beyond Blue and increased media exposure but many people still think mental health issues are for “other people, not me.”
The first thing I always say when patients come in admitting they have a mental health struggle is, “I’m very glad you brought this up today.” Because it takes a lot of guts to admit something is wrong, and even more guts to go for help.
And when a patient tells me they’re here for sleeping tablets and we start to unravel their sleeping habits and their mental state together, they are often surprised when I ask them if they’ve been worrying a lot about something lately, or if there’s been something on their mind.
Mental health and physical health are intimately intertwined; if you have an issue in one, you’re going to have an issue in the other. It’s quite common for people experiencing anxiety to have physical symptoms like chest pain or palpitations, or for people with depression to feel physical aches and pains.
So what can we do about it?
Recognize when there is a problem. Educate yourself about the signs and symptoms and be aware when things are getting a bit beyond your control.
Go for help. See your GP. As GPs, we can work with you to develop a Mental Health Care Plan which allows you 10 Medicare Rebateable sessions with a psychologist per a year. If you don’t feel comfortable with the idea of seeing a GP about this, there are always the helplines you can call which provide 24 hour counselling- Lifeline and Beyond Blue.
Take care of yourself. You can’t always prevent mental health issues from occurring but you can definitely put yourself in the best stead possible for coping and managing your symptoms. Eat well, sleep an adequate amount every night, do regular physical activity. Poor physical health can take a toll on your mental health and vice versa.
Practice mindfulness. Everyone has heard this term bandied around at some point or another, but if you have not, it is defined by the dictionary as a “mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.” Breaking this down- it is essentially a technique of being consciously aware of oneself in the given moment. Click here for an excellent article by Reachout Australia on mindfulness.
Everyone practices mindfulness differently. Some people take five minutes at their desk and take some slow breaths, concentrating on how they feel in that moment. Some people go for a mindful walk and pay careful attention to their surroundings. Some people mindfully eat, with close attention to the taste and texture of the food, and the act of eating and swallowing.
For myself, I tried the sitting-down-and-meditating thing and it didn’t really work for me. I find I practice mindfulness best when I’m actually working out- especially when I’m rock climbing. When you’re climbing, your whole mind is completely focused on the route and how you’re going to position your body to allow you to ascend. You’re focusing completely on your breath and your muscles, and there isn’t room for anything else mentally, because if you lose focus for a second, you might fall.
In this day and age, our minds are racing at 100km/hr. We’re trying to juggle so many different things at the same time- it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Mindfulness helps you to pause, take a second, take stock of the situation and just give your mind a break. Resting your mind is like resting your body after a hard workout- it allows it time to recover and develop strength and resilience.
If you think you might be experiencing a mental health issue and you would like to speak to someone, you can call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.
If ever you feel like your life is in danger, you should call 000 immediately.
If you would like to see me to discuss your mental health issues or if you would like to see if a GP Mental Health Care Plan is appropriate for you, then please see my contact details for a consultation.