Written by Renae Failla 

Warning: This article deals with the sensitive topic of suicide and mental health. If you (or someone you know) need support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 available 24/7. You can also text 0477 13 11 14 from 12 pm to midnight for support.

It’s no surprise that during the first stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, 78% of Australians have claimed their mental health was impacted.

(PLoS ONE, Acute mental health responses during the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia.)

The very real fact is that people have taken their own lives as a result of the pandemic crisis for an abundance of reasons, be it the loss of jobs, the closing of small businesses, halts to education, life milestones and isolation.

To coincide with World Mental Health Day, Torrens University and Beyond Blue have joined forces to run a free online short course exploring experiences of people living with depression and their journeys.

The four-week course will begin on Monday 26th October 2020 and is titled Understanding Depression: Learning from Lived Experience. While the course is presented by Torrens University lecturers, those who partake will also get to hear directly from people who have lived with depression as well as Beyond Blue representatives.

Kath Curry, General Manager of Health and Education at Torrens University comments “We talk a lot about mental health, but sometimes it can be difficult to know how to support someone from the outside looking in.” The course will aim to help people take the first step in supporting someone with their recovery journey by ultimately stepping into the shoes of someone who has had a first-hand experience.

The inevitable COVID spike in people experiencing depression and related symptoms has made it more important than ever to address mental health and equipping people with the tools to identify what depression looks like.

Georgia Harman, CEO of Beyond Blue stresses the variability of depression in each person “Depression may not look the same for everybody – and that’s why it’s important to learn the signs. It’s also important to note that depression doesn’t only affect the individual experiencing it, it also affects those around them. This course – designed by lived experience experts – will help people ‘on the outside’ to better  understand, connect with and respond to those living with depression.”

Meet Paul Grainger – Torrens University Australia Success Coach

We had a chat with Paul Grainger, Torrens University Australia Success Coach, Blue Voices member and mental health guest speaker. Paul is 27 years old and has experienced both anxiety and depression as well as a family history of suicide. For Paul, his first experiences of depression and suicidal thoughts began when he was only 16 and peaked again at the age of 23 where a myriad of thoughts ran through his head and he thought he was at the end of the road. Paul unknowingly took the steps to help himself ending up at the local hospital and being discharged 4 days later.

Since then, Paul has changed his perception and approach to life with the assistance of friends and work managers. Friends and colleagues have been ears to listen without inferring judgement or solutions which he believes is important and was exactly what he needed.

Amidst COVID-19, one of the most difficult times for many, Paul not only graduated with Bachelor of Business from Torrens University but has begun his role as a Success Coach. Paul stresses at this time it is imperative to be “radically kind to ourselves” and reframe every experience to “give pain purpose”.

JAX Tyres for Ponderings

In preparation for the course, what are some tips that you would give to young people living with depression based on your own personal experience?

Simply, remove the pressure, explore your curiosity, let go of the expectations created by society; ‘you do you’, as the expression goes. Throughout school I was a dreamer, an entrepreneur, an athlete, an academic; there were so many pathways that I could pursue. And yet, I was also unable to look at myself in the mirror and, sometimes for months, be unable to get out of bed. Why? I’d built an enormous expectation for what I thought I was meant to achieve, none of which seemed possible. And every time I would look into the mirror, I would reaffirm this impossibility.

So, my suggestion for young people is simply, as cliché as it might be, to let go and allow what’s meant to come, come. With this too, be patient. It’s taken me almost 10 years to fully embody this philosophy; I just wish I’d be kinder to myself in that time and to enjoy more of the moments between then and now.

And finally, if I can be so bold, delete social media (or at least turn off notifications). Spend more time connecting with your friends and family and having fun.

 

What can we expect from the 4-week course: Understanding Depression: Learning from Lived Experience?

Over the 4-week short course, participants will learn about depression directly from those with their own lived experiences. As they will see, depression looks different for everyone, and so they’ll hear from the stories of a range of men and women, young and older, to challenge stereotypes and spark conversations. What I love most about this course and why it’s going to be so impactful, is that it’s not presented from a ‘clinical’ point of view; it’s not esoteric and scientific; it’s real stories, real voices, and real insights into what it’s like and how we as family and friends can support one another better.

It will discuss what led up to the experience, the things that guide beliefs, values and expectations, the things that can help us during ‘low’ periods whilst also exploring the things we must do more of to help us stay well and prevent some of the early symptoms. In addition, some of the course content will be delivered by experienced Torrens University lecturers who have worked in the area of mental health for many years.

We know that warning signs of depression can be different from person to person but what are some key signs that individuals can look out for in their loved ones and friends?

If I am to look back on my own lived experience with depression as a school leaver and young adult, I’d see myself losing enthusiasm for the things I once loved to do; I’d see myself not going out for those bike rides any more, not wanting to go out to the go-kart track to race that weekend. I’d see myself cancelling plans with friends or, perhaps more often, I’d see myself not making any plans in the first place because I was terrified that when the day came, I wouldn’t be able to leave the house; I was terrified that people would notice or ask too many questions if I wasn’t as chatty as normal. 

I’d also see myself sleeping more – a lot more – and recognise the thought in my mind that my dreams created a better reality than reality itself; it was this destructive escape that I would be drawn to for months at a time. Of course, I would be so frustrated at my inability to ‘see the woods from the trees’ that I loathed my need to try and explain to people what was happening; relationships soured and my ability to deal with trivial challenges became harder and harder. It seemed so logical for me at the time to withdraw completely from society, self-sabotaging relationships and opportunities, not knowing of course that the one thing that was going to help me was the exact opposite.

Tell us more about how can we be a positive support to someone who is/has been suffering from depression?

It’s really important that friends don’t feel any pressure to be able to ‘solve’ anything. There’s a reason trained professionals like psychologists exist. To be a positive support to someone with depression can simply mean letting them know you’re there to listen, not to offer advice or prescribe any solutions, just to listen. By educating ourselves on what to look for, through resources like those available in the Understanding Depression MOOC, and by engaging with the Beyond Blue website, we can understand in greater depth what’s going on and perhaps fill our toolkit with tips and tools on the types of support that we can offer that won’t do more harm than good. In some of my darkest moments, I thought that I was ‘throwing everything away’ and had nothing to live for, and so to know that I had friends who were still there, and would still be there, for whenever I was ready, meant so much and gave me a reason to keep going.

Tell us one positive mantra that you love to live by?

Prayer, patience and perseverance.

Participants of the Understanding Depression: Learning from Lived Experience course will receive a certificate of completion at the end of the course and it will require a 2-hour commitment each week.

For more information, to meet the people who share their experiences with depression in the MOOC, or to register go to: https://www.torrens.edu.au/understanding-depression-learning-from-lived-experience.

 Resources: 

Black Dog Institute https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/resources-support/ 

World Mental Health Day https://www.who.int/campaigns/world-mental-health-day/world-mental-health-day-2020

Lifeline Australia 13 11 14

You can also text 0477 13 11 14 from 12 pm to midnight for support.

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