Amplify Blog - The Mental Health Maze
by QFCC Youth Advocate Gefion
Struggling with mental health is one issue. Getting help for it is another. Having mental health issues can make people like me feel lost and confused enough as it is, but it only gets more confusing and isolating when navigating the mental health system for support with such problems.
I had a personally very ugly transition into adult mental health services, even though I had NDIS support. Having to suddenly stop using the services I was used to and being expected to find my own was immensely difficult. It seems like finding mental health services that suit me is pure luck and being on anything near a short waiting list is a miracle. It’s always trial and error to find the right person or the right treatment in a time when people like me need stability and support. Having to rebuild my mental health support network from the ground up while also dealing with newfound adulthood responsibilities is very harrowing and I would not wish it on anyone.
Learning how to navigate the technical side of the mental health system was a big barrier that frequently prolonged my help-seeking efforts. My parents usually dealt with all of the technicalities of getting mental health support when I was younger. Thus, when I turned the magic number of 18, I was suddenly expected to learn the difference between private and public health insurance or the difference between a social worker, a counsellor, a therapist, a psychologist and a psychiatrist to figure out which one I needed. Despite being in the mental health system for over seven years, I am still learning the ins and outs of what most of the mental health jargon is. I doubt I would have known anything about where to begin even if I studied psychology at school.
I am fortunate enough to be part of a generation where my friends and I can talk openly amongst ourselves about our mental health issues and about accessing mental health support without a fear of being stigmatised. Friendship circles like that have always helped me feel validated and helped me circumvent the stigma that I felt around reaching out for support. I cannot say the same about reaching out for mental health support in work situations and with people from older generations. During my time working as a fast-food employee, I felt I couldn’t say anything to my supervisors about how overstimulated I was in the work environment or how anxious I was taking to my colleagues in stressful situations in fear of receiving less work hours or being given no work entirely. I wish I could have received more general support from my workplace so my mental health needs could have been accommodated.
Receiving help for common issues like depression and anxiety can be very stigmatised as reaching out can be met with so many dismissive statements from people of older generations along the lines of ‘it seems everyone these days is depressed and anxious’ or ‘depression and anxiety weren’t so common back in my day’. I’ve been met with this overwhelmingly negative perception that struggling with depression and anxiety is simply ‘the new status quo’, which is extremely harmful for young people seeking support for such issues. There have been times when I myself have considered not bothering seeking help for depression- and anxiety-related problems, but mental health is just as important as many other facets of health and struggling with depression and anxiety is not healthy, nor should it be normalised. Young people should not be dissuaded from help-seeking just because a mental health issue is common.
On the other end of my mental health experiences, receiving help for managing my autism was not without stigma either. There is a certain attitude about neurodivergence and that it needs to be ‘fixed’ or that the individual themselves are the problem. While I am fortunate enough to be receiving proper help for this, there have been times where I have been told that I need to simply learn how to behave and act properly, to change me to be ‘less autistic’ when I have already spent so much time of my life masking my emotions that it has become damaging. Sometimes it feels like receiving any form of mental health support, especially for autism, marks me as ‘not normal’. I was told as much by my psychiatrist when I was diagnosed with ASD, that I would be labelled and stigmatised for having diagnosed autism. But really, there is no such thing as ‘normal’ and there is no such thing as anyone needing to be ‘fixed’. People and their mental health are too complicated to be categorised and labelled so simply, nor separated as those who seek support and those who don’t as ‘us and them’. Everything exists on spectrums, not binaries.
Despite all of these struggles, there have been some ways I have taken shortcuts and pitstops through my journey navigating the mental health system. For one, I have found free school and university counselling systems very easy to use and they have often provided good intermediary support when I was going between mental health workers. I have found myself more able to speak up about my mental health concerns in places and with people who are openly accepting of those struggling with mental health or those who are neurodivergent. I have also found that seeing a GP has been a good way to learn about different available supports and for determining a strategy to tackle the mental health system to find those supports.
Above all, I have found it most helpful to be as perseverant and optimistic as you can when trying to find adequate mental health support. You will find the right support you need, in time.