October Astromusings – Mental Illness Week

Two weeks ago on 10 October 2014 when I began to write this post it was World Mental Health Day. For the whole week in Australia from 5-12 October ABC TV and radio focussed on issues to do with mental health. This is an issue that is close to home and close to my heart as my late father suffered from depression and alcoholism. Most of us would have had someone close to us either a family member or close friend who has suffered some kind of mental illness. The statistics show that one in five Australians can expect to experience some form of mental illness. This move to put mental health under the spotlight is a very worthy cause to help break down stereotypes and taboos associated with mental illness.


Felicity Ward

Josh Thomas & Bob Katter on Q&A

Josh Thomas & Bob Katter

Professor Patrick McGorry

Professor Patrick McGorry

Q&A televised live from Rockhampton focussed on mental health in rural and regional areas with panelists, Professor Patrick McGorry, 2010 Australian of the year, Louise Byrne from Central Qld Uni who trains mental health workers, Jennifer Bowers, Head of Centre for Rural and Remote Health, comedian, Josh Thomas, and independent MP Bob Katter.  Josh Thomas whose TV show ‘Please Like Me’ is both funny and touching, especially when it is realised that the part of his character’s Mum, played by Pippa from Home and Away, is based on his actual Mum who suffers from bipolar. It was a spirited and informative Q&A  with Josh Thomas challenging Bob Katter re the prevalence of mental illness suffered by gay people in rural areas.

Changing Minds inmatesABC TV 1 ran a program, Changing Minds over 3 consecutive week nights with TV cameras getting up close and personal with the inmates of Liverpool Hospital’s Mental Health Unit for the first time. Filmed inside one of the busiest Psychiatric Units in the country, Changing Minds: the Inside Story uncovered the realities of 21st century mental health treatment shining the spotlight on the patients and staff who challenge with humour and honesty, the stigma and taboos that exist around mental health. The series follows the journeys back to health of patients unwell at the time of their admittance. It is touching, confronting and at times funny.

The cost of mental illness to Australia’s collective wellbeing has reached billion a year – equivalent to about 12 per cent of the economy’s annual output. With one in four Australians experiencing a mental health issue in their lifetime, this is an issue of the utmost importance.

ABC2 showed the program, Felicity’s Mental Mission, hosted by Felicity Ward, comedienne who shared her experiences of mental illness as well as other people’s experiences.

Missy Higgins, despite being a musical legend on the road with her Australian covers album OZ, has suffered depression. She spoke about it, the pressures of year 12, and her alter-ego “Missing Hinges” (and almost calls her “hissing minges”…

On ABC Radio 702  Richard Fidler also interviewed people from all walks of life who shared their journeys grappling with mental illness. His program also featured some leading advocates in the mental health area. Monday’s program featured the poet Peter Langston who lived many years with undiagnosed bipolar disorder and now works with the Black Dog Institute, giving community presentations about living with bipolar disorder.

On Tuesday Richard Fidler interviewed Anita Link who shared her experiences of mental illness and how she survived. After the long and difficult birth, Anita was exhausted but unable to sleep. Fortunately, the medical staff saw the warning signs when she became mentally unstable, and she was able to get the care and treatment she needed. Anita has since experienced further episodes of psychosis, mania, and depression, which have been diagnosed as symptoms of Bipolar 1 Disorder. She’s thankful that she has learned to manage her illness with the support of a kind husband and good friends.

On Thursday Richard Fidler interviewed Amanda Webster whose eldest son, Richie became dangerously ill with anorexia when he was just eleven years old. Even though Amanda had trained as a doctor, she knew very little about anorexia. Her son was convinced he could ‘catch’ calories by touching things, and even absorb them through soil and air. Through Amanda’s efforts, Richie is now healthy, strong and currently pursuing his post-graduate studies.

On Friday Richard Fidler interviewed Janet Meagher who  served as commissioner on the National Mental Health Commission, and has been awarded an Order of Australia for her work. Janet shared her story of growing up in Newcastle and during her childhood she suffered violent abuse from her mother. She escaped by joining a convent where she intended to become a nun. In her twenties, after a very public breakdown, Janet was diagnosed with schizophrenia and was sent for ten years to Gladesville Mental Hospital. After her release she became a leading advocate for the international mental health consumer movement.

On Saturday Richard Fidler interviewed someone in the field of mental health who needs no introduction, former Australian of the Year, Professor Patrick McGorry. Born in Ireland and raised in Wales, Patrick arrived in Australia by boat with his parents as a fifteen year old. After studying medicine at university he chose to specialise in psychiatry, despite being warned off the profession by others in the medical field. He has focused on the importance of detecting mental illness early and helping young people to manage the condition before it becomes much worse. He’s professor of Youth Mental Health at the University of Melbourne, and executive director of Orygen Youth Health, which finds ways to treat and even prevent mental illness in young people.

The week culminated with a star-studded cast of TV presenters, news readers from all the commercial channels and other celebs producing two hours of fun with ABC’s show Friday Night Crack Up to raise community awareness and funds for mental health causes such as research. This included skits from the popular comedian Shaun Micallef of Mad As Hell Fame, Shane Jacobson and The Chasers. They talked about the various types of mental illness from autism to panic attacks to suicide. Shane Jacobson discussed suicide and Professor Patrick McGorry mentioned that there had been a recent suicide in Shane’s family. A show would not be complete without the appearance of John Clarke and Brian Dawe discussing mental illness.Clarke & Dawe

Shaun Micallef

Shaun Micaleff

Black mental health workers, Elizabeth Wymarra and Aaron Fa’aoso discussed the higher rate of mental illness in indigenous communities claiming that mental illness is caused by homelessness and substance abuse. The Sunnyboys played some of their songs with reference to their lead singer Jeremy Oxley who suffered deeply from mental illness.


Total lunar eclipse

As a backdrop to all this activity focussing on mental health awareness we had the powerful full lunar eclipse blood red Moon on Wednesday 8 October. With the Moon being in the sign of Aries and the Sun in its polar opposite sign of Libra it brings in its wake the volatile energy of Mars as well as the conciliatory energy of Venus. Symbolically just as an eclipse of the Moon is covering up the Moon so has the true extent of the toll of mental health been covered up but now in Mental Health Week the veil has been lifted for all to see to help demystify mental illness, breaking down the taboos and prejudices associated with mental illness. It featured a week of hope where many people shared their stories of courage and survival. Thank you Auntie ABC!

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