Ruby Rose, Australian media personality, DJ and television presenter, recently cancelled a string of shows and media commitments, citing her battle with depression as the cause.
Rose tweeted “It is with great sadness that despite everything I have tried in the short time I was given I am still losing my battle with depression … It is because of this that I will be making it my priority to take some time off work.”
Rose is already an advocate for increased mental health discourse in Australia; having been a longstanding Headspace ambassador, she particularly focusses her efforts on the younger generation.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics released figures that show more than 320 Australians aged between 15 and 24 took their own lives in 2011.
Beyond Blue CEO, Kate Carnell, said of the statistics: “This is very concerning. This means that a quarter of all deaths in this age group are as a result of suicide and that more young people take their lives than die in motor vehicle accidents. This is far too many.
On average, one in six people will experience depression at some stage in their lives; one in four will experience anxiety.
A study conducted by Dr Helen Stallman from the University of Queensland showed that university students have an even higher percentage of their population affected by mental illness.
Professor Florence Levy, Head of Child and Family East, Prince of Wales Hospital and Sydney Children’s Community Centre, says:
“In general, adolescents are believed to be vulnerable to the onset of a number of psychiatric problems, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression.”
Annie Andrews, Director of UNSW Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS), says:
“Being a student is a rewarding experience and is great for personal development, but our UNSW and other HE sourced data tells us that being a student can also be a very stressful and sometimes debilitating experience for between 18-25% of students.”
With such a large proportion of the student body experiencing some form of poor mental health, it is interesting to note that, when compared other health ailments, these types of illnesses have developed quite a stigma.
Tamara Beasley, a third year Linguistics student at UNSW, has struggled with depression and anxiety to varying degrees since 2011. She said that the stigma surrounding mental illness and depression is “everywhere”.
“It exists and it is strong. Even commenting on this article, it took me ages to decide whether I should be anonymous or not. In the end, I decided I’m just playing along with the stigma if I hide my name,” said Tamara.
Annie Andrews says that encouraging public discourse surrounding mental health is necessary to change the stigma.
“Many celebrities, elite sportsmen and women, and politicians are volunteering their time to be ambassadors for institutions, NGOs and causes related to mental health. Their voices are noticed and they can do a lot to reduce the stigma,” says Ms Andrews.
Rosie Waterland, editorial assistant at the website Mamamia, recently wrote an article hailing Ruby Rose as a hero for tweeting about her depression.
“Ruby Rose tweeting about her depression was really encouraging, as it is when any celebrity is open about mental health issues. Like it or not, those with high profiles are in a position of influence, so I welcome any kind of open discourse around mental health that begins with them,” said Rosie.
Rosie first started experiencing panic attacks, suicidal thoughts and emotional dysregulation when she was 17. She was diagnosed with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and has spent the last ten years working on her recovery. She agrees that the stigma surrounding mental illness needs to change.
“If I had been dealing with diabetes for the last ten years, people would be asking me about my struggle with the illness itself — not the stigma around it. When we don’t have to do these kinds of interviews anymore, that’s when I think the stigma will be truly gone!” she says.
One student at UNSW spoke of the difficulty of watching a friend go through depression. Brigid Hall said that when she first moved onto a residential college, she thought one girl was just having trouble adjusting to the college lifestyle and was a bit quirky.
“Her mood swings, fits of complete despair, eating too little but drinking too much and sleeping erratically worsened, until one night I caught her self-harming. She tried to hide it from me. That was a pretty scary, confrontational time [to deal with] for me and our other friend as teenagers in a new city with a relatively poor support base.”
Brigid spoke of the toll depression can have on those surrounding the person if they are young and unsure of how to get help.
“There was a period where we scared to leave her alone, nights when we swapped beds because she was scared of the mirror in her room which she had broken to use to cut herself. I began to get in the habit of falling asleep only after she was. It was full on. Looking back on it, I wonder how we coped with all this and a full-time course load,” said Brigid.
Tamara acknowledges that, in her case, it was her friends who initially helped her deal with her illness and made her realise that she needed to seek professional help.
“I knew that my actions were hurting my friends and the thought of losing them terrified me. I was put in touch with the Prince of Wales Acute care team. They were amazing. Trained counsellors rang once or twice a day and you could ring them 24/7. It was the kind of help I needed. Whenever I felt a panic attack coming on, or the need to cut, I just rang and someone talked to me until I had calmed down,” said Tamara.
Tamara and Rosie both agree that they could not have coped with their problems to the extent they have if it weren’t for the professional help they received, and encourage others to do the same.
“I went to UNSW CAPS and was immediately put into appointments with my own counsellor once a week. I was also put on the NSW Government Mental Health Care Plan and began seeing a psychologist once a week. The facilities available to me were amazing,” said Tamara.
Rosie thinks that increased mental health awareness will increase the facilities and ease of access for students.
“I would really like to see mental illness treated the same as any other kind of illness. Not only would this make it easier for those suffering to admit they need help, it would also hopefully lead to better and more affordable resources,” said Rosie.
Brigid says that it is due to personal experience that her ideas surrounding mental illness have changed.
“Now I try not to have a preconceived notion about who is likely to suffer a mental illnes —- in my experience, it can be and has been the beautiful, vibrant, smart and outgoing among us. Your best friend, your mum, your neighbour, your teacher.”
Tamara similarly stressed that the most important thing is to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health in order for more people to get the help they need.
“As with body types, our mental weaknesses and strengths are so vastly different, we should be sending out the message that if you need help, get it. I got the help I needed, and I am better for it. People shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help, just like asking for directions in the supermarket,” said Tamara.
Beyond Blue is running National Youth Week from the 5-14th of April. Their campaign aims to raise awareness about good mental health and encourage young Australians to look out for each other. If you or any of your friends are struggling with depression or any other mental illness, you can call their support service on 1300 224 636 or access their website, www.beyondblue.org.au
CAPS is open Monday to Friday, 9-5 and located on Level 2, East Wing, Quadrangle Building at UNSW. For further information, access their website: www.counselling.unsw.edu.au