Grim statistic proves Australia needs better mental health education
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has just released the results of its 2020-21 National Mental Health and Wellbeing Study. And a shocking insight into the study suggests almost a third of Australians really don’t know how to look after themselves when it comes to mental health.
The recent ABS National Mental Health and Wellbeing Study study shows three in five Australians have taken steps to self-manage their mental health; which is great. However, one of the ways people tried to self-manage or self-treat their problems is not so good.
For example, the second most used method by Australians tried to improve their mental health; 28.6% of Australians have practiced ‘positive thinking’ in an effort to improve their mental health.
Sure, every self-help book and wellness influencer on the planet pushes positive thinking, but our first thought upon seeing “positive thinking practiced” in the ABS report was “it doesn’t really work for people who are already struggling with mental health issues.” , is not it?
So, DMARGE did some research to see if positive thinking has (or doesn’t) have mental health benefits. First, we spoke exclusively to health and community psychologist Dr. Marny Lishman, who told us that positive thinking can actually be “useless” in some cases.
“Yes, it’s all well and good to think positively all the time, but it can be pretty useless if you or others are denying how you really feel.”
Dr Marny Lishman
“All of our emotions are valid and, in fact, are very valuable to us because they give us information about our surroundings so that we can behave accordingly. If we don’t allow ourselves to feel the perceived negative emotions, we don’t don’t give them the chance to deal with them, change our actions or even space to learn and grow from experiences.
Dr Lishman also recommended some things Australians can – and should – do to take care of themselves mentally.
“Physical activity, learning to be in the moment (mindfulness and meditation) as well as connecting with others. And of course talking to a professional is always very important as it can be helpful not only to get help, but also to learn strategies to help you manage your mind.
Dr Marny Lishman
DMARGE also spoke exclusively with Dr. Jodie Lowinger, clinical psychologist and author of The Mental Fortitude Methodwho found that thinking positively can lead to “a struggle with our thoughts”, which ultimately worsens mental health – especially anxiety.
“The challenge of positive thinking is that if we’re told to just think positive or just stop being so negative, we start to get into a struggle with our thoughts that cause us to fight or flee, which is experienced as stress, anxiety, restlessness or frustration.
Paradoxically, getting into a struggle with our thoughts can make anxiety worse. [Thinking positively] is different from practicing strategies such as focusing on things you feel grateful for…”
Dr Jodie Lowinger
Dr. Lowinger went on to explain how people can deal with negative thoughts with “scientifically backed strategies” instead of just focusing on positive thinking.
“[Make] it is a practice to have a positive focus when you wake up in the morning. It helps you get out of the sympathetic nervous system of fight or flight, and the associated adrenaline and cortisol [spikes]and stimulates positive neurochemicals, such as dopamine and serotonin.
“Other scientifically backed strategies to help rebalance the negativity bias are keeping a gratitude journal, such as ending the day by writing down three things you feel grateful for, or instead of being in the struggle to think positively. , think about how you can respond with values – aligned actions or acts of kindness and compassion for yourself and others.
Dr Jodie Lowinger
Whereas Dr. Lishman and Dr. Lowinger – and that 2009 study – advise that there are better methods of improving and managing mental health than positive thinking and that ABS data proves that this is a popular method among Australians, it is clear Australians need to be better educated when it comes to mental health and how best to deal with it…
Let’s hope the government agrees with us and puts a program in place; which isn’t too unlikely since the ABS study was funded by the Australian Department of Health and Aged Care.