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“One of the fundamental challenges in young people’s mental health care is based in the assumption that youth equates with health. ‘So unless the person is really obviously disabled, really obviously injured… there’s an assumption that person’s entirely well.’

I was shocked. I’d never connected these dots. Health and youth are so inherently linked. And a disruption in the link adds a new, complex dimension to the prevention, identification, intervention and treatment of young people with mental health challenges.”

At Connect 2014, a national youth mental health conference organised by Young and Well CRC (where I am currently an intern), I was given the opportunity to interview a man at the forefront of Australia – and the world’s – mental health sector.

Professor Ian Hickie is pretty much a guru. He works in research at the Brain and Mind Institute, and is involved in the development of evidence-based services that can change the way young people and their communities approach mental health care. Professor Hickie attends all the conferences, meetings and interviews he can, to help spread the word on what we can actually do to make progress and help scores of young people nationwide.

In his formal addresses and the time I spent with him one-on-one, Professor Hickie communicated a sense of hope regarding the future of Australia’s young people and their relationship with themselves, their health, their carers, and their world. He offered many insights into the potential for social media, apps and digital technology to become keystones in mental health care, and spoke of the challenges health care professionals are facing in relation to these changes.

Young people are healthy, aren’t they? We’re nimble, we’re free, we’re thrill-seeking, happy. If we fall down, we get back up. Resilient creatures, we are. Or so the story goes. So when something challenges that status-quo, sometimes we and those around us don’t know how to react.

I learned so much at Connect 2014, and would do the experience a disservice to try and reproduce even some of it here. But my interview with Professor Hickie, published on Young and Well CRC’s website, will give you a glimpse of what I was a part of, where we’re at with young people’s mental health care, and where to go from here.

If you want to follow (or relive) Connect 2014 in its entirety, you can also view the Storify summaries.

“We have so many opportunities to transform health care to a model where the individual is at the centre, and the clinician is a consultant – is complementary – but not in control.

Together we can develop a system of care that will respond, educate and serve all young people in meaningful and respectful ways. And that will really change our mental health.”

There are so many reasons to talk about mental health and wellbeing.

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Our world is facing anything and everything at once. Big universal issues of poverty, malnutrition, economic crises, disease, unemployment, climate change and outbreaks of war. And communities are suffering overflows of waste, insufficient maternal and child healthcare, inflated petrol prices and supermarket wastage.

I find it incredible that every single person – or dog, cat, ant or any other living, breathing species – is unique. Everyone has their own history, experiences and story to tell. Each person is their own mixture of their parents, friends, extended family, education, culture and religion. It really takes my breath away knowing that each person I speak to, interact or make eye contact with, as well as every person I just pass someone on the street, is one of a kind. And anyone you have heard of, referenced, imagined or backstabbed is, too.

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I’m no saint. Sure, I’ve spoken a bad word about someone behind their back, joked about a person’s shoes being too big, their hair unkempt (although let’s face it, I’m the number one perpetrator of that ‘crime’), and criticised someone’s decisions based on my personal principles. But that’s just it. My judgements, assumptions and assertions are my own, stemming from my personal, social, familial and cultural background. I’m trying to to judge less, and accept and appreciate more. Because if someone is acting safely, in a manner that could be widely considered as socially, ethically and morally just, then really, who are we to judge?

The times are tough and tedious and I think you’d be searching far and wide to find someone who wasn’t in need of a helping hand in one way or another. Maybe your grandmother needs someone to take her grocery shopping because she can’t carry all the bags back to the car/bus/tram. A friend might want a wingman for a first date on Valentine’s Day. Or maybe your loving, caring mother or father might appreciate a phone call from their long, lost daughter or son who they haven’t seen in weeks, despite you living just a couple of suburbs away, across the river.

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I say this because everyone deserves a life – a life where they feel appreciated and loved for who they are, no matter their race, religion, sexual identity, gender, socio-economic status, whether they live in a house, a yurt or they choose a nomadic lifestyle. If someone has committed a crime, they deserve a chance to redeem themselves if they are willing to work towards a better and more sustainable life in which they will contribute positively to society.

And so often, it’s about the words we choose. Naming and shaming does nobody any good. Not one of us is perfect; no one has everything. Social media perpetuates this constant feeling of inferiority, FOMO, hints to us that we’re insignificant in a burgeoning network and sea of faces. But as I said, in each (legitimate) profile picture, is a whole person. A person with unique feelings, thoughts and experiences from which we can learn, and influence in the best ways we know how.

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Alongside all the heavy weights pulling on the world, everyone also has their own troubles and challenges. While I’d love to be able to resolve global conflicts, find a cure for dementia or cancer, or provide a home for all those seeking asylum across the globe, I’m aware of trying to ground myself in reality. That’s not to say one person cannot make an impact, instigate change or contribute to solving any one of an array of international issues. But if that’s a bit overwhelming, maybe we can start closer to home.

Everyone can find themselves in a sticky situation where they’re left feeling vulnerable and alone. For some, this is rare, and these people are lucky. For others, helplessness and struggle seem to be daily battles occurring within the depths of their stomach, their heart, their mind. These people do have a bright future ahead of them. They might just need a leg up over the bushes to see it.

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A huge percentage of the world’s population are facing or coming to terms with mental ill health. Mental health is a precursor for a life where one is appropriately stretched and tested, and is gratified and celebrated in return.

We need to let these people know that while despair can be debilitating, it too, shall pass.

Thankfully, there are thousands and thousands of people across the world who are striving everyday to communicate this message to those who need it. And if you don’t need it now, chances are you or someone you love will need a little shot of hope somewhere down the track.

So many industries and sectors are working their butts off to create an environment where everyone feels welcome and appreciated. Every month, awareness is growing, as are available support groups, networks and healthcare professionals. You might not need that kind of support, and that’s okay too. Sometimes your greatest support can be your puppy, your partner, or even a note pad and pen.

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I second the responses of Thu-Huong Ha, who in December, asked the question, How should we talk about mental health?. Drawing on wisdom from TED speakers, she highlighted the importance of sensitivity, being considerate, and respect when talking about the health of our minds. I suggest this is the same respect and thought we give others who’ve broken a bone and cannot participate in a shopping spree, or those who’ve been diagnosed with a condition that’ll put them out of work for weeks or months at a time.

We do not give up on these physically scarred individuals. Because everyone who is scarred, is also healing. They are one and the same. Healing is a process which only time can propel. But with the right treatment, ointment, love and care, we can all heal, whatever our wound, and in turn, help others to do the same.

Nobody else can tell your story. And it’s okay to ask for help to relocate your voice, your legs and your lungs, so that you can.

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Support Services Australia:

headspace

beyondblue

Black Dog Institute

Butterfly Foundation

twenty10

Lifeline

Kids Helpline

Relationships Australia

International:

Mental Health America

Mind (UK)

Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand

Canadian Mental Health Association

Or please use Google to find the most direct and appropriate service for you.

Last semester I took a subject called International Human Rights and Law. While I entered the course with relatively little prior knowledge of what I imagined the subject would cover, I had actually picked the politics/economics strand of my degree as my contextual major, specifically to take this subject.

I’ve studied very little law or legal studies in any formal way. At school, in year 10, we were introduced to some of the horrific realities of honour killings, forced marriages and dowry penalties, and similar degrading practices that occur far too commonly, largely in developing nations.

I suppose that subject contributed towards me choosing to pick up Women and International Justice over the spring semester of 2012.

But, today I want to post my final essay for International Human Rights and Law.

While not directly addressed in our course, I chose to focus on the ways in which people with disabilities or mental illness are dehumanised and ‘psychosocially debased’, and how these practices are in fact, violations of their human rights.

It never fails to surprise me how much I can enjoy learning and doing ‘work’ when I’m concentrating on something of personal interest. It is with this realisation, I find even more reason for leading educators to consider the principles of Logan LaPlante’s hackschooling philosophy.

It’s a bit Convention heavy, but if you have the time to sit down and ingest the essay, I’d love to hear your responses.

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Discuss whether the dehumanisation and psychosocial debasement of a population or a sector of a population are always leading indicators of potential human rights violations?

Human rights have long been an issue of import and controversy across the globe. Within governments, industries, timeframes and communities, what constitutes a human right has been debated as cultures, generations and evolution bring new and conflicting ideas to the front of popular conversation. Despite this, it is commonly assumed, as recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), that dignity features as a primary concept across legislative instruments and cultural norms. Basser (2011) considers dignity to be an attribute of each person ‘by virtue of his or her humanity’ (p. 19), independent of social status, political affiliation, economic value, gender, ethnicity, or one’s ability to reason. This paper will work with a flexible definition of dignity, incorporating three significant elements of agency, control and worthiness. As such, any attack on a person’s agency, control or worthiness is inherently an attack on their dignity and thus is a violation of their human rights.  To quote Reaume, ‘[t]o ascribe human dignity to human beings… is to treat human beings as creatures of intrinsic, incomparable, and indelible worth’ without the need for further qualification (2003, p. 675). Therefore, one’s physical or mental ability or merit should not diminish the right to dignity and one’s inherent rights to humanity.

Implicit in human dignity and the inherent value of the human person, is an acknowledgement and acceptance of human diversity and difference (Basser, 2011). This paper will address how a disregard for this notion is very present in relation to people with disabilities or mental illness, and how as a consequence, they are collectively dehumanised – deprived of positive human qualities – and debased through the psychosocial, cultural, medical and legal spheres within which we exist. On many occasions, the rights of the disabled have been violated as they are considered to be non-human and are thus de-righted (Quinn and Arstein-Kerslake, 2012). They are often denied access to jobs, services and education, as is the case when children with disabilities find their choices are limited due to schools’ reluctance or inability to provide adequate support or resources to accommodate the child’s differences.

Lawson writes, ‘[t]raditionally, disability has not been regarded as a human rights issue’ (2006, p. 462), and the characterisation of ‘disability rights’ as a social issue was largely absent from global public, political, or legal debate until the early 1990s (Perlin, 2011). Those with disabilities are commonly objectified, and are considered to be a medical ‘issue’ or problem requiring management, care or control. While people with disabilities, like all people, may need care and medical assistance, it is important to highlight that human rights are relational, and that people live together in society where the extent to which any claim to human dignity can be met will be ‘constrained by the need to give equal concern and respect to other human beings’ (Basser, 2011, p. 21). Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that ‘All human beings… are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in the spirit of brotherhood’ (Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 1), and yet many people with disabilities are denied this very first human right.

The issue of one’s ability to reason is in itself, contentious. Robertson (2012) explains the 19th century ‘rationalist fallacy’ where rights were only thought to belong to those capable of logical thought which excluded ‘women, dogs and lunatics’ from equal and professional life (p. 150). Perlin (2011) endorses this critique and locates it within a modern context, referring to it as ‘Sanism’. Perlin defines sanism as ‘an irrational prejudice of the same quality and character of other irrational prejudices that cause (and are reflected in) prevailing social attitudes’ such as bigotry based on sex, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity (p. 5). He deepens this definition stating that sanism ‘infect[s] jurisprudence and lawyering practices’ and is based on ‘largely invisible… socially acceptable [prejudices] based predominately on stereotype, myth, superstition, and deindividualization… sustained and perpetuated by our use of a false “ordinary common sense” and heuristic reasoning in an unconscious response to events both in everyday life and in the legal process’ (p.5).

The persons with disabilities most affected by such potential human rights violations are those with intellectual disabilities, mental illness or problems, or those with communicative disabilities, and it was not until 2006 that The Convention on Rights of Persons with Disability was constructed in the hope to provide a guarantee that such persons should have adequate access to community services and facilities. The 1948 Genocide Convention outlawed the attempted destruction of a race or ethnic group, yet Robertson (2012) notes the Convention makes no reference to those judged as ‘feeble-minded’ by the popular 1920s eugenics movement in the United States and United Kingdom (p. 150), a category under which those with disabilities were constituted. In what may be considered a similar vein, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights made no reference to those with disabilities, until the European Convention on Human Rights took hold in 1953. After what the United Nations claims to have been ‘decades of work… to change attitudes and approaches to persons with disabilities’ (United Nations Enable, 2006, para. 2), the urgency of a specific charter was finally met with the adoption of The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in December 2006.

Perlin (2011) heeds the United Nations’ notion that society has an obligation to ‘remove the attitudinal and physical barriers to equality and inclusion of people with disabilities’ (p. 4). He considers the extent to which society was blind to the frequent and enduring violations of international human rights law particularly concerning the institutionalisation and legal inequities people with disabilities are so often subject to (2011).  Article 12 of The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ‘Equal recognition before the law’ states: ‘persons with disabilities have the right to recognition everywhere as persons before the law’ who are able to ‘enjoy legal capacity on an equal basis with others in all aspects of life’ (The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Article 12). Articles 12.3 and 12.4 refer to involved parties’ duty to ensure appropriate support and safeguards are in place for helping persons with disabilities exercise their legal rights and capacity, and that these structures ‘respect the rights, will and preferences of the person’, while being free from any conflict of interest. Article 12.4 specifically states these measures will be put in place ‘to prevent abuse in accordance with international human rights law’.

Despite this, one of the first interventions denied to a person with a disability is their legal capacity to exercise their moral agency, including and especially, a right against forced treatment and an authority to give or refuse consent to various procedures, medical or otherwise (Quinn and Arstein-Kerslake, 2012). Quinn and Arstein-Kerslake (2012) cite Blackstone’s (1765) naming of this to be effectively a ‘civil death’ (p. 42), where the individual is automatically subject to being treated as ‘less than’ equal to other human beings. Medical or legal decisions are substituted to a third party, much like the protocol observed when caring for a minor. However, unlike when caring for children, it is assumed that these lost or diminished capacities will not return to those with disabilities. Quinn and Arstein-Kerslake (2012) note that ‘[t]here remain many laws, practices and policies throughout the world (including in Europe) that unduly restrict the legal capacity of persons with disabilities to make decisions for themselves’ (p. 43).

A large proportion of human rights violations of persons with disabilities are calculated through medical examinations and protocols. A significant proportion of persons with disabilities will be faced with institutionalisastion, where they are confined against their will, as a result of a ‘negative’ medical analysis that has deemed them to be somehow unfit to look after themselves. Perlin notes that despite formerly hospitalised individuals and their supporters taking an active role in advocating for mental health reform, ‘there is little evidence that these groups are taken seriously either by lawyers or academics’ (Perlin, 2003, pp. 699–700). Thus, routinely, persons with disabilities are deprived of their freedom, dignity and basic human rights in violation of Article 14.1b of The Convention on the Rights of Persons that states that ‘the existence of a disability shall in no case justify a deprivation of liberty’.

Article 5 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights condemns torture, including ‘inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’. However, as mentioned above, persons with disabilities are sometimes considered to be ‘inhuman’ themselves and are consequently placed in situations of restraint or seclusion undermining their worthiness and human rights. In early 2013, United Nations’ torture Special Rapporteur, Juan E. Méndez, stated that torture is the ‘most serious violation of the human right to personal integrity and dignity’, where the victim is thought of as powerless, is deprived of their legal capacity, their liberty, and is ‘under the total control of another person’ (Méndez, 2013, p. 7). He called for ‘an absolute ban on all coercive and non-consensual measures, including restraint and solitary confinement of people with psychological or intellectual disabilities … in all places of deprivation of liberty, including in psychiatric and social care institutions’ (McSherry, para. 3).

The General Assembly of the United Nations adopted Principles for the Protection of Persons with Mental Illness and for the improvement of Mental Health Care in 1991. Principle 9.1 mandates patients be treated in the ‘least restrictive environment’ and Principle 9.2 states that treatment shall always be ‘directed towards preserving and enhancing personal autonomy’. This, however, becomes more complex in relation to Principle 11 that deals with consent to treatment. Richardson (2011) notes standards published by the Committee for the Prevention of Torture in 2004, of which paragraph 4 states ‘[t]he admission of a person to a psychiatric establishment should not be construed as authorizing treatment without his consent’ except in the cases of involuntary admissions were the person’s condition poses significant risk to their own health or to others’ (p. 140). It is imperative to remember here, that persons with disabilities or mental health problems must be considered to have the capacity or potential to make a full recovery, or to return to a place of stability in which they could regain greater agency and personal control. Richardson (2011) also highlights that ‘the intensity of some mental disorders can vary over time and a patient’s level of competence may fluctuate over the course of the disorder and its treatment’ (p. 152). Throughout treatment, whether voluntary or involuntary, the patient is to be respected and treated with dignity, and as an equal before the law. Under no circumstance should the person be dehumanised, exploited or coerced. If any of the aforementioned was to occur, the individual’s fundamental human rights will have been violated.

Ultimately, The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities seeks to reverse disadvantage faced by people with disabilities through ‘empowering rather than a constraining approach to human dignity’ (Richardson, 2011, p. 155). At present, United Nations’ Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is calling on the 134 states that have ratified the Convention to ‘energize the international community to move from commitment to action [giving] greater recognition… to the issue of disability in sustainable, inclusive and equitable development’ (UN News Centre, para. 3). People with disabilities make up nearly 15 per cent of the world’s population (UN News Centre, para. 4), and are considered to be the ‘world’s largest minority’ (Perlin, 2011, p. 14). Fortunately, there are many established organisations and foundations worldwide seeking progress and activity surrounding disability and human rights. One such organisation is the World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, that recognises the need for care and communication continues post-active treatment. Similarly, there is an International Day of Persons with Disabilities, as well as efforts by the United Nations to mainstream disability and recognise the inclusion of disability into the Millennium Development Goals as integral to their prevailing success.

People with disabilities must be given the opportunity to prosper and exercise their legal capacities through consolidated support from the global network. Sanism, discrimination and questionable treatment of persons with a disability are all undeniable indicators of potential human rights violations. It is those who are most vulnerable who face continuous denials of their agency, control and worthiness, yet they are as human and as equal, as individuals living free from disability.

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References

Basser, L A 2011, ‘Human Dignity’, in Critical Perspectives on Human Rights and Disability Law, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Leiden, pp. 17-36.

European Court of Human Rights, 1953, European Convention on Human Rights, European Court of Human Rights, viewed 22 September 2013, http://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Convention_ENG.pdf.

Lawson, A 2008, ‘People with psychosocial impairments or conditions, reasonable accommodation and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in Law in Context, vol. 26, pp. 62-84.

McSherry, B 2013, ‘Targeting isolation and restraint in mental health facilities’, The Conversation, 9 September, viewed 22 September 2013, http://theconversation.com/targeting-isolation-and-restraint-in-mental-health-facilities-16519?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest+from+The+Conversation+for+10+September+2013&utm_content=Latest+from+The+Conversation+for+10+September+2013+CID_a1e59d76a2229c3e1581ca325f634a89&utm_source=campaign_monitor&utm_term=Targeting%20isolation%20and%20restraint%20in%20mental%20health%20facilities.

Méndez, J 2013, Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, United Nations, viewed 22 September 2013, http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session22/A.HRC.22.53_English.pdf.

Perlin, M 2003, ‘You have discussed lepers and crooks: Sanism in clinical teaching’, in Clinical Law Review, vol. 9, pp. 683-729.

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 1991, Principles for the Protection of Persons with Mental Illness and for the improvement of Mental Health Care, United Nations, viewed 22 September 2013, http://www.equalrightstrust.org/ertdocumentbank/UN_Resolution_on_protection_of_persons_with_mental_illness.pdf.

Quinn, G & Arstein-Kerslake, A 2012, ‘Restoring the ‘human’ in ‘human rights’: personhood and doctrinal innovation in the UN disability convention’, in Human Rights Law, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 36-55.

Reaume, D 2003, ‘Discrimination and Dignity’, in Louisiana Law Review, vol. 63, no. 3, pp. 645-696.

Robertson, G 2012, Crimes Against Humanity, 4th edn, Penguin Group, London.

United Nations, 1948, Genocide Convention, United Nations, viewed 22 September 2013, http://www.hrweb.org/legal/genocide.html.

United Nations, 1948, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations, viewed 22 September 2013, http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml.

United Nations, 2006, The Convention on Rights of Persons with Disability, United Nations, viewed 22 September 2013, http://www.un.org/disabilities/documents/convention/convoptprot-e.pdf.

United Nations News Centre 2013, Countries must increase commitment to rights of persons with disabilities – UN chief, media release, United Nations, Spain, 9 September, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=45800&Cr=disability&Cr1=#.Uj0YkBZ7m0u.

Last night I uploaded a new profile picture to Facebook.

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The Likes I received were incredible/ridiculous/many. Every time I checked my phone, the Likes had increased. I went out to yoga, put my phone on silent, and by the time I came home an hour and a half later, the number had skyrocketed further, still. As I write, I’m on 209 Likes and 23 extremely generous and complimentary comments. That’s a Like Record for me, the most I’ve had on anything I’ve posted over my five plus years on the social media platform.

So, I’m thinking, ‘Wow, this is great! People think I’m attractive, people like what I’m wearing, my smile, the composition of the photo, or a combination of all of the above’. It made me feel good, I felt (no pun intended), Liked. I felt more worthy than I had a few hours before, I felt more accepted and somehow, more legitimate, as a valuable, equal member of my peer group, of society, if I can to take it to that extent.

Here’s the problem: I recently had a professional photo shoot at a professional photography studio. I had my hair and make-up done by an ‘artist’, was shot by a professional photographer, and the team used ‘props’ like a fan to blow my hair around, made lighting and furniture adjustments, and positioned me in ways they thought complementary to my figure/features/whatever. Essentially, they directed me into looking ‘good’. The photographer said she had all the knowledge and experience needed to produce the most flattering shots and I was (and still am) grateful for her keeping to her promise.

But, how do I know she succeeded?

Because one of those photographs is the one I made my profile picture less than 24 hours ago. That same one with the most Likes, kind comments and good feelings that have come as a result of the finished product.

Oh, there’s another Like. 210, now.

So, here’s the thing. What does it say about me that this course of events and tiny clicks, minute actions by others, granted, by you, that have led me to feel a significantly increased my self-esteem over a short period of time? How else could I have achieved this sense of okay-ness on my own? Am I so dependent on others that I am unable to pick myself up?

And, perhaps, what does it say about you? Is this a situation you’ve too, been in?

What lesson does it teach me, or us, about our society? About praise, about dependence, about the relationship between looking good and feeling good?

Instant gratification. Social media provides me – and I suspect most of my generation if not everyone active across the various platforms – with comments, Likes, Followers, that give me a sense of achievement. For that second that I’ve got someone else’s attention, I’ve been thought of, considered, mentioned.

Truth is, my presence in your mind probably is only momentary, fleeting if anything was. You’ve no doubt now scrolled down your newsfeed and Liked three other Friends photos, status’ or Shares. But in our fast-moving world, that moment I was present with you is as significant as I can ask for.

But, here’s the thing. Is that person in that picture you Liked actually me? I mean sure, it’s me – the image captures my hair, my face, my favourite clothes, my ring, my posture. But, I’ve been manipulated. Edited. Touched up.

Granted, it wasn’t actually touched up a whole lot. If I had a copy of the original, organic, un-Photoshoped photo, I’d post it here for you to make that judgement yourself. I saw it before editing though, and I’d say they only smoothed out a few blemishes or whatever they deemed to be imperfections on my face or something.

But, what about all these pre-production adjustments? I spent a good 20 minutes getting my hair and make-up perfected before they even considered taking me into the proper studio (for lack of a better word) part of the ‘studio’. Yes, they opted for a fairly natural look (upon request), and they let me bring my own clothes. So, I suppose the final photograph could be considered a fairly realistic representation of who I am. But, what is troubling is knowing that had I uploaded this picture (see below) instead, I’d probably be sitting on a solid, oh, five Likes, if I’m lucky. And they’d most likely be from my nearest and dearest who fit the ‘take me as I am’ brief.

Photo on 18-12-2013 at 3.24 pm

We’re constantly being bombarded by Photoshopped images of celebrities, by messages of the ‘ideal’ body type, skin colour, hairstyle. We’re told, heck, dictated to, what’s ‘hot’, what’s ‘in’, asked ‘who wore it better’, shown so-and-so’s ‘biggest blunder’.

To be honest, it’s all fucked.

And I can only say this because I play into this culture of externally-identified ideals of perfection and sources of assurance. I’m a victim and an offender but it’s perpetual, it’s enthralling, it’s insane.

We, as a society, have an addiction to judgement. We draw conclusions from un-evidenced or unsubstantiated data. We take thing at face value and buy into advertising, media reporting and gossip without stopping to consider our deeper values or attitudes.

Even when just taking that photo above on my computer’s Photo Booth, I took a couple. I wanted to look my best ‘in a bad situation’ (read; day at home, no make-up, dirty hair). Side note: omfg the temptation to edit that picture was enormous.

But, why is this? I’m not saying we don’t have the right to want to feel beautiful, to feel accepted and to want to be happy. Naturally, that’s an inherent aspect of building one’s self-esteem, something no one should be denied. It’s something principally deeper than that.

It’s more about how we source that emotion, and questioning why we value certain ‘sources’ over others.

And, it’s also about how much we rely on social media for quantified assurance and positive reinforcement.

211 Likes.

I don’t want to play the blame game anymore than I have, nor do I believe this culture has come about as a consequence of a single event/person/aspiration. It’s a process, it’s constantly evolving. And no one is immune (J-Law, case in point).

212 Likes.

I’m not anti-make-up, anti-media, or even anti-Photoshop.

But, if I – or you – can’t upload any picture of ourselves in equal self-confidence, and are dependent on external input to confirm or trash our mood and opinion of ourselves, I think there’s at least something to think about.

So often we read about, hear of or watch stories about people pained by violence.

Violence of any sort is brutal. Someone shot in a drive by, a girl murdered and thrown down a laundry shoot, a mother killed in front of her children. In some cases, the media sensationalises individuals’ experiences, almost to the point of exploitation, showing little respect for those left behind to pick up the pieces and live with the tragic realities of losing someone they love.

It is physical violence that we are most aware of. Unfortunately, it is much easier to pass under the radar if you are a perpetrator of psychological violence, bullying, crippling another’s confidence, and leading them down the path to high anxiety and major depression.

Shockingly, the most frequently reported cases of individuals afflicted by mental, physical and sexual taunting or trauma have a personal relationship with the guilty party. Maybe a friend, a partner, a parent. And so much of this criminal activity occurs within the family home, going unnoticed by anyone external.

In Australia, a woman is more likely to be killed in her home by her male partner than anywhere else or by anyone else. In a study conducted in 2009, the National Community Attitudes to Violence against Women Survey, identified that almost all people, 98 per cent, agree domestic violence – acts that occur between people who have had a relationship in a domestic setting – is a crime.

Something must be done to reduce the prevalence of domestic violence, and the good people of Sacred Heart Mission in St Kilda have committed themselves, their skills, knowledge and resources, to do their part in helping to achieve this goal.

I recently spoke with Sacred Heart Mission’s Women’s Services Manager, Leanne Lewis.

The statistics are shocking, but knowing that people like Lewis and those working at similar services around Australia and in deed, the world, is at least a small comfort for those in facing such adversity.

Do your part. Read my recent piece on domestic violence (including words from Lewis), published on The Modern Woman’s Survival Guide, and become a member of a movement creating awareness, improving services, and contributing to the lives of so many who suffer at the hands of unloving family and friends.

It’s more common than you think.

Despite its prevalence in our community, the stigma associated with having a mental illness is evident and challenging for those with mental health struggles. Similarly, I am aware that many people are self-conscious about seeing a therapist/psychologist/psychiatrist/counsellor/social worker or other type of mental health professional, despite their services being available for a multitude of issues, conversations and conditions. It’s a shame that this stigma is so prominent as I believe the benefits of seeing some kind of mental health professional are numerous and do not just pertain to those with a serious mental health condition. Therapists are available for individuals, families and couples who just want someone to talk to, to listen to their stories, provide them with a sounding board and commonly, some feedback as to how to proceed, what to tackle next, or how to work with a troubling situation, person or circumstance.

It is with this sentiment that I wonder whether the language we use is a significant contributing factor preventing more people accessing and seeking out these kinds of health services. When we have a sore back, we have no trouble going to the doctor and asking for a referral to a chiropractor, or seeing a teacher of the Alexander Technique for some help with postural realignment and lifestyle changes. When we have a sports injury, we see a physiotherapist, or perhaps, someone even more specialised. Generally, we seem to have no (internal) trouble with seeing a podiatrist, dermatologist or occupational therapist. So then why have we, collectively, created an invisible barrier barring us from seeking and receving guidance and help for what is intrinsically associated with what is arguably our most vital bodily organ, our brain?

Each week, I attend a range of appointments. This is not unusual for any of us lucky enough to live in a developed society with relatively easy and cost-friendly access to a range of health services. However, I’ve noticed that, at least until recently, I felt some sort of shame saying to others that I had a session booked with my psychiatrist, and instead of just saying so, I would omit the ‘location of difficulty’ or ‘source of stress’ if you like, and just say I had ‘an appointment’. Fundamentally, there is nothing wrong with that, and privacy to such an extent should be our right. Except the problem arises with the emotional guilt or side-effect associated with that omission, and I believe is comes from the stigma we as a society have attached to mental health.

Unfortunately, those receiving care for their mental health are often referred to, and immediately though of, as having a mental illness or mental disorder. For some, this is appropriate and true and I am not saying these terms should not be used, per say. Rather, I question; is it possible that due do these terms so often being used interchangeably, we are in fact, unintentionally, reinforcing that stigma and subsequently preventing ordinary people from seeking out mental health services? That people won’t see a therapist because they don’t want to be thought to have a ‘mental disorder’?

So, I guess I am kind of addressing two separate, yet interrelated, stigmas: one with diagnosed mental illness, and another with mental health care in general. I believe that neither are justified and both should be dispelled, but maybe starting with the latter will help to lift the stigma from the former. And to do so, I suggest the following:

Let’s change our language. Let’s start referring to ‘mental wellbeing’, adding a positive connotation to the world of mental health care. We know that to achieve optimal health we must strive for a state of complete physical, social and mental wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity (WHO, 1946), and as such, are entitled to and worthy of receiving assistance and professional care for all elements of our wellbeing.

If you’re going through a series of life changes, you’re in an interim phase between jobs/houses/relationships, you’re needing some guidance, or would just like an impartial, in-judgemental face to talk to, seek out a professional to provide you with that support. You may not need ‘help’, you mightn’t be in a crisis, you might even be at the height of your career. But, by taking care of your mental wellness, you’re actively maintaing or working towards achieving your optimal health. And what better way to live your life than that?

I was just alerted to this post by journalist and self-proclaimed health advocate, Sarah Wilson, via a friend on Facebook. Whilst I understand Wilson has gone sugar-free for her own personal health reasons, I believe the way she distributes and promotes her message and ‘diet’ of a life without sugar as a lifestyle change is very troubling. The I Quit Sugar program advises followers to cut out all sugar, including fresh, dried and juiced fruit for at least the first six weeks. However, dried and juiced fruits are ‘to be eliminated for good’.

At the conclusion of this piece, Wilson writes:

I wanted to share this today because I know so many of you who follow this blog are starting the 8-Week Program today. And I don’t think it’s helpful embarking on the journey thinking that it’s about perfection. Or rigidity. And I am not a guru. I’m working through it (sugar-free living, life, acts of self-sabotage) just as hard as you. I say this often – quitting sugar is an experiment. You see what it does, what it brings up, where it takes you. And I say this just as often – life is practice. It’s the practice, not some rigid finality that is what it’s all about.

But, I’d encourage you to read the whole post. I really don’t think it sends the the right kind of messages to anyone, particularly to a whole new bunch of potential sugar-quitters. The diet sounds incredibly ‘rigid’ to me and as someone who’s been stuck in many rigid patterns and routines for many years now, I can say that anything so strict and extreme cannot be considered ‘healthy’.

I commented on the blog post, sadly underneath many women who’d claimed the piece to be ‘inspirational’, calling Wilson their ‘hero’. One commenter says:

I was having some tension in a relationship, so I told myself I deserved a box of TV snacks. And they don’t satiate like they once did when junk was my bestie. Groan. Back on the bike.

Yet, another, Rebecca, had this to say:

Hi Sarah, thank you for this post. It is endearingly honest of you to admit to the occasional slip-up. However, I think it would be useful for you to discuss in one of your posts the concept of denial and how it can lead to bingeing in some people. I am – in principle – very much in favour of your IQS tenets. But, having myself gone through an anorexic adolescence, and having remained very entrenched in abstinence behaviour all the way through my twenties (I am now in my early forties), I had to learn to allow myself to eat EVERYTHING in order to get well. I had to completely re-set my mindset and tell myself no food was ‘bad’. I had to free myself of food-guilt! And now, when I try completely abstaining from sugar, I find that it triggers memories of my old, bad anorexic times, which I never want to go back to. Then, as if in sub-conscious protest at those memories, as if in refusal ever to return to abstinence-land, I find myself rebelling by bingeing on either sugary things, or on fatty non-sugary things like cheese and coconut butter. I don’t think I am alone on this, and I don’t think you have ever really addressed these issues, though I have seen them brought up by readers and critics before. What do you think, Sarah? I think your readers would welcome this discussion.

Funnily enough, Wilson is yet to reply. Many commenters talk about ‘balance’ and ‘vulnerability’. But is cutting out a whole food group really leading you to a life of ‘balance’? We are fed so many lies and conflicting arguments about health and food these days, it’s just a shame that a woman with such a presence in Australian culture is promoting these extreme measures as a pathway to better physical and mental health, when the consequences – particularly mentally – could be severely traumatic and disordered.

Here’s what I had to say to Wilson:

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I concur with the words of Paula Kotowicz, who responded to Wilson with the following:

Hi Sarah. The response you describe must have been quite frightening for you. I have to admit though that as a therapist who specialises in eating disorders, disordered eating and body image issues, I really do question the helpfulness of completely avoiding an entire food group, without medical necessity. Obviously medical necessity is a whole other thing…
To some vulnerable people in our society, it simply provides an excuse to restrict and control and can trigger these people into disordered eating or even into bona fide eating disorders. My other concern are the notions of ‘failing’ or ‘slip-ups’ as described by many of the readers in their comments. A great deal of my work is focusing on helping people to develop self-compassion and a greater sense of self overall – including self-worth, self-value. Self-kindness in a nutshell. While you may wonder what this has to do with anything, imagine being able to say to yourself: “So I ate the croissants… Did I enjoy them? No. Will I do this again? Almost definitely. But for some reason, I needed to eat them and that’s ok. I am human after all…” Being harsh on ourselves, not only does not help, but makes us feel so much worse in the long run because it deconstructs our sense of self and causes us to beat up on ourselves.
Isn’t it possible that there is a happy medium in there somewhere? It’s not crack. Just food.
Thanks for sharing and opening up the discussion.

Already this post has sparked controversy across the media sphere with Mia Freedman sharing it and questioning Wilson’s message via Facebook. I particularly like these first two comments on Freedman’s post:

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Basically, I’m fed up (no pun intended). We need role models that promote a truly balanced wellbeing without restrictions, stress and inflexible rules. Our culture needs a healthy overhaul but for now the onus is on us to take in the good and reject the disordered behaviour we are so often presented with. If only it were that easy.