Weighing in on the issue..

We all know that Netflix is not afraid to push boundaries and air controversy. It seems their new film To the Bone is picking up where 13 Reasons Why left off by bringing an important issue to light but perhaps not doing it in an appropriate and respectful way.

According to the CEO of The Butterfly Foundation the movie may promote “copycat behaviour” and that the graphic nature of images in the movie were potential triggers for those with an eating disorder. Additionally the stigma of the disorder means that many who are impacted by this mental illness do not seek support or treatment. While some argue that films such as this break down that stigma, it is crucial that we are responsible and respectful to those who have lived experience of this condition. This movie is accessible easily to a wide range of audiences and was released just in time for uni holidays! This has meant that the movie has slipped into peoples’ lives without the opportunity for many of us working within mental health to be aware of it or respond with appropriate support details.

So let’s rectify that in today’s blog post. Hack published a great piece a couple of weeks ago in regards to supporting loved ones with an eating disorder. I have included some of these strategies below, along with some others that may be of assistance if you are looking for more information.

  • If you already know that your friend or family member has an eating disorder then do some research yourself and understand the actual facts rather than the myths of eating disorders.
  • Choose the right time to talk. This is true of talking to anyone about a mental health illness. Make it as private and safe as possible, use normal cues to frame the conversation.
  • And when you talk to them be prepared to listen and not give advice. See what they know about support options by asking them and provide these to them if they are open to this information.
  • Be truthful. That doesn’t mean being hurtful but don’t glamorise the impact that the disorder is having on the person’s physical appearance.
  • If the person is defensive about talking or in denial then be respectful. Don’t give up and think that you can’t try again at a different time or that even trying might be enough to bring the person back to the topic when they are ready.
  • That being said you might not be the right person to have the conversation with them and so letting them know that they can talk to their GP about it or if they are a student at UON they could see a Student Support Advisor–Health and Welfare to talk about their options for support.
  • People with eating disorders often feel isolated and alone so stay connected with them and encourage them to be involved in your activities and invitations. Support is sometimes not talking about something, so don’t feel you cannot stay friends with someone if they are not ready to talk to you about their mental health.

Of course there is more information and tips available on The Butterfly Foundation tip sheet if you want to know more. Or you can contact The Butterfly Foundation Support Line on 1800334673.

Finally, I would like to leave you with this video from The Butterfly Foundation about the importance of positive body talk for everyone!



A National Report on Sexual Assault and Harassment in Australian Universities – How to look after yourself

Today, the Australian Human Rights Commission has released the findings of a national survey commissioned by Universities Australia to provide a greater understanding of the scale of sexual assault and harassment experienced by university students and to inform strategies for prevention and support for survivors.

All 39 Australian universities, including the University of Newcastle (UON), participated in the project, which involved a survey of a representative sample of students’ experiences and an open call for submissions.

The release of the findings, or the associated media coverage, may cause challenges for some survivors of sexual assault. Media portrayals or discussions within the university about sexual violence may evoke reactions such as intrusive memories, anxiety, feelings of sadness or irritability.

If this is the case for you, there are a number of options available to you. As a student at UON you can talk to Counsellor or UON Campus Care, who are able to provide you with advice, connect you with specialised support and help you through the reporting process if you choose.

For some people, the discussions about the findings of the survey may lead them to reflect on past experiences of sexual assault or harassment and decide to come forward to make a report.

The UON website provides further resources and advice on how to make a report to the university or police, where you can go to get help, information about sexual assault and how to support someone who discloses sexual based assault or harassment.

Below are some tips on how to look after yourself if you are feeling distressed:

  • Let people close to you know what is going on for you. This will allow them to be better able to support you.
  • You may like to minimise contact with media sources for a short time. In particular, try to avoid reading the comments sections of online news stories or social media, as these can be a forum for extreme reactions both for and against allegations of sexual assault.
  • Find comfort in talking to someone you trust about your feelings or reaction. You could talk to a counsellor or psychologist, campus care, someone close to you, or a specialist helpline such as NSW Rape Crisis (1800 424 017).
  • Make space for the feelings that come up, whatever they may be. Be aware of any ‘shoulds’ about your feelings, for example, “I should be over this already”, “I shouldn’t be upset about this”. Remember that there is no right or wrong way to feel, and no set timeframe for recovery from a trauma. Be gentle with yourself.
  • You may like to express yourself by writing about your feelings in a journal, artwork, listening to music, singing or any other creative outlet you enjoy.

This information is also relevant for people who are supporting someone who experienced a sexual-based assault (e.g. partner, friend, family member, etc).

UON Counselling, Online Counselling, Campus Care and the NSW Rape Crisis Line are available to provide support.

Excellent Autonomy Day Tips

In the classic 80’s movie, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, starring a very youthful Keanu Reeves, a very profound mantra was born ….. “Be Excellent to each other, and party on dude!”.

I’d like to expand on this great wisdom with a few additional tips to help you maximise your experience of Autonomy Day 🙂


  1. Get Your Priorities Right

We are all at University to get ahead in life, and Uni offers great opportunities for development, both academically and personally.  However, when partying becomes excessive and unsafe, it can have an extremely destructive effect on our studies and often our close relationships too. Uni is a big investment of time and money, and in order to get the best reward for that investment, partying safely is a wise decision to make.

  1. Party Planning

Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company famously said  “When we fail to plan, we plan to fail”.

When it comes to partying, if you choose to use alcohol or other drugs, then the planning parts of your brain are going to take a nap for a while, meaning that it becomes very easy to get caught up in what others are doing, and consuming excessive amounts of intoxicating substances.

Follow the plan Stan …..

  • Make a commitment to enjoy the day, and not write yourself off for the following day
  • Pre-plan how much alcohol or drugs you will use, and stick to it.
  • Set yourself a rule e.g. 1 alcoholic drink per hour, or less.
  • Lastly eat something healthy before you start partying to help absorb the alcohol.


  1. Inbetweeners

A great strategy is to always have a soft drink or water in between any alcoholic drinks. It will help you stay hydrated, save money and save your head pounding the following day.


  1. Know Your Substance

    Apologies for the graphic photo, but ignorance isn’t always bliss


If you are taking party drugs, it is really important to know what is in them. Since they are manufactured illegally, who knows where, by criminal gangs, use only drugs from a trusted source and use a small amount initially,  where ‘recreational’ dose is hard to estimate.


  1. Avoid Rounds and Drinking Games

Drinking games and rounds make it more difficult to stick to a plan, because we get caught up in peer pressure and social conformity.

Avoid getting caught up in a herd mentality.


  1. Be Excellent & Look After Your Mates

Keep an eye on your mates, if you think they seem drunk or are behaving out of character given how much you know they’ve had, they may have had their drink spiked, overdosed or be excessively intoxicated. If your friend is suffering from the effects of alcohol or drugs or needs help, suggestions include:

  • Always dial triple zero (000) for an ambulance in an emergency, or ask uni security to call as they can direct the ambulance on Campus. Don’t avoid calling the ambulance because you’re afraid the police may become involved, as the ambulance officers and security staff’s main consideration is the welfare of the student, and your friend may suffer serious consequences if you delay getting them help.
  • Stay close by your friend and monitor their wellbeing. Offer reassurance.
  • If your friend is unconscious, lay them on their side to reduce the risk of aspirating (breathing in) vomit.
  • If your friends have had too much to drink, encourage them to drink water or eat something. If they have gone somewhere to chill out or sober up check whether they are alone or with someone – are they safe?

7. Exit Strategy

  • Know beforehand how you will get home,
  • make sure you have enough money for a taxi or Uber.
  • If the plan changes, tell your mates where you are going and with whom.
  1. Knowledge is Power
  • Knowledge is Power said Einstein, so the more we know about the substances we take, the more power we have. I’m sure that’s what he meant.
  • Test your knowledge by taking the UON Thrive Survey  which asks questions about your alcohol use and provides you with personalised feedback on your drinking, possible health impacts and how your alcohol use compares to other university students.
  • The University also has a new drug & alcohol resource portal called eCliPSE UON, which provides access to free online treatment programs for students of the University of Newcastle who are wanting to improve with mental health or reduce alcohol or other drug use. eCliPSE allows students to complete some initial questionnaires to receive feedback about their mood and substance use and a recommendation on the most appropriate program. More information about eCliPSE is available at www.uoneclipse.com.au


9.   Take Advantage of the Placebo Effect

The Psychologist in me couldn’t resist mentioning the Placebo Effect in relation to partying safely. Placebo Effect is real physical effect that happens just by expecting something to happen. All pharmaceutical drugs are tested against sugar pills to screen out expectancy ( placebo) vs real effects.

What is very interesting is that there is also an expectancy effect for alcohol, which means that you can still get a feel good effect, even from a non-alcoholic beer, or mocktail.

So try a non-alcohol or low alcohol alternative , the great news is the placebo effect still works even if you know its a placebo.



How Stress Affects The Brain

It’s the start of Semester 2 … Yay !   Hopefully the stresses of last Semester have been forgotten, and perhaps some lessons learned about what not to do.

There are few guarantees in life, death and taxes perhaps, and I might add that the increasing study pressure throughout the next semester is up there too.

So today’s blog post is just a short animation to demonstrate how chronic stress actually affects the brain. Hopefully this will give us a “heads up”  about the importance of managing stress, and later blog posts we’ll explore some pro-active strategies to help keep on top of stress.

Enjoy 🙂


Sleep On It

sleepIt seems like every week there is a different awareness campaign attempting to help us live a healthier and happier life. Paying attention to all these different campaigns can be exhausting, and so it’s timely that from the 3rd July to 9th July it is  Sleep Awareness Week, and we can all get some well earned rest …….. or at least learn about the benefits of good rest.

We all know that we feel better when we get a good night’s sleep, but when we are struggling to fit in study, work, hobbies, social life into our days, often it’s sleep that takes a back seat.

Unfortunately, our brains seem to quite like a good sleep, and if we deprive them for too long problems can emerge. According to the National Sleep Research Project, the record for the longest period without sleep is 18 days, 21 hours, 40 minutes, which was achieved  during a rocking chair marathon. The record holder reported hallucinations, paranoia, blurred vision, slurred speech and memory and concentration lapses, which is perhaps a small price to pay for being crowned a rocking chair marathon champ (not).

BUT seriously folks  ….. The 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off Alaska, the Challenger space shuttle disaster and the Chernobyl nuclear accident have all been attributed to human errors in which sleep-deprivation played a role. Just imagine the damage that lack of sleep could do to your grades !

If we want our brains to operate at high efficiency (generally considered a good thing for learning) then making sure that we get adequate sleep is a high priority. How much sleep individuals need varies depending on a number of factors, especially age, but generally aim for 7 to 9 hours per night. It’s interesting to note that before the electric light bulb was invented, adults slept nine to 10 hours a night. Tennis No 1 Andy Murray claims he gets about the same number of hours per night.



In order to achieve this sleep goal, establish a regular bedtime and waking time, and stopping exposure to electronic screens an hour before bedtime will help you to get to sleep faster, as these screen emit blue light which suppress the sleep hormone melatonin.

The other major sleep disruptor is caffeine, which has a half-life of about 6 hours. That means 6 hours after a cup of tea or coffee, you still have about 50% of the caffeine in your blood stream. This can be a problem if you are drinking caffeine in the late afternoon or evening. If you are feeling drowsy and need a pick me, try taking a quick walk outside instead of reaching for kettle.

The very sensible folk at National Sleep Awareness Week have produced a lovely infographic with some very interesting and useful tips on sleep.


Dry July 2017

drink waterWOW – half way through 2017!

Mid-point in the year is often a good time to press the reset button, a bit like New Year. It can be a good time to reflect on the behaviours we’re using to cope with life’s stresses and think about how healthy they are for our bodies and minds.

Dry July is an initiative that provides an opportunity to experience the health benefits of a month without alcohol with the added benefit of raising funds for people affected by cancer. The great thing about dry July is it gives you an excuse, in the face of social pressure to drink alcohol, to give your body a healthy break from booze.

The idea is to sign up, go booze free in July, get friends/family to sponsor you and in doing so help people affected by cancer. So far 17,577 have signed up and raised over $1.5 million, and many more just abstain from alcohol for a month for the health benefits alone.



With a month off alcohol you’re likely to experience a bunch of health benefits. Enjoy a clearer head, increased energy and productivity levels, a sense of achievement, clearer skin, weight loss and a healthier bank balance.

The ABC : Ask The Doctor has a very interesting and entertaining episode all about Alcohol. Check it out on ABC IVIEW. 

Funds raised go Australian organisations to improve the comfort, care and wellbeing of patients. Check out how it all works on the Dry July webpage.

Here are some resources from the Dry July team to help you during Dry July. There are even some helpful psychologist tips for surviving.

The Dry July team encourage people to drink responsibly all year round and to stick to the recommended daily guidelines for the rest of the year. Those who are heavy drinkers or dependent on alcohol are advised to discuss with their GP before signing up. Make an appointment with a GP at the University Health Service for support.

If you want to discuss your or someone else’s alcohol or other substance use, contact our UON Counselling team on 49216622 or email counselling@newcastle.edu.au Ask a Student Support Advisor to speak to our drug and alcohol counsellor.

Skype Drop In

It is that time of the semester again. Exams are over, placements are wrapping up, and hopefully everyone is taking some much needed time to rest and rejuvenate.

During these times we find that less of you are wanting to chat to us after hours and so we will be ending our after-hours Skype Drop In Sessions this week until the start of Semester 2. That means we will recommence the Tuesday 8-9pm sessions on 25 July and be back for Thursday nights from 27 July 2017. But don’t forget many services offer 24 hour supports including Lifeline on 13 11 14 and the Mental health Line on 1800 011 511.

In the meantime we will still be available via our daytime Skype Drop In Sessions at;

  • Monday 1-2pm
  • Wednesday 3:30-4:30pm
  • Thursday 2:30-3:30pm
  • Friday 9-10am

And of course we are still very happy to have you make an appointment if you want to catch up with someone face to face or for an individual online session.

Enjoy the break if you are having one!


Of Substance

Guest post by Lachlan Tiffen Psychologist/UON D&A Counsellor

Drugs & AlcoholSo we’re at the end of semester and depending on what your plans are will likely mean a bit of celebrating. This might be here with friends you’ve made, while travelling during the break, or back at home catching up with people you’ve known before coming to UON. Whatever these celebrations will be its pretty likely that alcohol of some kind will be involved and there’s often some pressure to (over)indulge. The pressure may come from perceived social norms (ie. I see others drinking and want to fit in); it might come from internal motivation (ie. alcohol makes me feel more sociable and I want get to know these people better or re-connect); it might come from recognised effects of alcohol (ie. I’ve been so stressed during exams and alcohol makes me feel less stressed). Everyone has different reasons; but it’s important to remember there is always a choice about whether to drink or not to drink… and how much. I often frame this as learning how to ‘drink smart not hard’.

First the basics:

  • Know your Standard Drinks: It’s the equivalent of 10g of alcohol and is the amount of alcohol the average liver can process in 1 hour. The standard drinks contained in each beverage you have varies by alcohol type and serving size.


  • Calculate and track your Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC): (See BAC Apps http://adesaustralia.com/free-app/; baczone.com/ProductsApp.html) BAC is a measure of alcohol content in your blood and varies due to body size, body fat, gender, liver function, whether you’ve previously drunk alcohol or eaten recently. BAC helps you to gauge your level of intoxication as BAC levels are linked with levels of impairment (https://dotedon.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/bac-chart.jpg).
  • Consider the NHMRC (2009) alcohol consumption guidelines. 1) No more than two standard drinks on any day reduces the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury. 2) No more than four standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol-related injury arising from that occasion. 3) For women who are pregnant, planning a pregnancy or breastfeeding, not drinking is the safest option. (nhmrc.gov.au/_files_nhmrc/file/publications/synopses/ds10-alcoholqa.pdf)

Tips to Drink Smart:  

  • Monitor number of standard drinks you have; calculate and track your BAC
  • Eat something before you have your first alcoholic drink
  • Have a non-alcoholic drink first and then every second or third drink (‘a spacer’).
  • Gauge the effect of each drink by allowing time for alcohol to be absorbed into your bloodstream (about 15 mins or 3-4 songs) before having another (ie. pace yourself).
  • Avoid other people topping up your glass, as it makes it difficult to keep track of how many standard drinks you’ve had.
  • Drink low-alcohol drinks, and avoid mixed drinks, like cocktails, as it is difficult to tell how much alcohol they contain.
  • Avoid drinking in shouts or rounds, so you don’t feel pressured to keep up.
  • Sip drinks, avoid salty snacks or other food that increase thirst.
  • Remember confidently saying “no thanks” or “thanks I’m good for now” to another drink when you had enough is something people actually respect.


To really enjoy (and remember) this semester break try the Drink Smart Not Hard approach


If you want to discuss your or someone else’s alcohol or other substance use contact UON Counselling on 49216622 or counselling@newcastle.edu.au Ask the Student Support Advisor to speak to Lachlan Tiffen (Psychologist/D&A Counsellor)

Just keep swimming

Sometimes at this point of semester it can seem like time is very fluid. One minute you’re staring at the page thinking I have been trying to read this forever! The next you are heading into an exam and wondering where the last couple of weeks went?

Often you might find yourself feeling a little overwhelmed, and as mentioned a couple of weeks ago it is important to manage this anxiety and come up with a plan. But how about the day before an exam when it all just seems so BIG or when you actually are driving to the exam or sitting waiting to get started in the room?

Emma introduced some ideas to help cope with the intense anxiety that often comes up at these times and I thought this week might be a good time to re-visit some ideas from one of our tipsheets.

Grounding techniques are quick and easy strategies to help you stay calm and reduce stress, anxiety or panic. They keep you ‘grounded’ in the here and now, the present reality, and allow you to connect with what is really going on rather than getting caught up in thoughts and worries about the past or future.

There are some really easy ones like counting to ten or stamping your feet on the ground. Then there are those that will take a little more time like using visual imagery or keeping a journal of your thoughts, feelings and observations. Here are a few that you might find useful when preparing for an exam or even sitting in the exam. Often they can be done without others knowing you are doing anything at all.

  1. Use a grounding phase like “I’m ok” “stay calm” or “I can do this”
  2. Focus on your breath. Inhale for a count of six and then exhale to a count of four. If you are a visual learner you might want to visualise your breath going in as one colour and exiting another colour
  3. Connect with your senses – name three things you can see, hear, smell and touch
  4. Visualise yourself in a comfortable or happy place and feel the safety that brings to your body
  5. If you are feeling ‘stuck’, change how you’re positioned. Wiggle your fingers, tap your feet. Pay attention to the movement. You are in control of your movement

These techniques don’t work for everything but they can be useful in some situations. If you feel like you are becoming stretched in the final days of study or if you become overwhelmed by anxiety in the exam, or anywhere stressful, try something to bring you back to the ground.

Taking Care of Yourself

It is that time of year when taking care of yourself seems just that little bit harder. What with exams and study and assessments and placements and now it is winter! Seasonal Affective Disorder is a term some of you may have heard and perhaps wondered about but even without the diagnosis I know for me the colder nights and shorter days means that enthusiasm to do things is so much harder. Especially when you have to do things that are not fun (like study) getting motivated to start, let alone keep going, sometimes seems impossible.

While sometimes there may be hours, days or weeks when getting through the day feels hard, this is normal. Sometimes life causes pain and hurt and struggle and mess. As humans it is OK that we feel that pain, hurt, struggle and mess. But what is so very important in those times is knowing how important it is to take care of yourself and so having some ideas on how to do this may be helpful. So with that in mind I thought it might be a good time to offer up some seasonal, exam tips for self-care when you’re feeling low.

1.Check in with your expectations. Are you expecting too much from yourself given all the things you have happening right now? I encourage you to look at yourself with a gentler eye, let go of any ideas you have about being ‘good enough’ and instead ask ‘what is reasonable’?

2. If you were talking to a friend who was feeling like you what would you say to them? This follows from above and can be helpful if you are feeling like it is all too much. Imagine you are your own best friend. Offer yourself comfort and empathetic words of encouragement.

3. Speaking of comfort, what could you do to bring comfort to your day today? How about a coffee in the sun? A drive to the beach and sitting looking at the rolling ocean? New sheets on your bed? Some hot buttered toast? You can also practice gratitude in these times to aid your experience.

4.Have a warm shower and spend some time being mindful of the water as it cleans you and renews your body. Recognise where you are holding stress or tension and move your body to stretch those aches.

5.How about a bath, if you have one pop yourself in with some bath salts and your favourite book or music.

6.Go outside and walk in the weather. Whatever the weather. If it is sunny bask in the warmth of the day. If it is windy wrap yourself in a scarf and coat and look at the clouds as they move or the trees as they drop their final leaves. If it is wet, don’t be scared, you won’t melt! Just pop on some boots and a raincoat. Find a puddle!

7. Reconnect your mind with your hands. We have all seen the mindfulness colouring books but how about knitting, baking, drawing, gardening, tinkering on a project?

8. Make a list and a plan for today or tomorrow or the week. Leave the high expectations out and ask of yourself only what is necessary or will bring joy. If it serves neither than leave it alone for a time when you feel stronger.

9. Try taking a break from technology. Try an hour, or a day. It is amazing how re-connected you can feel by not being connected!

10. Lastly reach out for support if you need it. Don’t be afraid to talk to someone and ask for help. If you’re not sure where to start then try booking in to meet with a Student Support Advisor here at UON so you can have a confidential chat with someone who can talk through some ideas and help you get back where you want to be. This is really important if you have been feeling this way for more than 2 weeks.

These are just a few ideas that you may want to try if you are feeling the exam or winter blues, remember they may be something that sounds OK or you may have your own ideas about what helps. Use your own values and self-awareness to trust yourself to create your own ideas for some self-care. Deem yourself worthy enough to try putting those ideas into practice and choose something you can have a go at today.

Just a note that due to the Public Holiday on Monday 12 June there will be no Skype Drop-in on that day.The next regular Skype Drop-in is Tuesday at 8pm.

The material or views expressed on this Blog are those of the author and do not represent those of the University.  Please report any offensive or improper use of this Blog to RPS@newcastle.edu.au.
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