World Mental Health Day: Do you see what I see?

Today is World Mental Health Day. A good day to stop and take a minute, and ask what you know about mental health.

When I first opened the website I was met with today’s date. 10th October. 10/10. For me this made me question what does it mean to feel 10/10? Is that even a possibility? Is striving for 10/10 something that should be our goal in life?

There are A LOT of myths around happiness and how if we could just be happy everything would be perfect. Well, that’s not the case. Even if things are going ‘perfectly’ we may not feel happy all the time.  That’s because as humans our natural state is to feel a whole range of emotions and if we only try and feel one emotion, such as happiness, then we are actually putting a lot of pressure (and sometimes judgement) on ourselves for feeling anything other than happy. Russ Harris writes about this in his book “The Happiness Trap” (available from the UON library in electronic and hard copy) and the video below shares some of the benefits of NOT falling into the happiness trap!

Besides helping our own mental health, we also need to be mindful that falling for the happiness trap can lead to us judging others around us who may be struggling with their mental health and wellbeing. Thus increasing the stigma associated with this issue. How many times have you seen a meme about how exercise and fresh air is a natural anti-depressant? Or one of my favourites of what if we treated physical health issues like mental health issues?

As the World Mental Health Day website outlines we need to be aware that “stigma around mental illness due to misunderstanding or prejudice remains an issue in Australia, delaying or preventing people from wanting or feeling able to seek help, and impacting adversely on their lives” and that it is part of everyone’s responsibility to be aware of the damage that can be done by these misconceptions and misunderstandings. You might be surprised to learn that 1 out of 5 Australians are affected by mental health. And according to recent findings this number is believed to be 1 in 4 in the Australian tertiary student population.

So what can you do today?

  • Perhaps have a check in on your own mental health. Do you feel 10/10. Is that OK? It may be that you want to challenge yourself to accept that you are allowed to be feeling 7/10 or it may be a reminder to practice some self care. But if you’re feeling lower is it time to have a chat with someone?


  • Could you check in on someone else? A couple of weeks ago was RUOK Day which was a good reminder that we need to all keep an eye on each other and be comfortable asking are you OK?


  • This leads to the next thing you might want to consider today and that is how you can help promote the mental health and wellbeing in your community. One idea might be something small and simple like challenging stereotypes around mental health, perhaps by sharing a cartoon like this one on social media.. You never know who will see it and what it may mean to someone in your life.


Free online programs for stress and anxiety

As we come towards the second half of semester, some of you may be feeling a bit stressed or looking for some strategies to help you manage anxiety or improve your wellbeing.

An easy way to learn some new skills and strategies is to complete an online treatment or training program. There are a range of free programs that have been developed to help with a different issues – some are more general such as ‘coping with stress’ or ‘intro to mindfulness’, where others are designed to target specific problems such as OCD or Social Anxiety.Many of the courses have online questionnaires, recovery stories, videos, worksheets, and additional resources.

Some of the advantages of online programs are:

  • they can be completed any time of the day or night
  • they are free or low cost
  • there are no waiting periods
  • you don’t have to travel anywhere
  • you can do them in your pyjamas

Sometimes one of the downsides can be that it is hard to get the motivation to complete the course. One way to deal with this is to link up with a counsellor who can check in with you on a regular basis about your progress and how you are going applying the skills. Alternatively, you could complete a course such as mindfulness or managing stress with a friend.

Below are some of the online wellbeing programs offered free or at a low cost:

  • eCLiPSE (UON) – a portal for UON students offing access to four separate programs designed to support people considering reducing their substance use (including smoking) and improving mental health. Programs are free and range from 4 weeks to 10 weeks. Support is available from UON Counsellors to complete these programs.


  • Coping with Stress (This Way Up) – a free four lesson program using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy techniques to manage stress effectively.


  • Managing Insomnia (This Way Up) – a free four lesson program which is designed to teach Cognitive Behavioural Therapy skills to manage insomnia.



  • Intro to Mindfulness (This Way Up) – a four lesson program designed for people interested in learning about mindfulness and meditation


  • Mindspot courses – a range of free programs on different topics, including wellbeing, mood, OCD, PTSD, Indigenous Wellbeing and Chronic Pain.


For other program and online resources, please see here.

If you are a current UON student and think you would like some professional support while completing any of the programs, we would be happy to provide support via emails, phone or skype. Just send us an email to onlinecounselling at

Making the Most of the Mid-Semester Break

The phrase “All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy” was recorded as early as 1659 according to Wikipedia, which demonstrates that there has been a strong understanding of the need for work / life balance for almost 500 years.

So when mid-semester break arrives it is really important to not only catch up on overdue projects and assignments, but also to catch up on overdue sleep, exercise and social connections.

Studies in the science of resilience show that if we live in what scientists call an “enriched environment” i.e fun, stimulating, with good nutrition, exercise and company, that we become much more resilient to stress.

Let’s face it, we know that the pressure of study, assignments and exams will be increasing in second half of the semester, so ensuring a good balance of activity, rest and relationships during the semester break  makes sense.

Make the most of the final week of the break by making looking after your wellbeing a priority.


App Review  : Prana Breath

Learning to breathe effectively can dramatically increase your ability to manage stress and perform under pressure, and now you don’t have to even attend that Yoga class to get some breath training.

Prana breath guides you visually to control the ratio of  inhalation to exhalation, which is a simple way of activating the para-sympathetic nervous system, which helps us to calm down and relax.

The makers claim the following benefits, and as a Psychologist and Yoga Teacher I am in agreement, but only if you practice regularly.

+ Improves brain activity: memory, attention, concentration
+ Decreases colds’, migraine and asthma attacks’ frequency
+ Improves the quality of sleep
+ Develops resistance to stress, and physical endurance

Start training now, and you will reap the benefits come exam time !

PranaBreath is available on Android, and a similar app Universal Breathing – Pranayama Lite is available for Iphone



RUOK ? A conversation can change a life.

It’s a very sad fact that on average  8 people take their own life each day in Australia, and for each death, 30 others attempt suicide.

RUOK is a campaign to address the main risk factors of suicide:  Isolation and feeling like a burden to those around them.  The aim is to  increase our awareness of when our friends, family, co-workers or class mates are struggling, and perhaps becoming more withdrawn than normal.   It can feel uncomfortable for us to reach out, but RUOK helps by giving us simple action plan to follow.

1.      Ask RUOK ?

2.     Listen  without judgement

3.     Encourage action  e.g.   seeing a GP or counsellor.

4.     Check in.     Follow up at regular intervals to stay connected, and encourage further action.


NUPSA and the student services team was out and about on campus today spreading the message of RUOK, initiating converstaions  by handing out free fortune cookies to fortunate students.

Checkout the video of them in action here

Just because today is RUOK, does not mean we can’t can’t practice reaching out and asking RUOK throughout the year, today is just a reminder of how important a single conversation could be.  By reaching out you will increase your own self confidence and self esteem, and feel more connected.

We now even have a special bench outside Student Central to remind us to ask too.

Find more details about how to ask RUOK  at

(All photographs courtesy of NUPSA )

Three Good Things

It is common for people to perceive that Psychology is all about mental illness, but this is far from the truth. The field of Clinical Psychology actually started to grow after World war I & II, when many soldiers returned from the war with shell shock ( known at Post Traumatic Stress Disorder PTSD nowadays), but there is also a branch of Psychology which focuses on making us better and happier humans. This branch is termed Positive Psychology, and its goal is to help promote “flourishing”.

Flourishing has 3 core features which include; positive emotions,  engagement & interest,  meaning & purpose

Other features of flourishing include;  self-esteem, optimism, resilience, vitality, self-determination and positive relationships.

I’m sure we’d all like a little more flourishing in our lives, and Positive Psychologists have been busy devising practical ways for us to do just that.

One of my favourite Positive Psychology based practices is called 3 Good Things.


3 Good Things : Instructions

Time required = 5-10  minutes/day for at least one week.

Each day for at least one week, write down three things that went well for you that day, and provide an explanation for why they went well. It is important to create a physical record of your items by writing them down; it is not enough simply to do this exercise in your head. The items can be relatively small in importance (e.g., “weather was warm and sunny ”) or relatively large (e.g., “I got an HD”). To make this exercise part of your daily routine, some find that writing before bed is helpful.

As you write, follow these instructions:

  1. Give the event a title (e.g., “received compliment on a project”)
  2. Write down exactly what happened in as much detail as possible, including what you did or said and, if others were involved, what they did or said.
  3. Include how this event made you feel at the time and how this event made you feel later (including now, as you remember it).
  4. Explain what you think caused this event—why it came to pass.
  5. Use whatever writing style you please, and do not worry about perfect grammar and spelling. Use as much detail as you’d like.
  6. If you find yourself focusing on negative feelings, refocus your mind on the good event and the positive feelings that came with it. This can take effort but gets easier with practice and can make a real difference in how you feel.

Try the 3 Good Things Challenge.

Commit to doing the 3 Good Things  exercise for a week and see what difference it makes to your mood and outlook on life.



Census date is here

So as most of you would be aware, census date is approaching fast. Census date is the last day that you can withdraw from or drop a course without financial penalty (i.e., still having to pay the fees).

In Semester 2 2017, the census date is 31 Aug 2017 at 11.59pm, that is Thursday – tomorrow! If you drop a course after this date, you will still be required to pay for it, unless you have grounds to apply for remission of fees. The last day to drop a course without academic penalty (i.e., a fail grade), is the 3rd of November.

If you are considering dropping a course, but having trouble deciding for sure, one simple strategy to help you to decide is to write down the pros and cons of dropping the subject. Usually, if we are struggling to make a decision we tend to go back and forth about the pros and cons in our mind anyway, however because there is so much information to juggle we can just end up feeling confused. Writing it down can stop going over and over it in your mind, help you to figure out where you may need more information, and help you come to a decision. You could use this template as a guide.



Pros of dropping XXXX1001 course Cons of dropping XXXX1001
I have more of a chance to pass my other 3 courses Will extend my degree by 6 months
Reduce stress levels May impact on program next semester *need to check this with program advisor
Able to continue working 3 days per week May impact on visa *need to check this with student advice
May get better grades in my other subjects


It would also be important to consider the impact that dropping a course might have on Centrelink support, meeting visa requirements, or meeting prerequisites for courses you want to take next semester. The Student Advice team can help you with any visa questions, and your Program Advisor can provide advice about how to minimise disruption to your degree.


For those who do not need to drop a course, census date could be a good reminder to ‘take stock’ of where you are at.

  • How are you coping with the workload?
  • How stressed are you feeling?
  • How is your sleep and energy levels?
  • Is perfectionism or procrastination or anxiety or something else getting on top of you?

If things are going well for you – great! Perhaps take a note of what you think is making it work well – and keep doing it.


However if things are not going so well, then now is the time to make a change. Really stop and consider what are the factors that are contributing to your difficulties at the moment?

  • Do you have too much on your plate? Is there something you can say no to for a few weeks to help you get on top of things? Do you need to consider dropping one course?
  • Do you need some more support to manage anxiety or low mood? You could book in with a counsellor, chat to someone on skype drop in, complete an online treatment program such as This Way Up or eCliPSE, or talk to a close friend for support.
  • Do you need to make some more time for activities that rejuvenate you? E.g., being in nature, exercise, or something creative?

Equal rights…to vote

On September 12 this year Australians will be asked to vote on amending the Australian Marriage Law to enable same-sex marriage. For those of you who have missed all the social media on this important event, one of the most important things that hopefully you won’t have missed is that the vote is taking place old-school. Yep. By snail mail. What that means is that if you are wanting to vote you need to make sure that your enrolment details are correct by THIS FRIDAY 24th August. It’s estimated that over a quarter of a million Australians between the age of 18 and 24 years are currently missing from the electoral roll. That is a huge number who will miss the chance to have their say. According to TripleJ’s Hack some of those ineligible to vote may be due to traveling or living overseas, as well as people who have recently moved or are not really staying in one place.

Needless to say, from my contact with students who are currently enrolled, you may fall into that second category, perhaps having only moved recently and not worrying so much about whether your electoral details are up to date. You may be spending some time thinking about whether you agree with the proposed changes, or whether the vote will even count, but all that debating is worth very little if you don’t even get the chance to vote. I am not going to get into whether you should or should not vote, but the fact remains that it is your right to be able to vote so if you are thinking you want to have a say or are not yet sure, then make sure you check your details or enrol to vote today.

If you are finding yourself upset or in need of support at this time, then you may want to speak to someone about how to manage what is going on. Our Student Support Advisors are always a great place to start if you want a confidential chat with someone at Uni and you might also find the tips provided by ACON helpful.

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


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.



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
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