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.


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!



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; 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 (
  • 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. (

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 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.

Lest we forget

As an Australian the saying ‘Lest we forget’ is one that resonates with me deeply. It is a time to remember what it means to be Australian as well as reflect on what people who are not too different from me have sacrificed to enable me to live in a free society.

Sometimes it is good to take the time to practice gratitude for what we have in our lives. Studies show that we can consciously grow gratitude, and can increase our well-being and happiness by doing so. In addition gratefulness, especially expression of it to others, can increase energy and empathy.

Mindfulness is a slow and easy way to practice gratitude, and it is something that you can easily work into your day. It allows you to stop and re-connect with the world around you and ground yourself in reality. Some quick ideas might be practicing mindfulness during daily task, such as;

  • Set an alarm on your phone to go off at certain time of the day to remind you to check in with your breath
  • Brush your teeth and as you clean focus on the movements of the toothbrush in your mouth and the sounds/smells/taste
  • Sitting at traffic lights try a quick body scan and check in with your emotions and where are you holding your stress

Over the next week take some time to remember to be grateful and mindful of the world around you, and perhaps these tips may be of use as you return to your studies after the Easter recess.

Remember our Skype Drop In Sessions are up and running for the remainder of the semester with the exception of this Tuesday’s 8pm session.


Getting in contact over Easter

It seems like the Easter Recess has snuck up on everybody this year and that we are all feeling in need of some time away from Uni. Like students, the staff here will also be having a break over Easter and that means the University will be closed between Friday 14th and Tuesday 18th April and no Skype Drop-In Sessions will not be on during the above dates.

Today and tonight (Thursday 13th May) there will be Skype Drop-In at 2.30-3.30pm and 8.00-9.00pm with the next session on Wednesday 19th April at 3.30-4.30pm.

Outside these times there are several options to keep in mind.

If you need to speak with someone urgently Lifeline offer a 24 hour telephone counselling service on 13 11 14 and you can also connect over chat. The Mental Health Contact Centre also offer 24 hour advice and referral information on 1800 011 511.

Happy Easter, may it be full of the things and people you love and we look forward to seeing you all back here rested (and full of chocolate) soon!

Dealing with Bullies

Many of you may have celebrated all things Irish last Friday the 17th March, but did you also know that it marked the seventh National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence in Australia?

Bullying has three main features:

I think sometimes it seems easier to understand the first two parts of bullying rather than the different types of behaviours that can cause harm. These can be social, verbal or physical and you might consider some of these as more serious? But all forms of bullying can have a lasting effect on those involved and because we are all different it is impossible to tell what the effect may be on someone.

Politics both here and overseas have been increasingly causing me to question what acceptable behaviour is and whether we need to be more mindful of social and verbal behaviours. Seeing some of the statements from world leaders about acceptable behaviour definitely ticks the boxes of those features of bullying! But what about here at University? As a student I remember a few times when a member of academic staff had a reputation for behaving inappropriately towards students and at times it can seem like we can’t do anything about such behaviour, especially when it is sitting just below the surface.

Scilla Elworthy explores how to deal with a bully without becoming a thug in return. She outlines that in order to deal with bullying we need to understand our values and be able to reflect on how we can manage our fear and anger in relation to these values. She asks you to treat the fear like a child, what does the fear need to feel better, stronger? Scilla also reminds us that the anger we feel can be powerful, rather than getting angry with people and wasting that power using it to make positive changes.

Now might be the time to stop and give pause to what you can manage in relation the world around you, what you can do when you see behaviours that cause harm and what you can do in response to bullying. Practicing skills of self-reflection and being in touch with your values can be the first step in developing your confidence to be assertive. Our tip sheet on this also has some great ideas and suggestions to help you feeling more confident in standing up to bullies

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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