Understanding Mental Health

Mental health is a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional wellbeing. This includes our feelings, thoughts, and relationships. It can affect how we think, feel, and act. It also affects how we handle stress, talk to others, and make choices.

Whenever you are feeling stressed, depressed, or not like yourself, it is okay to seek help. Never be afraid to talk to someone, either a person that you trust or a health professional. You are not alone.

Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health conditions. Both of these can have a significant impact on your quality of life, including your relationships, work, study, or sense of self.

While we all feel nervous sometimes, anxiety is when these feelings persist for some time, and it has an impact on your quality or life. You should see a health professional if you are feeling anxious for reasons you can’t explain.
Anxiety can be characterised by:

  • Feeling nervous, restless, or on edge
  • Constantly fearing that something bad is going to happen
  • Heart palpitations, fast shallow breaths
  • Negative thinking about yourself

We all feel sad sometimes, especially when there is something happening in your life, such as someone passing away or if you lose your job. Depression is a condition that may coincide with sad or stressful situations in your life, but may also happen seemingly randomly.
Depression can be characterised by:

  • Low mood
  • Loss of interest in things that make you happy
  • Changes in sleep, eating, and socialising

You are not alone. Almost half of all people in Australia experience mental illness in their lifetime. For more information on these mental health conditions and others, you can contact your GP or visit

Read Transcript

Depression and anxiety sounds like very scary things. And that it can impact a person greatly when they actually can be quite severe.

So depression is when someone feels sad, or has low mood just feels low or sad, for a long, longer period of time. And there might not necessarily be anything that can explain it. So for example, if a family member or friend passes away, that's understandable that you would feel sad, and there's a period that requires to grieve and to overcome that sadness.

But there are people out there that unfortunately, for no particular reason, they just feel sad all the time. So that's when they go and seek the mental health professionals to sort of work it through with them. Or for example, you know, let's just say there is a sad event that occurs but they don't necessarily recover as fast as even they would like to, then that's another reason to have a chat with a mental health professional.

Anxiety, unlike depression, is when a person is fearful all the time, they feel scared or stressed all the time. Again, sometimes there might be a reason for it. But a lot of times, there might not be any reason for it. And so the person's mind might be racing.

Both people with depression and anxiety often have sleep difficulties. Either they might sleep too much or sleep too little.

They also have difficulties with changes in their appetite. So it might be eating too much or too little. So there are lots of other things other than feeling sad or feeling scared, that you can observe in a person with depression or anxiety.

An interesting cultural thing is, a lot of people from, for example, Western societies are likely to express their depression or anxiety or mood changes by saying it. So "I feel sad", or "I feel scared". What they found is that in some multicultural communities, how they express that is perhaps through 'somatic symptoms' is what we call somatic sort of body symptoms. So they might say, "I'm getting headaches all the time", or "My back always hurts all the time". And so it's also being mindful that there are different ways that people might express how they feel, and be able to pick up on that.

Who can I see for mental health issues?

Your GP may refer you to a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Both psychologists and psychiatrists can help you with low mood, anxiety, depression, or relationship issues. Psychiatrists can prescribe medication if it’s needed, but psychologists cannot.

It’s important that you feel comfortable with your psychologist. Finding the right psychologist is almost like starting a new relationship. You might not get it right the first time, but you can keep looking for a good fit.

There are no silly questions- you can ask your psychologist anything. Whether you want advice on something that bothers you, or you just want advice, you can speak openly.
In general, everything you say to your psychologist is private. They cannot share your information with your partner, family, or strangers. However, if you talk about wanting to harm yourself or others, they must report the conversation to the authorities.

Read Transcript

There's actually a few cultural differences around what different people might expect from a psychologist. These are just kind of generalisations. So for example, a lot of people from Asian cultures kind of prefer more of a prescriptive relationship with their psychologist, so they might go, "tell me how to get better, give me the answers, you just tell me what I need to do, and I will do it."

Whereas other cultures might prefer a more collaborative approach, or "I share with you and then we figure this out together". So for what questions to ask, for whatever reason you want see a psychologist- it's your session, it's your time. And there's no such thing as silly questions. There might be silly answers! But that's your time to explore anything and everything. And that's what the psychologists is there for, to be with you to help you navigate whatever it is that a person is going through.

Why might someone be afraid to speak up?

There are many reasons why someone may feel that they need to keep their mental health problems to themselves.

  • Fear of being perceived as 'weak' or 'crazy' by others
  • Fear of how it will impact on their job, education, or migration status
  • Seeing other people in their family or community going through trauma and keeping it to themselves
  • Feeling guilty that they're not making the best out of their new circumstances post-migration

Stigma is when someone sees you in a negative way because of your mental health challenges. Cultural factors may determine how much support someone gets from their family and community when it comes to mental health. Because of existing stigma, people are sometimes left to find mental health treatment and support alone.

We know that people from migrant and refugee backgrounds can sometimes find it hard to talk about their mental health. Some things are difficult to explain to others, like your family situation or culture. Sometimes you don’t have the right words in your language or can’t explain it in English. But there are professionals you can talk to.

What are some ways that we can fight the stigma?

  • Talk openly about mental health, good and bad
  • Educate yourself and others
  • Be conscious of the language that you use
  • Encourage equality in the treatment and perception of physical and mental illness
  • Show compassion and understanding to those with mental illness
  • Seek mental healthcare with a professional who understands your cultural and social background

What is HeartChat?

HeartChat is a mental health support platform that makes it easier for people who speak languages other than English to read and access information about mental health. You can find more information on their website

Read Transcript

It's always been a bit of a struggle, in some ways, to encourage multicultural Australians to participate in mental health or seek mental health services. There are several reasons behind that. One is, people understand there's this stigma around mental health.

But also in many ways there are systemic barriers in place, such as not being able to find someone that understands the culture or understands the language. This already creates difficulty in accessing mental health services

Are there differences in people that come through? Not really, at the end of the day. It's more about who has access to it better, and that's something that we're trying to change here as mental health professionals.