By Ashleigh McMillan
Early Career Optometrists nationally are supporting R U OK? Day today, with discussions around mental health that took place during the ECO Think Tank in Canberra on 13 September.
This follows a session on depression and anxiety held at the ECO Think Tank during SA Blue Sky Congress in 2016. Optometry Australia lost two of its members to suicide in 2014.
Psychologist Rachel Clements, who is part of the R U OK? Day conversation think tank, says that one in four people in the general population has a mental health issue, and that this proportion is increasing in stressful occupations such as optometry.
‘It’s really important to start the conversation around mental health because we know that there are incredibly high prevalence rates of mental health issues,’ Ms Clements said.
‘For health professionals, they’re often in high-performing, high-achieving environments, and their work is high risk because of the consequences of making an error. A lot of the work undertaken by those professionals is also incredibly autonomous.
‘While the ability to work autonomously is a trait that we might value in health professionals, and is important for those running their own practices, those traits of self-reliance can work against us when we’re not travelling so well.
‘People will often think that as health practitioners they should be able to handle the issues themselves and tend to struggle through on their own. But what I have seen in my consulting experience is that we can no longer afford to take our psychological wellbeing for granted,’ she said.
Ms Clements says that for optometrists, it’s important to invest in your own mental health every day.
‘It’s really about having a mindset shift and not working at the expense of your wellbeing. Health practitioners in particular tend to do that, and they might factor themselves in last because they’re in helping professions and care for themselves becomes secondary.
‘We need to have our wellbeing front and centre. That can mean a whole variety of different things to different people. For one person it is ensuring they get enough exercise, for another it might be connecting with friends and family regularly.
‘My message is always that it doesn’t matter what you do, the fact is that you’re actually doing something to invest in your wellbeing, even if it is only for 10 or 20 minutes a day. Even just doing some deep breathing on your way home and using the journey to separate work from your home life can be enough sometimes.’
Ms Clements says that optometrists need to be mindful of their colleagues who may be exhibiting signs of stress or changes in behaviour.
‘We know that when people are not travelling so well, there are many reasons why they might not reach out for themselves. It could be that the very symptoms they’re experiencing prevent them from reaching out for help and support, or that they fear the consequences of coming forward, worrying if someone will judge them or if they will be treated differently.
‘On R U OK? Day, it’s really about putting the onus on us. We’re often relying on people with mental health issues to come to us, when really we know that for a whole variety of reasons those people don’t,’ she said. ‘So it’s about how do we actually get good at reaching out and connecting with people, not only on R U OK? Day but during the rest of the year as well.’
If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, call:
- Lifeline 13 11 14
- Kids Helpline 1800 551 800
- MensLine Australia 1300 789 978
- Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467