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Has our perception of mental health and mental health providers changed over the last 20-30 years?
Many, many years ago, I was a newbie psychologist in The Port (those of you not from Adelaide – The Port is Port Adelaide – one of the tough as nails western suburbs of Adelaide).
I was seeing many people who were recovering from car accidents and work injuries and had developed depression, anxiety or were just overwhelmed by it all. Many were men who had never seen a psychologist prior to seeing me. Whilst they were happy to see me in a Rehab Environment, I didn’t think they would be happy to introduce me to their mates!!! But I never realised how unhappy they would be for anyone to know they were seeing a psychologist until I went to the annual Port Adelaide Baseball AGM. My husband at the time was the President – we had different surnames.
I remember walking in and looking around the room and I couldn’t believe it…at least 25 of my clients were present. The shock on their faces when they realised, I was married to the Club President was priceless – the fear that I would go up and chat to them and “out them” was written all over their faces. You would have thought I was a drug dealer……
So, I did what any good psychologist would do…I ignored them and sat down.
My sense of unease was strong as I could almost feel their fear of getting found out. Most were blokes in their 40s and 50s – a tough group to crack as a psychologist back in the 90s.
After 30 mins, I told my husband that I had a headache and had to go home and as I got up to leave, I heard a voice call out “Hey that’s my psychologist!”.
I looked around and one of my favourite clients, Mark, was sitting with his family. Mark called out to me and wanted to introduce me to everyone. He told them “This is my Psycho (he had sense of humour). If it wasn’t for Maria, I wouldn’t be here…”.
I sat with his family for 10 mins before I got up to leave again as the rest of the group still couldn’t look at me. While I was proud of Mark and his ability to say that he needed a psychologist and that this had helped him (he did stunning in his recovery by the way), I could also understand the rest of the groups’ desire to remain psychologically anonymous. Back in the 90’s seeing a shrink was not common.
Fast forward to the year 2023.
The community at large has a much better understanding of mental health and how psychologists are an integral part of the health team. My clients range from children of 8 to adults of 85 and every age in-between.
Having depression or anxiety or just being overwhelmed by life at times is nothing to be ashamed of. Even we psychologists go there sometimes! Getting help as quickly as you can is important – don’t wait until this becomes a chronic problem.
Now, most of the time, when I run into a client in public and they are with someone, they stop me and chat and introduce me to the person they are with not as someone they know but as their psychologist.
The theme from WHO for this year’s World Mental Health Day, on 10 October 2023, is “Our minds, our rights" and “Mental health is a universal human right”. As WHO states, the day is “to improve knowledge, raise awareness and drive actions that promote and protect everyone’s mental health as a universal human right”.
So, during World Mental Health Day, we need reach out to our family and friends, let them know they are not alone and encourage them to seek help.
There are many effective treatments as we are starting to understand the neuroscience behind many health conditions.
For more information about our Mental Health Programs .