Mental As on the ABC

I’ve written a few things about mental illness for this blog (my very poorly articulated review of Inside Out, and my post on great depictions of mental illness in pop culture). I don’t like to go into too much detail about my experiences, but I’ve been dealing with depression and performance anxiety for the past seven years. I’ve never had a particularly serious case of either, but even when you have mild depression it’s still depression, it’s not like it’s the happy version of being depressed or anything. I didn’t enjoy crying myself to sleep every night for a month or making myself sick over my year 12 exams. I have strategies to deal with it now, and that’s great. It’s something that’s really difficult for me to talk about with complete strangers, because that’s not something they really need to know about me, and there’s the stigma attached to it. Despite the prevalence of mental illness in our society, it’s something we don’t talk about very often. For the second year running, the Australian Broadcast Corporation has held a mental health week, complete with documentary programming and interviews, which culminated in the Saturday Night Crack-Up, a variety show hosted by Eddie Perfect.

I watch many things on the ABC, and Mental Health Weeks is one of the many things that has made me grateful that we have a public broadcaster, and I’m glad that my taxes are being well spent. Furthermore, Mental As was a multi-platform initiative – there weren’t just programmes on the TV, I heard interviews and features on mental illness on both ABC Melbourne and Triple J. The ABC is also good at trawling through its own archives to rebroadcast some programmes that have discussed mental ill-health previously: there’s a fantastic episode of Kitchen Cabinet that aired last year with Andrew Robb and Mary Jo Fisher, who talked about their experiences with depression, and most importantly being public about those experiences. Meanwhile, over on Please Like Me, “Mum”‘s suicide attempt was a way for Josh Thomas to explore mental health issues in his own family. And that’s stuff that was on last year.

Triple J is the radio station my car is set to, and also the only one I have programmed, because I don’t know how to program the radio stations in my car. While I was driving to work on either Tuesday or Wednesday, I heard an interview with Osher Gunsberg (formerly known as Andrew G), host of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette and former co-host of Australian Idol, about how he manages his Post-traumatic stress disorder. He talked about meditation, keeping his body in good shape, and making time to connect with other people, and while it seems obvious, sometimes when you’re not in a good place, if you don’t do these sorts of things, your mind will tell you that things are much worse than they actually are. It’s better to be busy than not. I don’t have PTSD, but so much of what Osher said were things that I could relate to.

There were also some great stories on Triple J’s current affairs show, Hack. I’m not often in the car between 5:30 and 6pm on a weekday, but people from Hack were dropping in on other shows to promote the show, and the specific topics they were discussing. On Tuesday they did a story on the people who are left behind by suicide. On Thursday, they talked about breakthroughs, and Tom Tilley came onto the breakfast show to promote the programme, interviewing a young person who had sought help because she heard about HeadSpace during Mental Health Week last week. She had trouble expressing what she was feeling over the phone, but as soon as she was able to write things down, she felt better. The ABC benefits from having platforms dedicated to specific audiences, and they even surveyed 20,000 children about mental health issues.

At last we come to the Saturday Night Crack-Up, which I watched this afternoon on iview, because I really just wanted to watch Pitch Perfect last night. It’s a variety show with music, comedy and games, and people from all television networks come together to support a good cause. (There’s also an ABC bat signal, which might possibly be my favourite thing ever). Mental As isn’t just about raising awareness, there’s also action involved. Over the week, ABC viewers, readers and listeners are encouraged to donate to The Society for Mental Health Research, which is an organisation that funds young people to conduct research into mental health. Mental health isn’t just about the present, it’s about the future, and the ABC recognises that.

Other thoughts:

  • My favourite part of the Crack Up was the bit with Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales, continuing their long-running argument about showtunes. It was a nice in-joke for Chat 10 Looks 3 listeners.
  • Also it turns out that the reason Leigh Sales is so nice to Malcolm Turnbull isn’t because he doesn’t let anyone get a word in, but because he performs a fantastic rendition of Oklahoma!
  • Eddie Perfect’s song about what not to say to people who are depressed was, well, perfect for lack of a better word.
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