Australia needs a human face for anxiety

Writing this piece is frightening.

The national mental health initiative beyondblue has launched a new campaign aimed at addressing ignorance and stigma about anxiety in Australia. Get To Know Anxiety seeks to better educate the public what anxiety is and how prevalent it is in our community. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics around a quarter of Australians will experience an anxiety condition at some point in their lives.

Writing this piece is frightening because I am one of them. I have been managing anxiety for over two years and many years beforehand unknowing, undiagnosed and unsupported.

According to beyondblue anxiety is:

“…more than just feeling stressed or worried. While stress and anxious feelings are a common response to a situation where a person feels under pressure, it usually passes once the stressful situation has passed, or ‘stressor’ is removed.

Anxiety is when these anxious feelings don’t subside. Anxiety is when they are ongoing and exist without any particular reason or cause. It’s a serious condition that makes it hard for a person to cope with daily life. We all feel anxious from time to time, but for a person experiencing anxiety, these feelings cannot be easily controlled.”

Anxiety is not easy to talk about publicly, because of the stigma and ignorance about the condition. You worry that your family, friends and colleagues will treat you differently once they find out you have anxiety, you worry employers will consider you unemployable because you’ve spoken out about your mental health and you worry that people will assume it’s “just a bit of stress” and it’s “all in your head”. However despite all these worries, speaking out about anxiety has been one of the best things I’ve ever done.

In fact, if it weren’t for a close friend telling me about her experience of anxiety I probably would have never sought help. It was through hearing her experience that I began to recognise my own behaviours and coping mechanisms weren’t working. I was ignorant about what anxiety actually was and didn’t think it was something that affected people like me. Thanks to her sharing her story I made a visit to my GP and started learning what anxiety really was and how to manage it as part of my life.

After careful thought and consideration late last year I “came out” as a person living with anxiety. After a particularly bad experience managing my anxiety whilst travelling overseas I decided to write about it and share my experience living with and managing the condition. In the months since, I’ve been quietly contacted by a slow, but steady trickle of friends, family and strangers each with their own unique experience of anxiety. Many have contacted me to ask for my help and advice or simply to say “I read your story and sought help as a result”.

What really struck me from this experience is just how diverse a condition anxiety is and how much we need to hear each other. No two people experience anxiety in exactly the same way and too many of us are afraid to talk about it. A diverse condition needs a diverse range of strategies, solutions and stories. Our stories have the power to take the suffering out of mental illness and foster a more understanding and supportive culture.

The survey that has sparked beyondblue’s latest campaign has shown that up to 40% of Australians still think that anxiety is “just stress” and up to 50% believe it’s just a part of people’s personality. The only way we can change this stigma and misinformation is to put a human face to anxiety. It’s hard, but if those of us who feel comfortable and supported enough to share our stories do so we can change the public’s understanding and perceptions of anxiety. The better we as a community understand and support those living with anxiety the more people can seek and receive help.

Writing this may be frightening, but it’s completely worth it. If my words and my experiences can help others to seek help and change how the community understands anxiety then it’s worth fighting through the stigma, the ignorance and the fear to make sure that others going through the same experience don’t have to feel alone.


If you need support you can contact the following services:

Thank you for supporting community broadcasting

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This week the community broadcasting sector was one of the lucky few community groups that was spared in the 2014 Federal Budget. Community broadcasting is about so much more than just broadcasting – I really believe it changes lives and has a huge impact on people’s participation in our democracy. I’ve seen first hand people from a wide range of under represented backgrounds become more connected, confident, skilled, socially aware and positive members of the community as a result of their involvement in community broadcasting.

Thank you if you supported the Commit to Community Radio campaign. It means a lot to me.

Even if you didn’t I hope you’ll still consider keeping track of it where it goes from here:


Why you should join or support your local community broadcaster


Community broadcasting has been a huge part of my life. When I was only about ten years old my grandpa took me into his local station as a special guest on his program “Jazz with Jim” and ever since I’ve been obsessed. I’ve volunteered for a number of radio stations across the country, become a board member at the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia and I currently work for SYN Media based in Melbourne.

If you’re a budding young media maker, a social change maker, love your local community or someone who just has a passion to share there couldn’t be a better way to do so than community broadcasting. Here are some reasons why you should join or support your local community broadcaster:

– In a world where much of the media we consume is driven by profit or ideology community broadcasting is one of the few places designed to be for the whole community – not driven by consumer needs and wants, but driven by community needs and wants.

– It’s driven by people speaking for themselves – not being spoken for. It’s increasingly important that we share the skills and platforms for people to speak for themselves.

– It’s diverse, it’s different and it’s batshit crazy (in the best way possible). If you want to meet some of the most interesting, passionate and diverse people in Australia community broadcasting is a great place to do so. I’ve met so many inspiring, challenging and interesting people by being involved in community broadcasting.

– It’s important for our democracy that everyone has a meaningful opportunity to be heard – regardless of their socio economic background, gender, sexuality or cultural identity. Community broadcasting is about giving people meaningful access to be heard.

– It’s challenging and it’s fun. Community and volunteer organisations can be extremely challenging, but rewarding places. You can learn about more than just media making, but so much about yourself. Community broadcasting is an amazing place to learn life skills and connect with your community.

Australia has hundreds of diverse community broadcasters covering a wide range of topics, interests and communities. You can find out more and find out your closest broadcaster at CBOnline.


You are not the arbiter of other people’s grief


Collective grief is one of the most unique features of the digital age. In the pre-internet era you might have shed a tear with other television viewers, radio listeners or newspaper readers as the community came to terms with a tragic event, but ultimately it was a private moment.

Nowadays when a tragic event occurs one of the first ways we identify that something awful has happened is the trending of a name on social media. Whenever the name of a prominent public figure starts trending you’d be forgiven for thinking “Oh no…I hope not.” Within seconds thousands of social media users are displaying open grief and distress, within minutes the opinion pieces are rolling in reflecting on what that particular tragedy means and within hours there are public figures, politicians and commentators calling for change.

In the last few weeks Australians have seen quite a few examples of how this collective grief operates.  On Sunday #LightTheDark trended across Australia as the community gathered at candlelight vigils for Reza Berati – the asylum seeker killed whilst under Australia’s care in Manus. Earlier in the day the public were shocked to hear of the passing of model and television presenter Charlotte Dawson with many social media users sharing their grief and shock and calling for better mental health support in the community.

There’s the horrifying story of Luke Batty – the 11-year-old killed by his father at a local cricket ground which sparked a huge outpouring of grief and blanket media coverage for days or look back a bit further and there’s the story of  murdered  ABC staffer Jill Meagher which led to thousands marching on the streets of Melbourne.

Depending on the type of tragedy – the people involved, the timing and the complexity of the issues involved different people will be affected in different ways. Unfortunately there is a nasty side to this open and collective grief which emerges on almost every occasion. It is inevitable that someone will ask the question “why do you care about tragedy x when tragedy y is going on elsewhere?” or “surely tragedy y is a more pressing issue than tragedy x?”

There’s a certain nastiness in attacking people in the midst of their grief  and applying your own value judgements. Their grief is not about you. You are not the arbiter of other people’s grief. You are not the definitive judge of what grief or what level of grief is considered worthy or not.

A tragedy with a celebrity will inevitably get more coverage and a higher level of collective grief from the community. More people will feel they “know” that person and have played a role in their lives however big or small. Even fictional grief is a very real and powerful emotional response. When the character Patrick died in Channel Ten’s ‘Offspring’ drama – the grief felt by viewers was very raw and real for many. It’s not up to you to judge, label or limit the grief that other people feel. Even if you can’t relate to it personally the emotions the community feels are very real.

However it is valid to question the media values surrounding these events. The choices made by media outlets are certainly not above reproach. It is totally fair to question if a media outlet or social media user is exploiting a tragedy for personal gain or if they are consciously avoiding some tragedies for political or economic reasons. Absolutely criticise media outlets and social media users for that, but when you compare tragedies and assert value judgements about people’s grief you are denying them the opportunity to fully process something which is uniquely traumatic and distressing to them. This kind of value judgement and nastiness has no place.

We all must get better at supporting each other in these times of collective grief. Traditional media have long held standards such as those promoted by Mindframe Media when it comes to reporting distressing and traumatic events and many social media users are now vigilant about sharing mental health support services, but these voices are too few. Aside from supporting positive regulatory options the least social media companies can do is provide users with accurate, regular and prominent mental health support information at times of high collective distress. We know they have the data of what their users are talking about – this is something they can do now to support the mental health of our community.

As individuals we have a role to play too. We have a responsibility to be informed about the impact of our words and to do our best to support the mental health of those we interact with. Sometimes that involves being quiet, putting our personal judgements aside and letting people have their moment.


Would love to hear your thoughts. Please get in touch in the comments or on Twitter @JB_AU

Image sourced under Creative Commons from walknboston.

The best gift we can give this year

I have one simple request from my fellow Australians this Christmas and I hope it’s something we can all at least try to embrace in 2014.

For Christmas, can we please get our compassion back?

Something nasty crept into the Australian collective consciousness this year and if it’s a sign of things to come we’ve got a tough year ahead.

It was a year in which sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and a wide range of other phobias and “isms” were issues often at the forefront of the public space, but in many cases felt like we’ve backtracked and gone back to “protecting our own”. It’s a gross binary opposition against whatever particular enemy we choose at the time and it’s contributing deeply to this nastiness we’ve seen over the year.

Our politics demonstrated this with one of the most toxic years we’ve seen in a while, where compassion seemed to be the last thing on the agenda. Instead of aiming to be a more cohesive, more connected community we became even more of a blind cheer squad for “our” ideologies and forgot the people in our community who need us the most.

Australians, of all people around the world, have the most to be thankful for. We’re still one of the most privileged, secure and lucky countries in the world, but somehow we’ve bought into the rhetoric that we’ve got it so bad we can forget our most vulnerable and needy both at home and internationally.

So if there’s one thing I can ask of my fellow Australians it’s this – As you (hopefully) enjoy your Christmas Day take a moment to cherish the things you and I are so lucky for in this country, take that good energy and spirit, think of those who don’t have it so lucky heading into 2014 and do something about it. Make a commitment and decide how you plan to make our community a more loving and caring place in 2014.

The greatest gift you can give this Christmas is to bring some compassion back into our community.

Merry Christmas and thank you to all the wonderful people I’ve shared my year with both offline and online. Many of you have given me hope we can bring that compassion and care for each other back. Thank you.


Bamboozling: When homophobia is the punch line

Tropfest is one of Australia’s largest and most influential cultural events. Thousands gather across the country to celebrate Australian creativity through filmmaking each year. The competition also acts as a litmus test of what issues have dominated the Australian psyche over the previous year. It’s not uncommon to see films that tap into hot topics – often forcing us to challenge our perspective on a cultural or community issue.

Unfortunately this year’s winner ‘Bamboozled’ shows us we have a long way to go in regards to sex, gender and sexuality in our community. The winning film follows a young man’s surprise encounter with an old girlfriend who (surprise!) has had a sex change and now lives as a man. The film then follows a drunken night ending in a twist where (surprise!) the main character has been tricked into sex with a man as part of a television “gotcha” program.

Sex, gender and sexuality can (and should be) great topics for comedy. There’s a lot to learn from a comical perspective on these themes – unfortunately ‘Bamboozled’ misses the mark.

Firstly there’s the trivialisation of the transgender, gender questioning and transitioning experience. It’s an old filmic/comedic technique we’ve seen in hundreds of films, but surely we’re more educated and understanding in 2013? The trans experience is more than just a lazy punch line. It’s a real experience that real people in our community are going through.

Then the film’s twist ending is even more problematic. In what world is getting someone drunk and tricking them to engage in sexual contact not a form of rape? Clearly the character was not in a position to appropriately consent to sex and the initiating character has been specifically engaged to trick the central character into sexual contact they otherwise would have not entered into. That’s sexual assault.

As the film’s ending twist is revealed the central character is then chided with various “you just slept with a man” jibes. Apparently in 2013 being gay or engaging in gay sex is something to be ashamed about? The central joke/twist of the film relies on an entrenched sense of homophobia and gender roles in our community to make its impact.

I don’t write this to accuse the filmmakers or Tropfest judges of being homophobes – I’m certain that was not their intention, but we seriously have to question an Australian culture where homophobia as a punch line is still acceptable. Not only that – it’s a lazy filmic cliché that our society should have moved past decades ago.

Yet, the most telling part is that this film was selected, screened, won and has plenty of people in the community willing to sing its comedic praises. I’ve already heard plenty of people defend the film as “just a joke” and been told to “get over it” but I firmly believe the best comedy in our community challenges our prejudices – the laziest reinforces those prejudices.

Narratives are powerful cultural forces. Every time we reward a narrative that relies on outdated gender roles, homophobia or questionable power structures we further entrench those behaviour sets as cultural norms. That has an impact – 5 minutes research into the mental health outcomes of LGBTI young people will show you just what this sustained and powerful narrative can do.

We might get a cheap laugh when homophobia is the punch line, but we send the wrong message when we reward films like ‘Bamboozled’ which rely on reinforcing our prejudices for their impact.