Chris Chalubek was sitting in a GP clinic waiting room when he felt the cold glare of stigma that persists around mental illness.
A picture of calm, he didn’t appear to be in crisis but on the inside he was capitulating.
“I was in the worst depressive episode I’ve ever had; my current treatments weren’t working and I’d gone to see a GP,” says Chris who has bipolar disorder.
“He looked at me and his first response was, `Oh, you don’t look depressed’.
“There I was sitting in complete crisis internally and I have a health professional responding like that. What did he expect to see?
“It was in that moment that I realised how difficult it can be – and how much strength it does take – to reach out and seek help when there’s still so much misunderstanding and stigma around mental health.”
It was a defining moment for Chris, Assistant Executive Manager of Health, Wellbeing & Education services at Centacare.
“I could have just left then and there because, when you’re in crisis, a response like that can make you withdraw even further.
“I might not have been visibly in despair, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t need help.’’
Stigma around mental illness due to misunderstanding or prejuidice remains the number one barrier to people seeking support.
This week, Mental Health Australia is calling on the nation to challenge perceptions about mental illness and look at it in a more positive light with the theme, `Do you see what I see?’
“Early on I was worried about what people might think so I didn’t reach out and didn’t hear what people had to say,’’ Chris says.
“But now asking for help or hearing that I need help isn’t a big deal. I actually feel stronger for it. I feel in control.’’
Chris is sharing his lived experience in the hope of helping others to reach out for support instead of denying how they feel through fear of being judged.
“If we all responded with compassion, that wouldn’t be an issue.
“If you have a broken arm or another serious illness, you don’t think twice about going to get help. Mental health should be no different.’’
For more information about Mental Health Week, visit http://www.mhcsa.org.au/mhcsa-events/mental-health-week-2018/