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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 17 June 2017
NEWS 4 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 17 JUNE 2017 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Anton Anagnostou Tackling the stigma of mental illness among migrant communities head-on Anton Anagnostou talks to Neos Kosmos about beyondblue’s newly launched program in Victoria’s most culturally diverse region to assist with anxiety and depression ANASTASIA TSIRTSAKIS Life has its challenges, especially for those who have faced the prospect of leaving their family and friends behind to start anew on the other side of the world, all while carrying the baggage of trauma experienced in their homeland. However with the promise of opportunity can come a number of challenges ranging from language barriers, racism, and isolation, unemployment, and visa uncertainty, to navigating, what can appear to be, complex health and education systems. Without the necessary support systems in place such hardships can often lead to anxiety and depression and a host of other mental conditions. Recognising the stigma surrounding mental health is prevalent across various cultural groups, including the Greek community, beyondblue has set out to tackle the matter head on with the launch of its new mental health program beyondblueConnect. Confidential and freely accessible, it is a peer support program developed specifically for people in the Greater Dandenong area, Victoria's most culturally diverse region. "According to the Primary Health Network in Melbourne's south east (SEMPHN), they have data that indicates that the City of Greater Dandenong has the highest rate of psychological, and socioeconomic distress. So this has been our motivation in how we can intervene and improve the well-being of these people," program leader Anton Anagnostou told Neos Kosmos. While he says that attitudes surrounding mental health have evolved in a positive direction over time, stigma is still present. "I believe it's part of education, so we grow up thinking that this is not something we should talk about; that we're afraid to talk about," he explains, adding that the language used can leave people feeling particularly vulnerable. "Using words such as 'crazy', 'lunatic' or 'normal' has consequences on people's life, so everyone stops discussing how they feel because they will be discriminated against." The program is designed as a form of early intervention to help prevent the onset of mental illness long term. Early signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression can include a range of emotions that can also take a physical toll, such as being very tired, overwhelmed, frustrated, isolated, and persistent feelings of sadness. "Through beyondblueConnect people will gain skills in managing their mental health, building new friendships, self-care, keeping physically healthy, relaxation, and goal setting," said Mr Anagnostou. The service can be accessed in person, by phone or online and gives people the opportunity to attend up to eight private sessions with a trained beyondblue mentor. Group sessions are also available to help participants develop mental health knowledge and skills through practical activities. But what really sets the program apart says Mr Anagnostou is that it is run by peo- ple who have a lived experience of mental illness, one of whom is the leader himself. Having migrated to Australia from Greece six years ago, as part of the program he also offers the service in the Greek language for newly arrived migrants. "It's part of my personal philosophy to help people with their own journey in life and to share how I coped with my feelings," he said. "My experience tells me that people are very empowered when they have a discussion with someone who's been through the same challenges and there's a special connection as well." Funded by the Australian Government through SEMPHN for 12 months, if the program continues to be a success there is the prospect of seeing it rolled out to other areas of Victoria. While the program leader notes that the service will not solve all problems, it is a step in the right direction, and with the right support anything is possible. "What beyondblue supports is that people need to have these discussions in the way they discuss their physical health. So sharing your feelings and frustrations can be the same as sharing your headache or your back pain." Sessions will be held in multiple central locations in the Greater Dandenong area. To register for beyondblueConnect, call 1300 036 418. Mental health professionals are available 24/7 at the beyondblue Support Service – 1300 22 4636 or via beyondblue. org.au/get-support for online chat (3pm-12am ADST) or email responses (within 24 hours).
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