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3 Generations of West Aussie: A Discussion on Mental Health

3 Generations of West Aussie: A Discussion on Mental Health

Written by Atle Edgar Oct 14, 2021

In line with WA’s theme for mental health week this year, “Mental Health starts with our children” Atle from the Oqea team thought it would be interesting to facilitate a discussion between three generations of a Perth family; a grandmother, her daughter and a grandson about their experiences with mental health. The discussion covered a range of topics including stigma associated with mental health whilst growing up, how to build strong mental resilience in children and building caring and supportive relationships with children and young people:  

The discussion also addressed the following questions:

  • Gaining independence
  • Building confidence to take on personal challenges  
  • Learning to understand and express emotions.  

Those included in the discussion include:

Atle, the youngest of the 3, A 22 year old born in Sydney but raised in Perth. An economics and marketing graduate from UWA, he currently works at Oqea as an Operations Assistant.  

Judy (82) who was born in Perth and has a lifelong history working in the WA healthcare system. Since the age of 17 she worked as a dental nurse and in a post-polio centre. She has worked as a general nurse assisting in GP clinics, recovering alcoholics, surgery, burns & plastics. She has been involved with friends of RPH since 2003, where she still volunteers today as a leader organising volunteers for the concierge and emergency department.    

Susan began her career as an Occupational Therapist (OT) working in a range of roles in Australia and the US. After completing her MBA she worked as a management consultant and executive roles in banking, health insurance and government utilities. She is a qualified director having served on several NFP boards, most notably the Rocky Bay board for nearly 15 years where she recently stepped down from her roles as chair.

Introduction  

To start the discussion all three participants spoke about their general understanding of mental wellbeing, when they were raised, and how they were introduced to the concept of mental health. Surprisingly their experiences were similar, with all generations reporting experiencing low community awareness of mental illness and a lack of understanding or compassion for people suffering. Susan even went as far to say that it was almost taboo, with people being described as “Mental” as a derogatory term.

“[mental health awareness was] minimal, it wasn’t an ‘issue’, we never heard about it.” – Jude  

Their introductions to gaining a better understanding mental health were interesting. For Judy her deeper understanding began with brother, who was diagnosed with bi polar disorder as a young adult, and although he was supported it wasn’t something they were initially prepared for. Similarly, Susan found she became more aware in high school, knowing people around her that were struggling, but with the distinct feeling that no one was able to openly discuss these issues. It wasn’t until studying to be an OT that she fully began to more fully appreciate and understand mental health.  

Building good relationships with others including adults and peers  

The discussion was directed to children, and how Judy and Susan raised their kids with the intent to build mental resilience. Initially we talked about building good relationship with peers. Both Judy and Susan encouraged their kids to be social, and made an effort to directly tell their kids about the adults in their lives (besides their own parents) that they could talk to or feel safe with, if they ever needed. Susan reflected however, that when she was growing up Perth, sharing sensitive information about mental health felt fear driven, especially when outside of the family which felt like a risk to many.

Intrigued about this fear of sharing Atle enquired about if they felt heard whilst growing up by the adults in their lives, or at the very least felt their opinions were valued growing up. Both remarked they were certainly invited to contribute during family discussions but compared with today standards they felt kids are far more incorporated into the discussion, beyond just a family level.

“I felt my views were certainly valued to a point, but not like we were ever locked outside!” - Judy  

In terms of giving their own kids chances to contribute to discussions Judy felt like she had let her kids down. Susan her daughter was quick to interject however that family holidays and board game nights had been powerful moments for them to come together as a family to share ideas and problem solve together which helped to strengthen their confidence and family bond.  

For Susan family dinners were the focal point of her attempts to enable conversation, and a good place to learn how to have positive disagreements. She also noted that making sure her kids trusted their gut instincts was an important part of this, and also in building independence and confidence.  

Building independence  

The conversation flowed into independence, and the importance of providing a safe environments/experience for kids to be challenged and achieve. Judy distinctly tried to instil the mindset of” if you want something then go and achieve it”, allowing her children to socialize freely during the day on weekends, etc but with chores like grocery shopping being attached. Susan also felt this was important but reflected that efforts to do this were hindered.  

“My efforts to teach my children to be independent, organised and tidy felt partially spoilt early on. Your babysitter would do a lot of simple tasks for you, like cleaning and organising. Which I thought prevented your early independence, making them feel less an instinctive thing to do for yourself and more an impost being to do these things later on.” Following that she felt rewarding or even bribing was necessary in making sure her kids always knew she was a step behind was needed with some tasks, especially those they felt uncomfortable with, like going to the shops or making a phone call.  

Learning to identify, express and manage their emotions    

Emotions was the next conversational port of call. Talking about their own upbringings Judy expressed that talking about your emotions was not common place at all, an unwarranted experience. Susan reflected a similar experience at home, but specifically that she could talk about emotions in a social setting with friends. We continued, speaking specifically on what they did to support their kids in expressing and managing their emotions.  

“Tough love built them!” Judy continued, “It wasn’t something we were ever taught in child raising classes.”  Interestingly Judy also reflected “I wasn’t very confident when I was growing up, I only learnt how to have confidence in myself being supported by my husband. It was something that had to be learnt.”

Susan agreed that emotional expression probably something that wasn’t encouraged as much when she was growing up. For her children she would tell her kids to run to the bottom the garden and back if they felt angry, but commented  

“There was a variance between you three kids. You all internalized and expressed your emotions differently so our tactics were unique for each of you. [her daughter] for example internalized her emotions more, while [her two sons] were far more expressive and needed to moderate that sometimes.” The most important thing for her was making sure her kids knew the importance of expressing how they felt if the pressure was great, and that they could do that beyond just with their parents. Tucking you in at night was particularly useful quiet, one on one time to talk about unresolved or hard issues from the day.

When we talked about stress management the answers were a little different. Both agreed that they thought it was important that their kids knew to talk when they felt stressed. Susan added “making sure they knew to someone even if it wasn’t their parents was a big part of this. We also educated them on exercise, eating well and connecting with people to alleviate stress was super important, even if you felt like your kids weren’t receptive to the advice”. She continued;  

“We decided to be very open with the kids when someone we knew had died from suicide and reiterated that everyone feels bad at times and you need to get help to get past those moments. When I grew up those discussions were not had with kids on how commonly people can feel that way”

An interesting note was to do with technology, and how gaming and screens really disrupted these aspects of life for her kids, and those in the community. She felt that a lot of software and games are built to be so addictive that it can ruin a kid’s ability to self-moderate without proper assistance.  

Conclusion  

We closed out our discussion by talking about regrets and advice for other parents. For Judy the one thing she regretted was not reading a story to her kids before bed every night. As both a nice way to finish the day but also an important time of connection between parent and child. Her advice was making sure children feel valued, confident but most importantly always know they are cared for.  

Susan’s biggest regret was that she always felt like the bad guy, imposing the most rules and ‘punishments ‘ on her kids. Although a necessary task it was especially sad as at times it can prevent your relaxing and having fun. Her advice, making sure kids know how to be open about mental wellbeing and resilience.  

“Knowing how to reach out when they feel down because as bad as you feel in the moment, it will pass.” She added that always encouraging openness no matter what was an important part of this.  

We hope you enjoyed this short insight into this family’s mental health experiences. Although experiences, values and perspectives will always differ, we hope you find value in their words and experiences.

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3 Generations of West Aussie: A Discussion on Mental Health

In line with WA’s theme for mental health week this year, “Mental Health starts with our children” Atle from the Oqea team thought it would be interesting to facilitate a discussion between three generations of a Perth family; a grandmother, her daughter and a grandson about their experiences with mental health. The discussion covered a range of topics including stigma associated with mental health whilst growing up, how to build strong mental resilience in children and building caring and supportive relationships with children and young people:  

The discussion also addressed the following questions:

  • Gaining independence
  • Building confidence to take on personal challenges  
  • Learning to understand and express emotions.  

Those included in the discussion include:

Atle, the youngest of the 3, A 22 year old born in Sydney but raised in Perth. An economics and marketing graduate from UWA, he currently works at Oqea as an Operations Assistant.  

Judy (82) who was born in Perth and has a lifelong history working in the WA healthcare system. Since the age of 17 she worked as a dental nurse and in a post-polio centre. She has worked as a general nurse assisting in GP clinics, recovering alcoholics, surgery, burns & plastics. She has been involved with friends of RPH since 2003, where she still volunteers today as a leader organising volunteers for the concierge and emergency department.    

Susan began her career as an Occupational Therapist (OT) working in a range of roles in Australia and the US. After completing her MBA she worked as a management consultant and executive roles in banking, health insurance and government utilities. She is a qualified director having served on several NFP boards, most notably the Rocky Bay board for nearly 15 years where she recently stepped down from her roles as chair.

Introduction  

To start the discussion all three participants spoke about their general understanding of mental wellbeing, when they were raised, and how they were introduced to the concept of mental health. Surprisingly their experiences were similar, with all generations reporting experiencing low community awareness of mental illness and a lack of understanding or compassion for people suffering. Susan even went as far to say that it was almost taboo, with people being described as “Mental” as a derogatory term.

“[mental health awareness was] minimal, it wasn’t an ‘issue’, we never heard about it.” – Jude  

Their introductions to gaining a better understanding mental health were interesting. For Judy her deeper understanding began with brother, who was diagnosed with bi polar disorder as a young adult, and although he was supported it wasn’t something they were initially prepared for. Similarly, Susan found she became more aware in high school, knowing people around her that were struggling, but with the distinct feeling that no one was able to openly discuss these issues. It wasn’t until studying to be an OT that she fully began to more fully appreciate and understand mental health.  

Building good relationships with others including adults and peers  

The discussion was directed to children, and how Judy and Susan raised their kids with the intent to build mental resilience. Initially we talked about building good relationship with peers. Both Judy and Susan encouraged their kids to be social, and made an effort to directly tell their kids about the adults in their lives (besides their own parents) that they could talk to or feel safe with, if they ever needed. Susan reflected however, that when she was growing up Perth, sharing sensitive information about mental health felt fear driven, especially when outside of the family which felt like a risk to many.

Intrigued about this fear of sharing Atle enquired about if they felt heard whilst growing up by the adults in their lives, or at the very least felt their opinions were valued growing up. Both remarked they were certainly invited to contribute during family discussions but compared with today standards they felt kids are far more incorporated into the discussion, beyond just a family level.

“I felt my views were certainly valued to a point, but not like we were ever locked outside!” - Judy  

In terms of giving their own kids chances to contribute to discussions Judy felt like she had let her kids down. Susan her daughter was quick to interject however that family holidays and board game nights had been powerful moments for them to come together as a family to share ideas and problem solve together which helped to strengthen their confidence and family bond.  

For Susan family dinners were the focal point of her attempts to enable conversation, and a good place to learn how to have positive disagreements. She also noted that making sure her kids trusted their gut instincts was an important part of this, and also in building independence and confidence.  

Building independence  

The conversation flowed into independence, and the importance of providing a safe environments/experience for kids to be challenged and achieve. Judy distinctly tried to instil the mindset of” if you want something then go and achieve it”, allowing her children to socialize freely during the day on weekends, etc but with chores like grocery shopping being attached. Susan also felt this was important but reflected that efforts to do this were hindered.  

“My efforts to teach my children to be independent, organised and tidy felt partially spoilt early on. Your babysitter would do a lot of simple tasks for you, like cleaning and organising. Which I thought prevented your early independence, making them feel less an instinctive thing to do for yourself and more an impost being to do these things later on.” Following that she felt rewarding or even bribing was necessary in making sure her kids always knew she was a step behind was needed with some tasks, especially those they felt uncomfortable with, like going to the shops or making a phone call.  

Learning to identify, express and manage their emotions    

Emotions was the next conversational port of call. Talking about their own upbringings Judy expressed that talking about your emotions was not common place at all, an unwarranted experience. Susan reflected a similar experience at home, but specifically that she could talk about emotions in a social setting with friends. We continued, speaking specifically on what they did to support their kids in expressing and managing their emotions.  

“Tough love built them!” Judy continued, “It wasn’t something we were ever taught in child raising classes.”  Interestingly Judy also reflected “I wasn’t very confident when I was growing up, I only learnt how to have confidence in myself being supported by my husband. It was something that had to be learnt.”

Susan agreed that emotional expression probably something that wasn’t encouraged as much when she was growing up. For her children she would tell her kids to run to the bottom the garden and back if they felt angry, but commented  

“There was a variance between you three kids. You all internalized and expressed your emotions differently so our tactics were unique for each of you. [her daughter] for example internalized her emotions more, while [her two sons] were far more expressive and needed to moderate that sometimes.” The most important thing for her was making sure her kids knew the importance of expressing how they felt if the pressure was great, and that they could do that beyond just with their parents. Tucking you in at night was particularly useful quiet, one on one time to talk about unresolved or hard issues from the day.

When we talked about stress management the answers were a little different. Both agreed that they thought it was important that their kids knew to talk when they felt stressed. Susan added “making sure they knew to someone even if it wasn’t their parents was a big part of this. We also educated them on exercise, eating well and connecting with people to alleviate stress was super important, even if you felt like your kids weren’t receptive to the advice”. She continued;  

“We decided to be very open with the kids when someone we knew had died from suicide and reiterated that everyone feels bad at times and you need to get help to get past those moments. When I grew up those discussions were not had with kids on how commonly people can feel that way”

An interesting note was to do with technology, and how gaming and screens really disrupted these aspects of life for her kids, and those in the community. She felt that a lot of software and games are built to be so addictive that it can ruin a kid’s ability to self-moderate without proper assistance.  

Conclusion  

We closed out our discussion by talking about regrets and advice for other parents. For Judy the one thing she regretted was not reading a story to her kids before bed every night. As both a nice way to finish the day but also an important time of connection between parent and child. Her advice was making sure children feel valued, confident but most importantly always know they are cared for.  

Susan’s biggest regret was that she always felt like the bad guy, imposing the most rules and ‘punishments ‘ on her kids. Although a necessary task it was especially sad as at times it can prevent your relaxing and having fun. Her advice, making sure kids know how to be open about mental wellbeing and resilience.  

“Knowing how to reach out when they feel down because as bad as you feel in the moment, it will pass.” She added that always encouraging openness no matter what was an important part of this.  

We hope you enjoyed this short insight into this family’s mental health experiences. Although experiences, values and perspectives will always differ, we hope you find value in their words and experiences.