Being Mindful of Your Mental Health

This article is also available in Simplified Chinese.

Imagine being scammed out of thousands of dollars from your flat mate, who then flees never to be seen again.

It happened to my friend Leon, an international student from China. His flat mate claimed he needed some short-term help with his company. Leon, being the kind and trusting guy that he is, loaned him $2,000, despite barely being able to cover his own costs.

Not only did Leon never see the money again, but he never saw his flat mate again either. Police later told Leon that the scammer had left Australia and the money would never be traced back.

For a while, every time I ask Leon out, he’s busy working in a grocery store seven days a week, trying to make up for the loss.

The incident clearly had a big impact on him, but he rarely talks about it. That’s a fairly typical Chinese way to deal with stress and anxiety. Bury the issue in your heart and don’t talk it through. In our culture, mental health-related problems are considered a weakness. Only “crazy” people seek help from a psychologist.

According to Lifeline, almost 40% of Chinese Australians have experienced a period of stress. But almost two thirds of them did not seek any help during that time.

As common as common cold

Any international student or new migrant will tell you, the first few years in Australia can be really tough. Stress doesn’t only come from extreme predicaments, such as the one faced by Leon.

Everyday things can have a big impact too.

Will people understand my English? How do I find a good job? How do I make friends? How can I get help while I live alone? Any of those questions can cause significant anxiety. That’s then compounded by the fact that you’re missing family and friends back home. Depression is common.

Levels of psychological stress are even higher amongst members of LGBTIQ+ communities. One comprehensive study by La Trobe University last year found almost three quarters had considered attempting suicide at some point during their lives.

Fortunately, there are a range of services in Australia that can help ease our minds.

And when you think about it, why wouldn’t we use them? Mental health issues are as common as the cold. When we have a cold, we take steps to ease the symptoms. Why wouldn’t we do just that when having a hard time with our mind?

As a starting point, we shouldn’t be afraid to lean on people. Friends and family won’t judge you for seeking help. But sometimes, you need guidance from a professional.

Why I get professional help

In my second month in Australia, I went to see a counsellor at university.

I was feeling very overwhelmed at the time, helpless and alone in a new environment.

To this day, I’m glad I went to that session. I wasn’t used to talking openly about my feelings, but I walked away feeling much more confident on myself. It also helped me with how I feel about my sexuality. I’m not afraid or ashamed of being gay since then.

I now see a psychologist each month. The one-hour sessions often feel like a conversation between two good friends. She offers an impartial view of my everyday experiences and helps identify the real reasons for my anxiety, stress or anger.

I usually go in with a specific thing that’s happened to me and we talk through how I responded. A friend actually encouraged me to seek help after seeing me lose my cool at a KFC. The guy taking my order became impatient with my English. I got embarrassed and flustered so ended up erupting and storming off, not even waiting around for my friend (or my food!). I know my response might seem irrational but the feelings that come with being ridiculed in public aren’t much fun.

The sessions with my psychologist allow me to develop strategies to better manage my reactions to various scenarios. Every time I leave, I feel more relaxed. It’s like a smooth massage to your heart and mind. And hopefully, it means there won’t be any further scary confrontations when you simply just want some fried chicken!

Professional advice may not solve all of your problems, but it can help you learn more about yourself and better understand your emotional needs. Don’t be afraid to give it a try. It could be the best thing you ever do.

There are many mental health services available in Australia. Services specifically for the LGBTIQ+ communities can be found on the ACON website and Chinese language mental health counselling can be found at the Multicultural Mental Health Australia (MHiMA). If you need an interpreter, you can find it at TIS National.

Garrison Cheng came from mainland China and now calls Sydney home. He works in media as a journalist and producer with a focus on Chinese communities in Australia. He also helps manage ANTRA, an NGO for Chinese LGBTIQ+ communities. He has a passion for food and is a strong advocate of the Chinese saying: ‘Most problems can be solved over a good meal. For things that can’t, make it two meals.’