anxiety, mate

This week we welcomed new International students on campus to study our Masters of Education, Special Education (Advanced) course. Many of the students have just arrived in the country. Our courses are post-graduate, with a mix of teachers and psychologists attending anywhere from the age of mid 20’s to 40’s.

One of the subjects the students are taking is the first of the mental health stream in the course and I have the pleasure of facilitating. We explore mental health conditions, the first being anxiety. As it turns out, this topic was timely.

Our class has students from India, Kenya, Malaysia, China, South America, America and the Philippines. Aside from introductions and information about the content curation and assessments that lie ahead, the rest of the workshop plan I had prepared went out the window. 

We watched a video of a guy named Paul. We filmed Paul on campus, he has a lived experience and it is a part of our co-design principles when developing our special education subjects.

Paul shared his story about being a policeman and his experiences with anxiety and the importance of mates.

The short videos finished and when I asked some questions about experiences he was sharing, all that could be heard in the room were crickets. So, we all took a coffee break as it looked as though energy levels were low and could be impacting the lack of response.

We changed tact and I asked the students if they had experienced times of stress and anxiety, naming that perhaps starting the course today may have been one of them. Then the flood gates opened.

Responses from each of them such as, “this part was easy! It was choosing a course, moving to Australia and leaving our family.” Or the “expectations on us to do well.” It is “the cost of living.” And “I have gone from the top of my profession at home, to cleaning floors here.” That “everyone back home thinks we are living the high life in Melbourne!”

Having opened a safe space to share, another student said she had experienced two significant panic attacks, she had never had anything else like this before, “two!” she said animated.

We continued our discussion about anxiety. What is the language used and understanding about the condition in your community?

  • In my country, they think there is no such thing
  • These conditions in my country, all fit under one umbrella, that you are mental.
  • There is no understanding about anxiety
  • If you feel worried, you should meditate
  • If your brother is considered mad, you do not want to say he is your brother
  • There were more services, but under the change of administration resources have been withdrawn
  • Often the doctor will give you a pill, but it is the placebo effect, the pill is a vitamin or something similar
  • If it gets really bad, they might go to the mad house
  • It usually comes out when someone becomes an alcoholic
  • The person is crazy
  • Or bewitched…

Insert my bulging eye emoji, that last point in particular.

I walk away and reflect. We have an important journey ahead, these students are pioneers, changing their lives so that they can change those in their country.

The next day, I welcomed the students again as they started their subject in learning differences. I asked them how they were. One student said she had slept a full night sleep, the first time since arriving months ago. “Now that I am connected with other professionals, in similar situations, I realise it is all worth it, I feel so happy now.”

Yes, the power of connectedness, a reminder of one of the cornerstone strategies for ongoing wellbeing.

It turns out none of the students could grasp the slang used by Paul in our video, which is why there was no reaction. The Australian language is very different to the English they have learned and so too the language around mental health conditions.

They did say my language is a step up from Paul’s aussie accent, which is a positive as our learning journey lasts 2 years. It still means I will be turning off my planned marathon of Croc Dundee and The Castle before next class.