Date Published: 27 April 2009
Brains do break down
Depression and other mental illnesses are physical problems that should be considered in much the same way as diabetes or heart disease, according to psychology researcher Associate Professor Rick van der Zwan.
Professor van der Zwan, from Southern Cross University, will be one of three keynote speakers at a Mental Illness community forum at the Coffs Ex-Services Club, hosted by Lifeline North Coast and the Rotary Club of Coffs Harbour City on Wednesday, April 29.
“People will happily talk about the meds they take for their diabetes or their heart, but unfortunately they are not so willing or happy to talk about the meds they might have to take for some sort of brain dysfunction, for anxiety, stress or depression,” Professor van der Zwan said.
"Our brains are like any other organ and sometimes they break down. The difference is when they do break down the symptoms aren’t a cramp or a pain, it can lead to a change in your personality or change in behaviour.
While it certainly can be distressing it is not mysterious and it is important for all of us to begin to treat psychological disorders like we treat other types of illness. We need to work hard, now, to remove any stigma associated with having a psychological illness.
One of the problems people have with mental illness is that it makes people’s behaviour sometimes unpredictable. We think we know them but then suddenly they begin to change and that is distressing and stressful. One thing humans don’t like is ambiguity.
We are not quite sure if we’ll get happy Rick or sad Rick and it is confronting. But we need to talk about it.
People should feel like they can talk about the problems they are having with their brain. It’s not mental illness, it’s a brain illness.”
Professor van der Zwan said about one in five Australians would have some sort of brain illness in their lifetime.
“Every single person will be affected at some point in their life. There are some things that might increase the rate of occurrence of brain illness. For example, we are living longer,” he said.
“Brains are like every other organ they do age.”
The other speakers at Wednesday’s community forum will be John Brogden, the patron of Lifeline NSW and former leader of the NSW Liberal Party, and Bea Ballangarry, Carer’s NSW.