R U OK? Day. Reach out the right way


Ella is a mother of three. She has a good job, a nice home, and an active social life. On the outside, Ella is living the dream. But for more than 18 years, on the inside, Ella was battling a nightmare.

Ella suffered from Health Anxiety, a debilitating disorder where she felt every ailment was life-threatening. A slight pain in the head meant a brain tumour. Being unable to take a deep breath was lung cancer. It was so real that Ella “could almost smell it”.

The condition is not uncommon. The World Health Organisation estimates that one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, with anxiety and depression being the two most common mental health diagnoses.

The head of Monash University’s FEAR Clinic, Professor Peter Norton, said that while the number of people with anxiety or depression had stayed relatively constant over the past 30 years, the number of people seeking help for mental disorders had risen sharply.

‘‘More and more people are becoming aware that these experiences are treatable disorders,’’ he said.

He added that “talk therapies’’ such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy have been found to be as effective as medication.

This year’s R U OK? Day encourages everyone to reach out to those who may be struggling with life, by forming connections and having meaningful conversations.

The aim is to protect people of all ages from suicide. But, asking the simple question, “Are you ok?” can also be the first step to helping anyone with any issue, including those whose struggles may not necessarily be obvious.

While some ‘sufferers’ may reach out for drugs, alcohol, comfort food, sleeping pills, and whatever they believe to be short-term solutions, Ella was constantly reaching out to ‘Dr Google’ for answers.

“I had a powerful draw to Google, to self-diagnose”, Ella admitted.

“There were times when I would sit up in bed at 3am, just waiting to draw my last breath. The reality that I was dying got so bad that I couldn’t even contemplate moving back to the country, thinking that the doctors and health systems were not as good as those closer to the city.”

The Monash FEAR Clinic provides Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for the treatment of anxiety, depression, and related emotional disorders and Ella says it ‘’saved’’ her“.

‘’The word ‘FEAR’ drew me in,’ she said.

“The Clinicians were genuinely interested in me and in what I was experiencing. The therapy was about the here and now, which suited me as I wanted to live now. I mean, I already had a train wreck running though my head.

‘’They showed real empathy towards me. They were actually the first to validate my situation.’’

Ella relates her success to two key attributes – the comfortable, trusting relationship that she was able to build with her therapist at the FEAR Clinic, and her positive mindset in seeking help.

“I went in with a positive, open mind and, over the 12-week process, I became more rational; I stood up for myself. I reduced my daily struggles to a minimum. I am no longer contained within that fear.

“I am so grateful to the FEAR Clinic. They gave me the tools to recognise a different pathway; tools that I can and am using widely across several life situations. I even have a new mantra…. ‘It’s just a thought, it’s not a fact’. It sounds simple, but this is so powerful to me. And it helps me to keep my distance from Dr Google!”

Professor Norton and FEAR Clinic staff have delivered specialist training in CBT to mental health practitioners and therapists throughout Australia, as well as in the United States, Canada, South America, the Middle East and Asia.

“It is important for everybody experiencing significant anxiety or depression, and anyone who knows or sees someone having these kinds of difficulties, to understand that these are real and treatable mental conditions. Help is available.’’

*Ella’s real identity has been protected in this story.