Trigger Warning: The following content contains mental health and suicide.
Cath Ashton holds a Hons. Degree in Health Psychology with a 20-year professional career specialising in mental health & suicide prevention. Cath has worked in various places across Australian from Melbourne to the Western Australia Wheatbelt. Cath has a strong connection with education, and she reflects on her experiences with it regularly in her work within mental health.
“My Dad was my inspiration for studying; he retired and decided to do a degree at 65. It was great. It gave him a sense of purpose to continue to enjoy life”.
Cath went on to describe the challenges and fears she faced when first starting uni – “My first week of uni; I sat in the class ready to run out, continuously asking myself, “what am I doing here?…. My lecturer said, “No question is stupid you don’t know the answer too – and the question you are asking, other people are probably thinking it!” This was a turning point for Cath and her ability to believe in herself.
Over her career Cath has worked closely with the police force working with individuals that have been in correctional and psychological facilities—specialising particularly with young children, women suffering postpartum depression right through to people of the age of 60.
Cath states “When a person leaves a correctional facility, in the first three weeks they are in the highest suicidal ideation”. Cath was an integral part of putting strategies in place for people when they leave these facilities. She spoke of how important it is to have compassion and empathy when dealing with complex and troubling cases. It is important that people released from correctional or mental health facilities are at high risk in the first 3 weeks from release due to their support mechanisms being reduced.
Cath recently met a man who had severe suicide idolisation who said to her – I did not come this far, to get this far – I have got more in me.
They want to be out of this physical and emotional pain and not be a burden. Cath states it is essential for people to identify that it is ok not to be ok and reach out for help. For Cath, seeing people come back from the pointy end to recovery has been a real privilege.
Cath’s best piece of advice for someone looking for help “Reaching out for help is the strongest thing you can do”.
Men have the highest suicide rate, in 2019, suicide 43 men a week, and 13 women a week committed suicide. 1 in 4 adults is diagnosed with a mental health disease—1 in 5 adolescents and 1 in 3 in the mining industry.
We asked Cath about her current concerns with mental health and COVID.
“I have never been busier in my business since the beginning of COVID. From July 2020, there were multiple trajectories to run more mental health programs with mining companies, government, corporates, and communities”.
Cath explains that COVID isolated people more than they have ever been. Cath says humans are naturally wired for connections. We are the most connected generation that history has ever seen, yet we are also extremely disconnected. Cath states young people are the most connected with their social media, which has led them to be the most socially disconnected because they start to isolate from society.
One of Cath’s best learning experiences is working with adolescences and young people because as Cath says, “They are the future”. An Educator Cath worked within the Kimberley believed “All young people are of great promise”. This is because there is a lot of negativity around young people, but if they have excellent caregivers’ guidance to flourish. It is vital to find a ‘purpose’ we all need a purpose – if not, this is when our mental health declines. For Cath, seeing young people flourish and go on to be advocates is her purpose.
This highly stressful environment has also allowed Cath to monitor her own health and well-being. Cath’s ways to check-in include meditation, being close to the ocean and asking herself if she seems to like her usual self. Cath explained that she does not use the word ‘normal’. “here is no such thing as ‘normal’ as we’re all different”.
Cath says it is ok not to be ok, and it is ok to ask for help, and if you see one of your friends or family suffering, you should ask them for help. It is the strongest thing you can ever do.
How do you identify when someone around you is not ok?
Non-verbal body language is 60% of our communication. Look in that change of not being your usual self. Their head is down; they aren’t engaging. Cath describes it as “your lights are on, but no one is home”. Look for the non-verbal cues and verbal cues of negativities if people are oversleeping or undersleeping or their overall functionality.
If they say to rate themselves on a scale of 1 -10. 4 – 5 is ok, anything below that is cause for alarm or to help that person seek help. Alternatively, ask them if you were a colour, what would you be? Yellow or Orange is optimistic. Black and purple could be a sign that the person is not ok.
On average, we have 80,000 thoughts a day. If those thoughts are on a negative loop, it could be the start of not feeling ok.
Cath says good questions to ask are ‘You don’t seem to be your usual self?’ And ‘What had to happen, to make that happen?”. She explained that an open-ended question is a good start.
*Please note this interview was conducted before the second lockdown in Western Australia.