Australia

A special kind of card this Christmas.

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She’s only a year older than me, and already, she’s been through and done so much.

Caitlin Bush is a 21-year-old from Unanderra, and this Christmas, she’s doing something beautiful—she’s writing heart-felt and meaningful cards, and sending them to those who are struggling; particularly with their own mental health. To the average person, this may not seem like much. But to someone who is suffering and alone, it can mean the world.

“I know first-hand how lonely and hard Christmas can be, especially if you are alone or have a broken family,” Ms Bush said.

“It really hits home at Christmas, so I thought I could try and help in any way. I wanted to make others know they’re not the only ones, and people do care.”

“If anyone would like some extra Christmas cheer this year or knows someone who’s suffering. Let me know, everyone deserves something at Christmas even if it’s just a card.” -The Silent Sufferers page.

While this is her first Christmas card run, Ms Bush knows it most definitely won’t be her last. The response to her campaign has been “amazing”, with over 200 hand-written cards already sent out—and this is all coming from Ms Bush’s back pocket.

“It’s great to know someone is thinking of you. Getting even just a simple thing like that [card] can make your day, week or even the whole Christmas month worth it,” one card receiver said.

Ms Bush said she has been called a “Christmas Angel” by some, a title she modestly turns down.

“[I’m] just a girl trying to make a difference,” she said.

Ms Bush also began a Facebook page, the Silent Sufferers, a few months ago in order to let people know they’re not alone. Ms Bush says she was sick of the judgement, alienation and the lack of understanding of what people with mental health issues go through. She intends to raise awareness, as well as provide support to those who are suffering.

Image via Facebook.

“Honestly, I just help people know they’re not alone, no matter how bad it seems,” she said.

Ms Bush has posted her own struggles on the Facebook page, with one particular video gaining over 80,000 views. She said the video’s intent was to urge people to consider their actions, and support those around them.

“If mental health wasn’t swept under the rug so much, people might be able to understand it instead of running from it.”

“If you see someone who looks like they need help, ask! Say hello to the random that sits at the back of the class or the bus, hiding themselves.”

“If people just took the time to dig a little deeper and look around, [they’d see] everyone is fighting a battle.”

If you wish to request a card, please private message the Silent Sufferers Facebook Page.

This post originally appeared on the Tertangala (written by me) , and has been republished with full permission.

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I’m on holidays, and i’m more depressed than I have been in a long time.

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Picture this: you’re on holidays. On the beautiful Coral Coast of Fiji, to be precise. You’re staying at a 5-star resort on its own island. The weather is absolutely beautiful, and the scenery stunning. You have delicious food. You have some of your favourite people around you. You’re doing all sorts of really cool, unique and relaxing things—things you may never experience again. And yet . . . something is missing. You feel empty.

Every day, at least six Australians will take their own lives, and at least 30 others will attempt to. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians aged 15-24. We’re more likely to die from suicide than we are from skin cancer. Almost half of all Australians will experience some form of mental illness within their lives, with 65% not being able to access adequate treatment.  Despite all we know about depression, anxiety and other disorders, there’s still an incredible stigma attached.

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Nothing has to even go wrong for you to feel depressed. Please, be sensitive if a loved one has depression. Seek help. 

Depression is a truly horrible feeling. It’s not just being sad (though that is a really big part of it). It’s feeling guilty for feeling sad, it’s feeling anxious, it’s feeling desolate, it’s feeling overwhelmed, it’s feeling lonely, it’s feeling like no one understands, it’s feeling like things that once did or should bring you joy simply don’t, it’s feeling like you’re worthless. It’s hating yourself. It’s hating everyone else too, sometimes. The worst part of it is all these emotions are locked up inside of yourself. You don’t want to tell anyone, because you don’t want to bring them down, or you’re afraid they’ll judge you. You’re afraid they’ll simply say “cheer up”, like it were that simple. Or worse, that they’ll say you’re seeking attention. Things become both less and more important. You don’t want to feel like this. You know it’s illogical – but you can’t help it, and people who haven’t experienced it simply don’t understand that.

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You try to go out. You try to do normal things. You try to be okay. But you’re not–and that’s okay. Emotions are fleeting. Let yourself feel your emotions. Process them, validate them, and let them go. 

 

I’m sitting in my hotel room right now. Outside, the sun is shining. The palm trees are swaying pleasantly in the wind, and I can see little birds singing happily. There are beautiful flowers in the trees, and scattered on the grass. A carpet of frangipanis and other bright red flowers I don’t know the name of. The air is warm, whispering alluring secrets of happiness, and I can hear the sound of people laughing and children shrieking with joy. My family and friends are among them.

Nothing bad has happened. In fact, it’s been quite a wonderful holiday. I’ve explored caves, been immersed within Fijian culture, been treated to massages and manicures, snorkelled and seen beautiful fish, and been able to spend my days lounging around the beach. It sounds great, right? And I know it’s great.  I know I should feel happy. I know I should feel lucky, and privileged, and just relax. But it’s not that simple.  I’m sad, and everyone else around me is happy. They’re saying it’s the best holiday of their lives, and here I am, not exactly caring if I were to not wake up.

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Fiji is beautiful. Image via Instagram, @somethingbeginningwithz.

Maybe it’s just a spout of weakness, and maybe I’ll go outside, and all of this will be a bad dream. Maybe I’ll be able to shut it out. Focus on the small things. The good things. The sun is warm. I don’t have assignments due. The geckos are adorable. I bought a shell turtle wearing a hat and glasses. Those things are cool. Those things are good. Those are the things you have to focus on in order to not lose your mind.

Depression doesn’t go on holidays just because you do. It’s important to remember that it’s okay to feel sad, and you shouldn’t feel guilty for that. Talk to your loved ones—don’t bottle it up. Remember to ground yourself, take deep breaths and do small things you like and enjoy. If you think one of your loved ones is depressed, do not judge them. Do not criticise them. Do not get frustrated at their sadness, and do not tell them to “cheer up”; just be there for them. Be with them. Don’t give up on them. While they may not show it, I assure you, they’ll love you for it. Don’t become another statistic.

If you need help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, or dial 000 if you are in immediate danger. Call 1800 273 825 if you need to chat, or click here to chat to someone online. You can get through this. You are loved. You are strong. You will destroy those feelings with success. I believe in you.

Team Quoll: Supporting Quoll-ity Research in the Illawarra

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A crowdfunding campaign is being launched by Team Quoll’s Elira Reynolds in order to determine the situation, and ensure the survival of the endangered spotted-tailed quoll in the Illawarra and Southern Highlands region. The University of Wollongong honours student hopes to raise $4000 in order to purchase necessary equipment, and access remote areas.

Since last year, Ms Reynolds and other members of Team Quoll have set up 109 camera sites around the Illawarra. Only three quolls have been detected, which is a success rate of 2.8%.

“It’s a lot less to expect than if the quolls were doing well in the area,” Ms Reynolds said.

The spotted-tailed quoll is the largest remaining carnivorous marsupial on Australian mainland. Very little is known about the species—particularly in the Illawarra region.

“It’s been estimated their range has contracted about 50% since European settlement,” Ms Reynolds said.

Ms Reynolds intends to use odour treatments and additional camera sites to study the quolls, as well as the impact of the red fox—no quolls were found in areas where foxes were detected.

“We don’t know if the population is stable, increasing or decreasing, and we don’t know how the species needs to be managed to ensure its survival in the region,” she said.

The spotted-tailed quoll is the only quoll species found on the east coast since the extinction of the mainland eastern quoll in 1963.

Team Quoll citizen scientist Craig Murrell said more studies are needed to determine how the situation can be improved.

“If we don’t do something very quickly, very soon, then we’ll also lose the tiger quoll, along with the eastern quoll,” Mr Murrell said.

“If you care about quolls, and if you want to see quolls return . . . the way they used to be here, then giving a donation is . . . a really good way to do that,” Ms Reynolds said.

You can donate to the crowdfunding campaign here.

Team Quoll are an animal activist group concerned with the sparse population of the endangered spotted-tailed quoll in the Illawarra and Southern Highlands.

QUOLL INFOGRAPH

Want more Team Quoll? Follow them Twitter.

Do the choices you make support animal abuse?

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Six million animals will be tested on each year in Australia and New Zealand alone. In many cases, these animals are subject to a degree of pain and/or stress. Of these 6 million, nearly 26,000 will die, and a further 124,000 will experience major trauma—this includes being artificially induced with cancer, made to experience major infections, isolation as well as deprivation. More than a million will also experience a degree of stress and discomfort.

And the animals used would surprise you—of course, over a million of these are mice, but a whopping 765,000 are native mammals, including koalas, wallabies, possums and wombats. Cats and dogs are also commonly used.

But the problem is that most of us don’t even know we’re supporting animal cruelty. By purchasing and using these products, we are unknowingly supporting a culture that believes animal lives are less important than human lives—it’s supporting a culture that claims to love animals, yet has no problem with subjecting them to harm and abuse.

We know this is so utterly wrong—so what can we do about it?

As with any kind of advocacy, education is key. Educate yourselves on the products you’re using—and what products test on animals. Cleaning products that test on animals include Ajax, Glen 20, Finish, Windex, Raid, Duck, Dettol, Oral B, Gillette and impulse.  Cosmetic offenders include Max Factor, Maybeline, MAC, L’Oreal, Estee Lauder, Cover Girl, Clinique, Mary Kay, Avon, Clearasil, Napoleon and Elizabeth Arden.

Most of these things live either under my sink or in my make-up bag. But since becoming aware of the issue, I’ve sought out cruelty-free alternatives that are AWESOME. The Choose Cruelty Free app is a great place to start, as is good old Google. Fear not about compromising on quality; I’ve made myself a Guinea pig so you don’t have to.

Here are my top cruelty-free cosmetics you should DEFINITELY try:

Lush:

Lush are an Australian company which makes hand-made cosmetics and body care products—and they are ABSOLUTELY AMAZING! I’m currently using their skin care products, soaps, bath bombs and some cosmetics. Everything leaves me feeling clean, relaxed, soft and fragrant. Their facial cleanser, spot treatment and moisturiser has done amazing things for my oily, acne-prone skin; and I especially love their bottled lip colours. Surprisingly, they do have a fair bit of staying power—though beware: they tend to smudge easy!

Kat Von D:

I cannot rave about these products enough! Her studded kiss lipsticks and everlasting liquid lipsticks last all day, with oodles of awesome colours–including one rather lovely light purple. The foundation is absolutely mind-blowing. It will stay on all day, and it won’t leave those awful marks on your face when you wear sunglasses with your make up! The eye shadow colours are phenomenal, and the liquid eye liner pens come in all sorts of colours, and are delicate enough to make wings sharp enough to cut the haters.  Most of her products are vegan, too! Kat Von D products make up most of my makeup bag. You can buy them online or instore at Sephora.

Australis:

One of the cheaper brands out there, Australis may pleasantly surprise you. In fact, I think their eye shadows and pressed powders are on par with products you may end up spending hundreds on. If you can find it, try it—products are normally around $10: fantastic value for money.

Nude by Nature:

I’ve used their CC cream and liquid foundation—both of which are available in a variety of shades, and are quite nice and light on your skin (sometimes the liquid foundation can flake if it’s caked on—but lasts super well in our hot Australian weather). My favourite product is a liquid illuminator, which somehow seems to perfect your face and minimise your pores. I’ve also heard good things about their mineral powder. These products are roughly around $20-40, but I think it’s worth it.

Arbornne:

I love these products. While they are a bit pricey, I think quality is worth it. Their primer is brilliant! And it’s great they have so many different foundation colours—score for us super pale ladies! I am eager to try more of their products, though—as a poor uni student—I definitely can’t afford to any time soon. Sigh—the woes of cosmetics!

Young Blood:

These products are the most expensive on the list, but they are quite lovely. Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of mineral cosmetics. I’d prefer products with a bit more coverage—but if minerals are your thing, give them a try.

Natio:

Natio’s eyeshadows are pretty great—though I wish they had a bigger range! I have tried their mineral foundation and primer, but wasn’t too pleased: there wasn’t enough coverage for me. On the plus side, Natio are pretty cheap, and have colours for us pale ladies! And aside from lip products, Natio is vegan!

Other products I’ve heard good things about are Ere Perez and Inika—but I’m yet to try them.

You make the choice dear readers. Because whether you like it or not, if you purchase products which test on animals, you’re promoting animal abuse, and prolonging the outdated idea that animals are ours to do with as we wish. Don’t be silent! Sign the RSPCA campaign against animal testing here.

Have you tried any great vegan/cruelty-free products? Let me know in the comments

New abortion laws: one small step for womankind

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Yesterday, the ACT introduced new legislation which decrees there will be 50-metre exclusion zones around abortion clinics, preventing anti-abortion protesters from congregating and harassing women outside of ACT medical clinics.

The Health (Patient Privacy) Amendment Bill was introduced by Greens member Shane Rattenbury in July, who believes women should have access to abortion services without fear of abuse.

“This is fundamentally about a woman’s right to medical privacy,” he said, inviting would-be protesters to raise their concerns to the Legislative Assembly instead.

Anti-abortion protesters have been gathering outside abortion clinics for the past 16 years, according to Angela Carnovale of the Women’s Centre for Health Matters.

“Even silent vigils convey judgement,” she said.

The amendment is one step closer towards reproductive equality, as under current legislation, women do not have control over their own bodies. The NSW Criminal Code states that any person who obtains or assists with an unlawful abortion may be sentenced up to ten years imprisonment. The 1971 case of R v Wald set the precedent that an abortion is lawful if it was deemed necessary to protect a woman from serious danger to her life, self or mental health.

Basically, if a practitioner doesn’t believe a woman meets this criteria, she cannot get an abortion. This sets the dangerous precedent that women and their opinions do not matter—they are secondary to an unborn foetus, and therefore second-class citizens.

End 12 is a Greens pro-choice campaign that has long fought for exclusion zones around clinics, as well as the decriminalisation of abortion. It believes women have the right to choose without fear of prosecution or harassment. A survey by the Greens indicated 86% of Australians believe abortion should legalised, while 76% did not know abortion is a criminal offence.

Greens senator Larissa Walters believes these laws are archaic, dangerous and regressive.

“They have no place in modern society where women should always have their own control over their bodies.”

Exclusion zones are set to come into force in six months.

Senate launches gender inequality inquiry into superannuation

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The Australian Senate approved a motion to launch an inquiry into gender inequality of the superannuation system. The motion, approved on Monday, was backed by Labor Senator Jenny McAllister, Liberal Senator Sean Edwards and Greens Senator Larissa Waters, spurred by recent ANZ study, which revealed that women are, on average, retiring on half as much as men.

The 2015 ANZ Women’s Report indicated numerous alarming figures regarding gender inequality within the workforce. For instance, despite the fact that 42% of women aged 25-29 hold a university degree, compared to 31% of men, women are still paid, on average, 18.8% less. Women who work full-time, therefore, earn on average $295 per week less than their male counterparts—simply due to gender. In a year, this amounts to a $15,000 difference, and in a lifetime, $700,000.

ANZ CEO Joyce Phillips said globally, women earn up to 36% less than their male counterparts; this report merely confirms the financial disadvantage all women face.

“This research also confirms what’s really restricting the financial future of women is the inherent structural bias in the way the workplace, education, social and legal systems are established,” she said.

Industry Super deputy chief executive Robbie Campo welcomes the review.

“Industry super Australia’s modelling shows that even with super, pension payments and other savings combined, 63% of single women will still not be retiring comfortably by 2055 unless we act now to restructure our retirement income system,” she said.

The Greens Senator Larissa Walters attributes the growing homelessness of older women to this inequality.

“It’s timely for the Senate to examine the structural inequalities which are seeing women retire in poverty.”

“We hope the tri-partisan nature of this inquiry will lead to real outcomes to address the alarming gender retirement income gap.”

Let’s Talk About Vaginas

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No, but seriously; let’s. We really don’t talk about them enough—especially in a non-sexual context. The word feels strange to write, and even stranger to say out loud. Even my phone corrects “vagina” to “cagina”, as if an inanimate object could also feel awkward. Well, that taboo ends here! This is an important issue that could save your life—and a lot of young women really don’t have a clue about it. Now that is awkward.

Okay, brace yourselves, ladies (and any men who were unknowingly lured into reading this through the word “vagina”) here it comes: pap smears. What a terrible name. Smear. Smear. They really don’t make it sound appealing, do they? But in all honesty, It’s not that bad. The procedure takes probably less than thirty seconds in all, and it doesn’t hurt even slightly.

You can get a pap smear by booking in an appointment with your doctor, or at a women’s health clinic. Basically, they take you into a private room, just like any other doctor’s visit, and ask you to remove your underwear and lie on an examination bed. This bit is rather awkward, but remember: they are trained professionals and have probably seen thousands of vaginas in their time. They use a hard plastic tool called a speculum (not to be confused with a spatula) in order for them to see your cervix. From there, they take a quick sample of the cells and send them away for testing. And then you’re done!

Now, I would definitely recommend seeing a female doctor—at least for your first time. It’s much less awkward. My usual doctor is male, and I’m also friends with his daughter. The vagina jokes he made certainly didn’t make me feel more comfortable. The female doctor I sought out, however, was kind and made general conversation and even gave me some information for this article.

So, what the Pap smear actually does is test for any abnormalities in the cells around your cervix which can eventually lead to cervical cancer, as well as testing for the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which is present in 99.7% of cervical cancer cases. HPV, which is an infection of the skin around think, moist linings of the body (like the nose, mouth, throat and genital) results from close skin contact, isn’t something to be overly concerned about: 4 out of 5 people will have it in their lives, mostly with no symptoms. Your body will usually clear it naturally in 1-2 years, but in some cases, it can stay longer and lead to cervical cancer.

According to the Cancer Council, about 1 in 10 Pap smears reveal abnormalities, though less than 1% of these abnormalities lead to cervical cancer. Even so, all women, regardless of age, sexual orientation or number of partners, should be tested every two years from the ages of 18-70 (or younger,  depending on what age she became sexually active).

In 2017, based on recommendations from the Medical Services Advisory Committee, the Australian Government will make some changes to the Pap test. Women aged between 25 and 74 will undertake a HPV test every five years, which may also include various other tests. These changes are estimated to reduce the number of cancer cases by a further 15%. Hooray!

However, until then, Pap tests are absolutely necessary. Soldier through that awkwardness, and it could potentially save your life! Eighty per cent of women who develop cervical cancer had not had regular check-ups. Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers with a simple test—these tests have halved the mortality rate. Can you really ignore that?

Listen to your vagina, and don’t be afraid to talk about any problems you may have, no matter how seemingly miniscule. Don’t become another statistic because you were too embarrassed to ask. After all, happy vagina, happy life. Preach it, ladies!