The Sai Medical Unit and the Sathya Sai International Organisation of Australia &PNG (SSIO) ACT Region in partnership some doctors from Canberra conducted a workshop addressing the important issue of mental health on 1 September 2018.

The health-related workshop is the third held in the ACT by the SSIO together with the Sai Medical Unit and Canberra doctors. The topic, ‘Mind Your Mental Health’, was organised to coincide with ‘RU OK? Day’ which falls on 13 September 2018. This date is an national day of action dedicated to reminding everyone that any day is the day to ask, “Are you ok?”. The day’s aim is to inspire and empower everyone to meaningfully connect with people around them and support anyone struggling with life.

The Mental Health Awareness Workshop was carefully designed to create awareness of and cover mental health issues that affect a range of age and gender groups, as well as including advise of when to seek a medical professional’s assistance and how that professional can meet the needs of those affected, with love and compassion. In addition, the Workshop also aimed to dispel some of the myths relating to mental health.

Approximately 100 people participated in the event with attendees coming from diverse communities and age groups. Each participant was warmly welcomed by volunteers and provided a hand out on Depression, the most common form of mental health issues found across all age and gender groups.

The Masters of Ceremony for the day focused the theme by discussing “What is mental health for me?”

The first speaker was Dr Deepa Singhal, a dual-trained paediatrician and child psychiatrist. Dr Deepa has broad experience in this field but neurodevelopmental child psychiatry and family therapy are her areas of interest. Currently, she is working as a child psychiatrist in the Canberra Hospital in the ACT. Dr Deepa’s talk centred on mental health in children. She introduced the topics of anxiety, depression and behavioural issues in them and the factors, internal and external that can increase the susceptibility of children to mental health issues. A range of issues affecting children and adolescent were covered including Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Autism and learning disorders. Dr Deep briefly touched on the growing addiction of children to social media. She explained how for mental health issues, early intervention by a medical professional can result in more positive outcomes for both the child and the parents.

The next speaker, Dr Sudharshini Pranavan, a General Practitioner (GP) practising in the ACT whose interests include antenatal care and women’s health issues. Dr Sudhashini’s talk, ‘Womanhood and Mind’, focused on women’s mental health issues. She introduced her talk by saying it is OK not to be OK. The first segment of her talk covered post-natal depression. Next Dr Sudharshini touched on domestic violence and its impacts on mental health and strategies to deal with this and the road to recovery from such violence. She touched on Menopause and its impacts. Lastly, she discussed how to manage the ‘Empty Nest Syndrome’. The syndrome is a phenomenon in which parents experience feelings of sadness and loss when the last child leaves home. Dr Sudharshini explained how exercise, healthy eating and deep breathing and mindfulness can assist with one’s well-being.

The third speaker was Dr Mugunthan Jeganathan, a GP specialising among other things in mental health, men’s health and chronic disease management. His talk was centred on mental health in men. Dr Muganthan his discussed mental health in general and its impacts on well-being, productivity and relationships. He spoke on the difficulty of living with a ‘Black Dog’ and played a video from the World Health Organisation titled ‘Living with a Black Dog’. Dr Muganthan echoed the sentiments of the previous presenter, that none of us are immune to depression. He briefly discussed denial by men impacted by depression. He went into detail on signs and symptoms of depression and concluded his talk by urging those with depression to honestly communicate with a loved one or a GP and suggested useful sites that provide support services.

Following a break and refreshments, a session on Laughter Yoga was conducted by Linda Fitzgerald. Laughter Yoga is a unique exercise routine that makes it possible for anyone to laugh for no reason anytime, anywhere, for any duration, without relying on humour, jokes or comedy. Laughter is simulated as an exercise in a group but with eye contact and childlike playfulness, it soon turns into real and contagious laughter. The reason it is called Laughter Yoga is because it combines laughter exercises with yoga breathing. This brings more oxygen to the body and the brain which makes one feel more energetic and healthy.

After a very energetic laughter yoga session, the next speaker was Dr Prema Rajendra, a GP and the organiser of this workshop. Dr Prema used her own personal experience to explain the importance of asking RU OK of a friend or loved one or neighbour. She concluded her talk by asking Who will you ask?

The fifth speaker was Chandra Balavide, an IT Project Manager, talked on Mental Health and Spirituality. His talk dwelt on his research on mental health and the wisdom from Sathya Sai Baba’s teachings.

Chandra used the World Health Organisation definition of mental health as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to contribute to their community. Chandra explained how spirituality provided a sense of purpose, of connectedness and harmony, and that spiritual practices could be multi-dimensional in their benefits, affecting either/or in combination, body, mind and spirit. He profiled the characteristics of common mental health issues and explained briefly how spiritual practices such as chanting and mindfulness could have positive impacts.

Chandra discussed hyper-consumerism and its potential effects on mental health. Especially as it affects and establishes habits in young children.