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Not depression?

I am writing and not attending counselling because, no some days I feel quite normal. I don’t have and I feel like I don’t need too many close friends, I’m OK going many places on my own, reading, writing. My academic performance is also alright. However, I have binge-drank and self-cut in the past when I strongly dislike myself. There’s also a bit of perfectionism in me, and it goes with procrastination and anxiety. Today, I also realise that even with good grades, not much positive feelings arise. I’m actually unsure what I’m trying to achieve here by writing these but, thanks for reading.

Most people who are experiencing mental health problems will have ups and downs, and will often have stretches of time when they feel normal. As a result many people delay reaching out for help when they are feeling ok, which ends up prolonging this cycle. It’s good that you have asked this question, as it sounds like there are some issues that are important to address even if they’re not bothering you as much right now.

Firstly, regarding your procrastination habits and some level of anxiety you relate to perfectionist traits. This is quite common amongst students and is certainly something worth addressing so that you can reduce your anxiety, and potentially feel better about yourself. Check out our tip sheets regarding these topics as a first and easy step, and then decide if you would like to talk about it with one of our counsellors.

You also mention a lack of positive feelings, self-destructive drinking and self-harming behaviour, as well as strong dislike of yourself. All of these can be symptoms of depression, however even if you don’t suffer from depression these are issues that may have an impact on your quality of life, as well as being possible risks to your health. It’s a good idea to see a counsellor even if you are feeling normal on most days, in order to address any underlying reasons for these issues and prevent them for recurring.

Counselling and Psychological Services offers free, confidential counselling for all students, click here for information on making an appointment.


How do I get closer friends?

I’m a first year student from interstate, and threw myself into a few clubs last semester in order to meet people, and while I’ve become friends with quite a few, and have people I know to sit with and talk to in classes, there is no-one I’m close to. All of my friends are from different walks of life so I don’t have a single group to hang out with, and feel that they all have closer friends already. This makes me feel unable to suggest we meet up outside of uni, so I still spend a lot of time alone. I’m also very slow to open up, which doesn’t help. How can I make close friends??

Having a close and supportive friendship network is an important part of our wellbeing and enjoyment of life, and it’s great that you’ve taken steps to meet new people in order to make this happen. The transition from acquaintance to friend to close friend can be slow in some cases, and this is frustrating, especially if you’ve come from another state so are naturally feeling a greater need for new friendships.

A few factors that influence how close friendships can become include:
• Frequency of contact over time – we’re more likely to become close to people we see on a regular basis such as in class or at work as we have time to build up the friendship
• Shared experiences – sharing an activity or a new experience together opens up new avenues of conversation
• Interacting with people in a variety of contexts so we can get to know different parts of each others’ lives, such as meeting mutual friends, or seeing each other outside of class or work
• Opening up about deeper topics and feelings, moving away from superficial topics of conversation

It sounds like there are a few things that are preventing you from taking steps to develop these friendships. You’ve said it feels like they all have closer friends already, I’m wondering if this is true, and if so does that mean there is no room to become close with you? Sometimes feeling that we need friendships more than somebody else does can make us feel vulnerable which makes taking the initiative scary.

You’ve also mentioned that you take time to open up, this is natural, and a reason that having lots of contact with other people without time pressure can be helpful, but I’m also wondering if there are any particular fears about opening up that it may be helpful to address?

If you’d like to talk to someone about any of these fears that may be barriers to becoming closer to people, feel free to make an appointment at Counselling and Psychological Services. In the meantime, remember that even small steps and interactions can make a difference, asking some a question about their lives, suggesting a coffee after class etc, can indicate to the other person that you are open to developing the friendship and may make you feel more comfortable taking further steps down the track.


Am I depressed?

I have been very unhappy lately, am not sure why, I don’t seem to have any reason to. I’ve been avoiding my friends and family and find myself crying over unexpected little things. Everything seems such an effort, studies, money, remembering to eat properly, even watching my favourite shows. What is wrong with me?

It sounds like your unhappiness has some of the qualities we associate with depression. Depression can occur after a particular event or problem, but it can also feel as though it’s come out of nowhere.

When assessing whether unhappiness has become depression health professionals look for a number of signs, some of which include:
• Reduced capacity to experience pleasure: you can’t enjoy what’s happening now, nor look forward to anything with pleasure. Hobbies and interests drop off.
• Reduced motivation: it doesn’t seem worth the effort to do anything, things seem meaningless.
• Lowered energy levels.
• Change in sleep patterns, that is, insomnia, or broken sleep.
• Lowered self-esteem (or self-worth)
• Changes in appetite or weight
• Less ability to control emotions such as pessimism, anger, guilt, irritability and anxiety
• Poor concentration and memory

Treatment is recommended especially if the mood state is severe, has lasted over a couple of weeks and is interfering with ones ability to function at home or at uni/work.

If you think you are depressed, it is important to go and speak with your doctor. If your doctor diagnoses depression then together you can discuss treatment options which may include counselling and in some cases medication.

It is great that you have taken this first step of contacting us. If you are finding it difficult to cope or motivate yourself, you can also make an appointment to see one of our counsellors at Counselling and Psychological Services and work through what might be helpful and how to manage what’s going on in your life.

Phone support is also provided on:
Beyondblue info line: 1300 22 4636
Lifeline (24 hour telephone counselling): 131 114

If you would like to know more about depression you can check out:
YBBLUE a youth related section of Beyond Blue
Am I depressed?


Difficulty creating a social life at uni

I’m a first year student and I’ve found it difficult to adjust to uni life. I’m not enjoying myself as much as I thought I would because I haven’t made many friends and developed a good social life. I want to go out and do things on the weekends with uni friends but I’m too shy to do that with people I’m not very close with.

Transition from High School to University is often a tough time socially as there’s usually not that constant exposure to the same people every day that allows you to get to know them without really trying. Given the huge size of a lot of uni classes – especially in first year – you are unlikely to quickly get to know people there. However, tutorials are smaller and would offer you a better chance to make friends over the semester.

You could try joining groups related to your course, for example, some departments have very active social groups. Otherwise there are numerous clubs and societies running across the campus. Doing an activity with others provides a focus so you have a task to both do, and to talk about. Your shyness may not be such a problem in this context, but only you can get out and take the first step.

If you feel some you need some extra help to overcome your shyness, you can also come in to talk to one of the Counsellors here to discuss options that are more specific to your needs and interests. Counselling and Psychological Services usually runs free workshops on topics such as anxiety, communication or making connections, check out our website to find more details.


Losing motivation in final semester

I’m in the final semester of my 1st degree. However, my lack of motivation is at its peak now and I procrastinate so much. I don’t bother attending lectures and I’ve maxed out the allowed number of tute absences. I’ve even started work on an essay on the day of the deadline itself, and accrued late submission penalties. How do I work around this ‘can’t be bothered’ attitude towards my studies? I don’t want my first fail that will delay my graduation. NB: I’m happy with my friends, family, health and finances

It can be hard to maintain the necessary effort throughout your University degree, completing a degree is more like a marathon than a sprint and sometimes it can feel like you are crawling to the finish line! When the procrastination is ongoing the work and stress can build up to a point when motivation is even harder to maintain, but I am glad to hear that your troubles are limited to your studies and not the result of flow-on pressure from elsewhere in your life.

It may be helpful to consider what is dampening your motivation; are you doubting whether this degree will be helpful to you, finding the day to day content uninteresting, or are you just exhausted? Sometimes we know what our end goal is and are motivated by it, but it’s just so far away! We then need other strategies to keep us going day by day. Look to the past and to others: Everybody is motivated by different things. If you are in the final semester of your studies you must have previously been motivated. What strategies worked in the past? Have these been forgotten, or are they just not working for you any longer? Try resurrecting some of your old strategies and see if they help. You identify one major motivation as the desire to graduate on time. Put this to good use, if that’s what you want, what do you have to do to make it happen?

Plan ahead in detail: With only a few weeks to go before completion, one strategy is to plan in detail your schedule for the remaining weeks. List all the work you have outstanding and any exam preparation required. Schedule in the work over the coming weeks, but also remember to allocate some time-out, to reward yourself for your focus. It’s important to make sure your plan is realistic and sustainable. Keep that end goal in sight and what it is that you’re working towards and why.

Study groups: Studying with others can help address the boredom associated with studying alone. Either join an existing study group or create your own. Working with others can also give you fresh insights into course material, and assist with sharing the work associated with creating study notes for exams

You can find tip sheets on a range of topics such as motivation and procrastination on the Counselling and Psychological Service website and the Academic Skills Unit may also be able to assist with planning your remaining time, and exam preparation.

Good luck with your studies and remember a concerted effort now will save you from having to delay your graduation.


I get violent and throw things – please help

I get really violent and throw things. I’m scared I might harm someone. Please help me.

Thanks for your message. It can be very frightening when powerful feelings seem to take hold of us and we lose control leading to violent acts and throwing things. And yes, these behaviours can put others and ourselves at risk of harm. Such behaviours often come from intense feelings – like anger, frustration, pain, fear and hurt. It’s ok to have intense feelings, the problem is in how we express them – especially when they put others or ourselves at risk.

There are ways we can learn to develop awareness, acceptance and tolerance of difficult feelings that can help us manage violent impulses and behaviours. Here is a useful resource about anger, coping with anger, assertive communication and coping with stress, and another helpful resource on anger-management . Mindfulness practice can be useful as it can aid us to learn tolerance of our feelings and thoughts before we act. It might be helpful to discuss your concerns with a counsellor and have their professional support to help you find ways to safely manage your feelings. The counsellor may also be able to help you find an appropriate anger management course. Group courses can be a very effective way to learn. I really encourage you to work on this issue. Our relationships are important parts of our lives and are at their best when they are safe and we can invest trust ourselves and others.


What can I do about my insecurities?

I’ve recently realized that I’m a much more insecure person than I thought I was. A lot of things I’ve done up until now, especially those involved efforts (e.g. getting into a good university, choosing a hard major, working out, being drawn to combat sports), is at least partially to make up for that. But all of them have come to naught recently when someone rejected my feeling for them. What can I do about my insecurities?

Sorry to hear that you’ve had your feelings rejected by another – this is always hard to deal with and it’s not unusual to feel more insecure and conscious of what we consider to be our weaknesses, “unattractiveness” and flaws when we are rejected. Our brains seem to like delving into these perceptions of ourselves, regardless of their veracity in order to attempt to find an explanation for the rejection. A measured amount of this sort of reflection can be useful – we need to check if there was something we did or said that led the person to reject our feelings. It can also be helpful to seek feedback from the person directly to help us understand what has happened, although sometimes this isn’t possible or appropriate. Our trusted friends can sometimes offer a realist’s perspective that we cannot quite see for ourselves.

Often, it’s not possible to fully understand why our feelings have been rejected. When we are hurting and feeling insecure it can be helpful to do the following: take a reality check on how critically we are appraising ourselves; embrace non-comparison (ie. try not to compare self to others;) get present focused – try practicing mindfulness; shift focus to the things in life that bring enjoyment; reflect on personal strengths and qualities and think and act on things that help us feel good about ourselves in the present moment.

In our society, there is often a focus on attaining goals in order to feel good about ourselves. However, a form of ‘self-esteem’ such as this can let us down when we need it the most – when we fail or are rejected. An alternative approach is to develop self-compassion. Consider what you may say to a close friend who was rejected in this way? Can you try and direct that kindness to yourself? Insecurity, or vulnerability of spirit is a universal human experience. It’s essentially humility. By bringing self-compassion forward perhaps it is possible to appreciate ourselves more deeply.


Talking about healthy relationships

My friend goes through many hook-ups and short-term relationships. She seems to really enjoy the attention and validation (as well as sex). However, some of these relationships have verged on being sexually abusive. She also doesn’t use condom on the account that her partners do not like them. Both of these have me worried for her health and wellbeing, but she denies the abusive element in the relationships and isn’t open to the idea of STD test. How should I start a constructive conversation with her about my worries?

It sounds like you’re really concerned about your friend. It’s understandable that you wouldn’t like to see your friend contract a sexually transmitted infection (STI), or experience an unplanned pregnancy – which are both possible when a person has unprotected sex. No one wants to see their friend get hurt, whether physically or emotionally.

Sex can be a tricky topic to talk about – even with friends we’ve known for a long time. Sometimes, bringing up this type of conversation can result in a friend getting defensive or shutting down. In many cases, this can be because they might be worried about being judged negatively, or that you’ll somehow think less of them.

It can be helpful to start the conversation by asking your friend how they are doing generally and how they are feeling about their relationships.

As the conversation unfolds, listen to your friend, and try your best to put any judgments or assumptions you might have on hold. While it can be unsettling to think of the potential risks involved in her situation, ask her how she feels about it. Some helpful questions could be:

• What does she like or enjoy about her relationships and sex life?
• Is there anything she doesn’t like about it? Does she have any concerns her situation?
• Have there been any times that she has felt uncomfortable, threatened, scared, or unsafe?

Before you start sharing your concerns, ask for permission. Your friend may not want to talk about it and that’s her decision. Tell your friend you’re not trying to lecture or control her – you just really care about her health and safety. It can be helpful to express your concerns based on what you have observed, rather than any assumptions you might have about your friend’s behaviour or feelings. For example, “I’ve noticed you’ve had a few relationships recently, I’m a little concerned if you’re doing OK, can we talk about it a bit?”

Be ready to offer support. If your friend shares your concerns, you could offer to talk more about what her reasons are for navigating her relationships this way. If there are concerns about her physical or emotional wellbeing, you could encourage her to talk about her sexual health with a health professional, or speak to a counsellor. It can help to talk through what’s involved in getting a sexual health check. You can even go with your friend if she’d like some support.

If your friend doesn’t share your concerns, let her know that you appreciate the chance to talk openly and are still her friend, even if you have different viewpoints. Maybe you can leave it with letting her know that there are some great online resources to draw on if she ever feels unsure or confused about whether what’s happening in her relationships is ok. If she is ever worried about unhealthy, abusive, or violent behaviour in her relationships, she can also contact 1800Respect on 1800 737 732 or through online chat.

At the end of the day, you can’t make your friend do anything – having or not having sex is a personal choice, and ultimately, she will be the one to decide if she wants to make any changes. It can also be important to bear in mind that people have casual sex for different reasons – whilst for some, it can be associated with depression or low self-esteem; for others, it can be empowering, or for pleasure.
Of course, if you ever feel that your friend is at risk of immediate harm from someone, it’s important not to keep it a secret and get urgent help.

Your friend may make decisions that you don’t agree with, or behave in a way that may not align with your own beliefs or values. Try and remember that open communication is important so that she knows she can come to you for support if she needs it further down the track. As her friend, you can remind her that you are there to be supportive, not to judge her for her sexual behaviour.

No matter what she decides, acknowledge your courage to speak up – she is fortunate to have a caring friend who is looking out for her.


Feeling negatively

I’ve been feeling empty most of the time for about 2 months. I’m disconnected from any of my friends. I feel useless and myself being disgusting as I have no living difficulties at all. I do try to perform to be normal in front of everyone and I can be ok in front of them, but I just suddenly start crying when I leave for the washroom. Now I am completely disconnected socially, spending time alone most of the time. I don’t want to get up in the day and afraid and anxious about falling asleep. I can eat nothing for the whole day or eat till disgusted. Am I just too lazy and weak or am I sick?

Thank you for asking this question as many others students would have experienced similar situations during their degree. I am sorry to hear changes over the past 2 months are having such an impact on your daily life. When changes like these persist over time, it may be a warning sign that something is out of balance for you and needs to be addressed. Being aware of these signs and reaching out for advice are two important steps, so good on you for taking them.

There are many things that can lead to feelings of emptiness or disconnection. Students sometimes feel like they have lost interest in their study, like nothing is exciting anymore, or that they have lost sight of meaning or purpose in things that are usually important to them.  Sometimes this can be related to specific events, such as changes in relationships with family or friends, or due to increased stress, such as through the changing demands of work or study.  At other times, people can experience changes to mood, motivation or connection with others without being able to identify a clear trigger or reason. All this can lead to lowered mood and impact daily functioning like concentration on studies, sleep or eating patterns.

It is possible that the changes you describe could be symptoms of depression. However, it is not appropriate for a psychologist or doctor to provide a diagnosis without a proper assessment and I would encourage you to consider seeking professional help so that you can get some clear answers about what might be going on.

When we experience depressed or anxious mood, our reaction is sometimes to avoid things (e.g. withdraw, procrastinate…) because we think we won’t have the required energy, or we are worried about what could happen. This can be an attempt to deal with what is difficult in the moment but as you may have experienced, in the medium to long term, it doesn’t help us to feel better. When we are unsure of what is happening to us it can be common to make moral judgements about our behaviour (e.g. lazy, wrong, stupid…). However, this may lead to more negative thoughts about ourselves and leaves us feeling even worse. This vicious cycle may then lead to further symptoms of depression, which can impact many areas of our lives like our relationships, sleep or appetite

The good news is these changes don’t have to be permanent and counsellors at CAPS can support you in finding ways to improve the situation. Further exploration and discussion with a counsellor could help you understand what is going on, why you have the reactions you have observed and to find better coping strategies. If you don’t want to speak with a counsellor you may find it helpful to take a look at some of the self-help resources or workshops that are offered by Counselling and Psychological Services. There is also online support available via services such as eheadspace. Another option is to see a GP at the Health Service who can assess your eligibility for a Mental Health Treatment Plan which allows Medicare rebates for accessing private practitioners (e.g., psychologists, social workers).


Racism

I hate going on trains. I’m an Indian and people always stare at me. Sometimes they get up and change seats if I sit near them. I really feel bad and it ruins the rest of my day.

Firstly, thank you for raising your concerns in regards to this matter, feeling discriminated against is something that many people feel, yet often do not talk about.  So, it is great that you have spoken up on this. Unfortunately, overt and hidden racism can be a part of the fabric of any multicultural society. While it is beyond my role and expertise to address the broader social issue of how racism can be addressed in Australian society, I will try to offer a few suggestions about how you may be able to cope with the difficult emotions that come up for you when you feel discriminated against. I want to emphasise that this does not mean that feeling discriminated against is something that is your sole responsibility to manage or just “put up with”. For instance, if you have experienced or witnessed any incidences of racism, I would like to encourage you to report this to your local police. In addition, an online initiative called ‘Report Racism’ allows people to report racism online to Victoria Police or the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.  If you experience or witness incidences of racism on campus then you can report this to the Safer Community Program on campus. The University of Melbourne has a zero- tolerance policy on racism.

 

But back to coping strategies you could implement:

  • Acknowledge the feelings that you experience in these moments, but try not dwell on them for long periods of time. Talk to your family or other like-minded students about your experience, or express yourself in a journal. You could also practice meditation or relaxation exercises on a regular basis.
  • Attempt to distract yourself by focusing on music or reading so as not to get into a loop of a self-fulfilling prophecy, for example: expecting to see acts of racism and therefore spending a lot of time looking around to see if anyone is acting in a discriminatory manner.
  • Try to be pro-active in your social life by reaching out to people from other cultures and to local Australians (also from diverse cultural backgrounds!) by joining extra-curricular activities according to your interests or work. The university offers a range of clubs and societies that may offer you a good opportunity to do this. Surrounding yourself with people of diverse backgrounds that you feel safe with may help you to feel more connected to others and remind you that not everyone holds racist views.

If you would like to explore this further, or if you find this all too hard to implement by yourself, feel welcome to talk to one of our counsellors at Counselling and Psychological Services.


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