Updated: Feb 23
We've been following @psych_inspire on Instagram for a while now and wanted to talk to the man behind the hand-written words of wisdom - although recently those words have taken on a fresh new look! The man is Liam O'Donnell, a psychology student from Perth, Western Australia who has also launched a Mental Health Blog called The Phoenix Prophet. Liam talks to us about how we can band together as a community to move beyond the current 'awareness' based approach to mental illness, looks at the role of technology on mental health, provides his thoughts on a key antidote for depression and much more. A big thank you to Liam for his openness in sharing some of his own experience with mental health and for the knowledge he provides from his studies in psychology mixed with Eastern and Western ideology. Liam's forward thinking take on managing mental illness from both a societal and individual level is clever, honest, refreshing and incredibly insightful. If you're struggling with anxiety or depression head over to The Phoenix Prophet for inspiration and follow @psych_inspire on Instagram for daily therapy and wisdom. Full interview below! Rochelle x The Honour Project
Tell us a bit about the idea behind The Phoenix Prophet?
There is a lot of wisdom that comes with having a mental illness; it was only when I was at rock bottom that I found some of the answers I was looking for about this life. The Phoenix Prophet mixes ideas of being reborn from the ashes of who you were and inspiring others to do the same. So this blog project started with goals to educate and inspire. By combining my knowledge as a psychology student, knowledge of both Eastern and Western philosophy and my personal experiences with anxiety and depression I felt as if I had quite an eclectic point of view regarding mental health and what it's all about. So essentially The Phoenix Prophet is a blog you can come to if you’re struggling and get some information on what worked for me to overcome my situation.
"Mental health is not a disability it’s a superpower."
Mental health issues such as anxiety and depression have become somewhat of an epidemic in today's modern world. In what ways do you think we can work together as a community to reduce incidents of mental illness?
I think for real sustainable change there are two things that need to happen. Firstly, people need to stop spreading awareness for mental health issues. Everybody already knows that people are struggling inside their own heads more than the norm, it's so frustrating when someone famous dies from mental health complications and there’s viral memes and content spreading awareness. I think we are past that point, I’m all for spreading messages on social media as a platform to reach an audience but the content of the message needs to change. It needs to be about reaching out and supporting someone you know who is struggling. Most mental health issues intrinsically prevent the people afflicted from reaching out themselves. It took an unsuccessful suicide attempt for me to finally realise that I needed help and I gave in to support. The main reason for suicide is the feeling that you are fighting it alone.
Secondly, education; I think that education on what depression and anxiety are like from a subjective point of view needs to be more widespread. People who don’t have a mental illness will never fully understand what it's like. And the education can’t come from psychology, because that’s just definitions and statistics, it needs to come from the people afflicted, just to open the door enough for people who don’t understand to care a bit more. We are not far away from real change, people who are suffering keep up the fight.
"The incidence and prevalence of mental illness is at an all time high, and I think this ties directly to the amount of technology we consume daily."
Mental illness is something that when experienced, can feel all-consuming. What are some ways individuals can take back control of their mental health?
The worst part of living with a mental illness is that no one gives you an instruction manual on how to manage it. So when asked on how to manage or take back control of your mind I can really only share what’s worked for me. However there is general wisdom I can give to someone who doesn’t know where to start. Firstly, it's going to suck for a long time until you do find something that works for you, so don’t give up until you find something. Secondly, drugs, weed and alcohol are so dangerous because they mimic euphoria that often gets substituted for happiness. I learned that this is the easy way out, eventually it stops working and you often have more problems than you started with. Healthy ways to cope are not common, but once you find them you have finally won the fight.
I have quite a vivid and unpredictable imagination so writing everything in my head down into a journal really helps silence everything. I also am an energetic person, which quickly turns to anxiety when I’m bored so I stay busy by playing sport as well as work and studies.
Part of your message revolves around the idea that mental health is connected to purpose. Tell us more about that?
The opposite of depression is not happiness so don’t look for it. Happy is the opposite of sad which are two completely normal emotions. The opposite of depressed is fulfilled or connected. Purpose and meaning is the antidote for depression, I truly believe that. Whatever ideologies and beliefs you have about the world, whether its grounded in science and philosophy, or faith and religion, identify with what gives you a sense of purpose in this world. Roughly sixty per cent of people work a job that they don’t like, because apparently paying the bills is more important than being happy. One of the biggest revelations I’ve ever had is that no one close to you will ever stop you from pursuing what you dreamt of doing as a kid. Find purpose, pursue meaning.
"The message needs to be about reaching out and supporting someone you know who is struggling. Most mental health issues intrinsically prevent the people afflicted from reaching out themselves."
Do you think that the technological revolution has contributed to mental illness?
The incidence and prevalence of mental illness is at an all time high, and I think this ties directly to the amount of technology we consume daily. We live in an age of information, but we also live in an age of distraction and isolation. We are primates, and primates are social by nature. The quickest way to induce irreversible psychosis in a patient is to lock them in isolation, it's more powerful than any other form of torture. That’s because people don’t want to be in their own head for too long, with only themselves as a reference to reality. Technology has made it easier for people to isolate themselves and it has also made it easier to be intrusive in someone’s life. Technology has created an unrealistic and literally fake standard that people think they need to hold themselves to and it's crushing young peoples self-esteem that turns into mental health issues down the road. A message to any young person who is finding it hard at the moment – get off your phone, and go live your life. Make some real world connections to base your life on, rather than the made up one. If all power on Earth was cut and the Internet stopped how scared would you get? People who have made a meaningful impact on this world haven’t cared what their social status was.
"The opposite of depressed is fulfilled or connected. Purpose and meaning is the antidote for depression, I truly believe that."
If you could do something right now to benefit your mental wellbeing, what would it be?
Meditation - the art of wasting time. There is no goal to it, there is no single correct way to do it, there is no purpose to it, but I have learned a lot about my thoughts and myself by doing it. Honestly, it’s probably the reason I’m still sane. Meditation can teach you a lot of things, control over thought and emotion, discipline towards your progress or just re-connecting you back to now. I recommend everyone try it, and persist even if you feel it is not working. Meditation is my saving grace.
Finish this sentence...“Mental Health is..."
Mental health is not a disability it’s a superpower. People with mental illness usually understand more about what life is really like more than others. Mental illness entrenches a deep connection to reality. Think about all the 'normal’ people in the world, has anyone ‘normal’ left their mark on the world? The reason famous people are famous is because they push the boundaries of human culture or human intellect. There is a fine line between genius and crazy, find your genius.
Contributor: Liam O'Donnell, founder of The Phoenix Prophet and Psych Inspire