Hongkongers Aaron Stadlin-Robbie experienced his first panic attack in 2012. It was a transformative experience, as he began the arduous process of figuring out just what had happened to him and how he was supposed to manage it. Now a 32-year-old father living in Hong Kong, Stadlin-Robbie is documenting his journey to recovery. He’s paired up with local mental health charity Mind HK to produce Talking Mental, a podcast that seeks to break the stigma we face when speaking about mental health issues. By Carla Thomas
Q: Why is mental health awareness important to you?
A: When I first encountered my issues with panic attacks and anxiety, I had no idea what was going on, but I knew something was wrong. That was when it was the scariest for me, knowing something was wrong but having no idea what it was. It’s not as evident as a physical injury, there was nothing tangible there for me to see. However, after I received good consultation from proper experts, it gave me such a better understanding of what I was dealing with. Education is key!
Q: Tell us a bit about Talking Mental, the podcast you’re producing.
A: The structure of the podcast is that it’s a guest-based podcast, with each guest an expert in his/ her field that I felt was correlated with my mental health issues [e.g. psychologist, nutritionist]. What I hope Talking Mental can be something for people to get educated about what mental health is and to take away information from these experts. My job is to make sure that the content is delivered in a relatable way by being myself.
Q: Explain what the podcast you host aims to do, and why you think it’s necessary today.
A: I firmly believe that some of the biggest problems surrounding mental health begin from the stigma around it – the stigma around actually wanting to learn about mental health, or around talking with friends and family or even around going to a psychiatrist. To me, stigma is avoiding talking about something because it makes you feel awkward or uncomfortable – and talking about awkward topics is my forte. I’ll talk about pretty much anything. Nothing is taboo.
“Lots of people go to the gym for 45 minutes to an hour to maintain their physical health. Go and give your mind some maintenance as well.”
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges for people suffering from mental health in HK?
A: The lack of proper education around the topic as well as people not knowing how to talk about it. I’ve spoken to many sufferers here in Hong Kong and unfortunately, a recurring comment is that they can’t talk to family or friends. Mental health issues are seen by society as a negative trait in a family. And rather than losing face and tackling the problem, it often gets swept under the rug. Combine this with a lack of education, and it becomes very difficult for people to find the right help.
Q: What advice would you give someone who’s currently struggling with mental health issues?
A: If you have friends and family who won’t judge you, talk to them, reach out to your inner circle of friends who you trust the most. Use them as a support system in your search to find the best help. When you suffer through mental health issues, it’s a lonely, lonely place and it’s exhausting. Having a friend who can catch up for 10 minutes to release the pressure valve is key! Just as important though, look for help; everyone on this planet should see a psychologist whether you suffer or not. Lots of people go to the gym for 45 minutes to an hour to maintain their physical health. Go and give your mind some maintenance as well.
Q: What’s the best way to support someone who confides in you about their own mental health issues?
A: Listen, listen, listen! For any sufferer, knowing you aren’t alone when you feel the most alone is the most powerful thing. Also by listening, you can get a real gauge on where they are and you can find the right help accordingly. Lastly, get educated! Mind HK do amazing work helping the public with mental health training, I highly recommend checking them out.
Q: Are attitudes towards mental health changing in Hong Kong, or same as it ever was?
It’s true that in Hong Kong, we are behind the eight-ball compared to the rest of the world. But I’ve seen and worked with some amazing people and I can confidently say that the message of breaking the stigma here is moving in the right direction. Lots of work to be done, but I’m juiced for what Hong Kong will look like five years down the track.