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18/Nov/2021

Warning: This article mentions self-harm and may be triggering for some people.

I’ve recently had some tattoos added to my upper arms. I love them – dragons, books, peonies and symbols that commemorate my parents.

But before I got them, I had to come to terms with the fact that to show them off, people were going to see my arms. And that was a problem. You see, when I was much younger, I hated my body so much that I used to cut myself. So I have several scars on my left arm that I’m constantly covering up.

But I’m tired of hiding. It’s Australia, and it gets so bloody hot in the summer that I don’t want to wear long sleeves all the time. Plus, I wanted to get new tattoos, and my arms were the perfect canvas. So I had to accept that people might stare.

My story isn’t unique.

Sadly, many adults, teens, tweens and little kids 😥 have body image issues. And they cause us to do all kinds of things – from wearing baggy clothes, to excessive exercising, cosmetic surgery, unhealthy eating, comparing ourselves to others, becoming isolated, hurting ourselves – and everything in between.

So it’s time to love the bodies we’re in, and accept the diversity of bodies around us. Because they’re amazing, beautiful and wonderfully unique.

What is body image?

Basically, it’s how we see our bodies, and how we feel and think about them. It can be positive, negative or neutral. And it can fluctuate. One day you may feel really great about your body, and the next, really down on it.

Living with a musculoskeletal condition can affect the way we see our body. These conditions, the pain and fatigue they cause, as well as the medications we take to manage them, can affect the way we move, our joint structures, our weight, fitness, skin, hair and nails. And SARS-CoV-2 – the pesky virus that keeps on giving – hasn’t helped things. Over the past couple of years, many of us have experienced changes in our appearance that we may not be altogether thrilled with.

But we need to accept that our bodies change, and they’ve been changing since we took our very first breath. They change as we age, as we develop health conditions, as we take different meds, as we injure ourselves, as we exercise, lose or gain weight, get piercings or tattoos, go through puberty and menopause, as we change our hairstyle and our fashion sense…as we embrace change.

Not accepting these changes, and our bodies as they are, only leads to unhappiness. It can also cause low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, disordered eating, isolation and relationship issues.

“You have been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn’t worked.
Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” Louise L Hay

Loving yourself

1. Be kind and accept your body as it is

This is a big one, and can be really, really difficult. Especially if you’ve had body image issues for some time. But consider this – if someone said that your bestie was ‘fat’ or ‘plain’ or ‘has horrible hands’ or ‘terrible skin’ – you’d immediately defend them. So why is it ok to say these things to yourself? Be your body’s friend and advocate, not its enemy.

“And I said to my body softly, ‘I want to be your friend.’
It took a long breath and replied, ‘I have been waiting my whole life for this.’” —Nayyirah Waheed

2. Practise every day

It takes time to change the way we see ourselves. When you wake up, and before you go to sleep, think about something you love about your body. It doesn’t have to be related to appearance – we’re so focused on that – but it could be your sick dance moves, or the way your body enables you to play a musical instrument, or walk the dog, or laugh out loud.

Write these onto post-it notes and put them on the fridge, the mirror, in the car. And read and repeat them when you need a little extra boost.

“Your self-esteem won’t come from body parts.
You need to step away from the mirror every once in a while and look for another reflection,
like the one in the eyes of the people who love you and admire you.” – Stacy London

3. Appreciate the differences

We’re all different, and that’s the way it should be. How boring would the world be if we all looked the same? Differences are beautiful.

“You are allowed to be both a masterpiece and a work in progress,
simultaneously.” – Sophia Bush

4. Be a good role model

Kids pick up on our behaviours and attitudes, and they learn from them. So avoid criticising yourself or others in front of kids. Instead, say nice things about your body and how you appreciate what it can do.

“As a child, I never heard one woman say to me, ‘I love my body’.
Not my mother, my elder sister, my best friend. No one woman has ever said, ‘I am so proud of my body.’
So I make sure to say it to my daughter because a positive physical outlook has to start at an early age.” — Kate Winslett

5. Surround yourself with positive people

It’s easier to be kind to yourself and love your body when you’re with positive people. Those who also accept and value their bodies for how amazing they are, rather than how they look. People who are critical of themselves and others are tiring, and feed our negative self-talk. So if your friend or family member is constantly berating their looks or weight, gently explain to them that you’d prefer not to discuss appearances. And move the conversation on to other, more enjoyable topics.

“I say I love myself, and they’re like, ‘oh my gosh’, she’s so brave. She’s so political.
For what? All I said is ‘I love myself, bitch!’” — Lizzo

6. Ditch the influencers and body shamers

And any other online platforms or magazines that promote idealised and unattainable body images. They just exacerbate negative feelings. Instead, find media and socials that show diverse images, and appreciate the differences.

“We come in many different shapes and sizes, and we need to support each other and our differences.
Our beauty is in our differences.” – Carrie Otis

7. Replace the time you spend criticising your appearance with happier, more enjoyable activities

Being mean to yourself can be a major time-suck. And it’s exhausting! We have enough things making us tired without adding something as pointless as belittling ourselves. So whenever you feel like you’re about to go on a self-hating tirade, do something else:

  • walk in the park and listen to the birds
  • breathe deeply and be conscious of every breath
  • listen to some arse-thumping music and dance
  • call a friend
  • take down the Empire in Star Wars Battlefront
  • cook a yummy meal
  • get your hands dirty in the garden
  • have sex!

And make sure that while you’re doing these things, you’re in the moment, not in your head.

8. Don’t compare yourself to others

We’re all different and have different genes, lifestyles, health issues and backgrounds. These things all play a part in how we look. I’m from a family of relatively short people. The only way I’m going to be tall is with the addition of very high heels 😉. I also know that I’ll always wear glasses, have fine hair and be covered in tatts. It’s my make-up and lifestyle, and it’s part of what makes me, me. And that’s ok.

“Step away from the mean girls and say bye-bye to feeling bad about your looks.
Are you ready to stop colluding with a culture that makes so many of us feel physically inadequate?
Say goodbye to your inner critic, and take this pledge to be kinder to yourself and others.” — Oprah

9. Remember that images on socials are the highlights

It’s rare for people to put up images of themselves when they’re looking their ‘worst’. How many pics have been taken before the ‘right’ image was selected, filtered, touched up and then posted? They’re carefully curated to make a person look a certain way. So don’t get sucked into the madness.

“Your body. Your diet. Your life. It isn’t perfect. It never will be. But it’s real. It’s honest.
It’s beautifully flawed. And totally magical.” ― Nicola Jane Hobbs

10. Nurture your body

Feed it healthy, tasty food that makes you happy and satisfied. Move it regularly and often. Refresh it with good quality sleep. Pamper it with massage, warm baths, lotions and potions and hugs.

“You can’t hate yourself happy. You can’t criticize yourself thin. You can’t shame yourself worthy.
Real change begins with self-love and self-care.” — Jessica Ortner

11. Get help

Sometimes we need help to change the way we think about ourselves. This could be from a really good friend who you can talk openly and honestly with. Or it could be a professional. Just know that help is available if you need it. You don’t have to feel bad about yourself. Read our article ‘Support for mental and emotional wellbeing’ for more info.

And if you want to change something like your weight or fitness level for health reasons, rather than trying to match up to society’s ideals, you can get help with that too. So you can lose/gain weight safely and become more active. Talk to your GP for information and support.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else
is the greatest accomplishment.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

12. Be patient

Changing the way you think and feel about your body will take time. So be patient with yourself. And acknowledge that there may be times when you’ll stumble and start thinking badly about yourself. But you can use any of these strategies to pick yourself up again. We’ve also included lots of great resources in the More to explore section for you to check out.

My scars, and the kick-ass tattoos nearby, are just outward representations of part of my journey. So even if people notice them and stare, I can feel proud that I’ve survived. And while I’m still very much a work in progress, I’ll continue to work on loving myself and striving to be a good role model to those people around me. At the end of the day, that’s something I can control, not other people’s perceptions of me or society’s ever-changing ideals of the ‘perfect body’.

Crisis support

If this article has raised some issues with you or you feel like you need help, contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 for 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

More to explore


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18/Nov/2021

Ever notice how much governments love acronyms?😛 Unfortunately, this article is full of them, but we’ll explain what they mean and try to clear up the murky area of chronic disease management (CDM) plans, formerly called Enhanced Primary Care (EPC) plans.

Note: The primary sources for this article is the Australian Government, Department of Health’s chronic disease management resources. Unfortunately this information has not been updated since 2014. Please treat this as general information only, and discuss your specific needs with your GP.

What are CDM plans?

In a nutshell, these plans are a proactive way for you and your general practitioner (GP) to manage your chronic, complex or terminal medical condition/s. The Department of Health defines a chronic condition as ‘one that has been (or is likely to be) present for six months or longer’.

Chronic musculoskeletal conditions fit under this definition.

These plans are prepared by a GP to help eligible people manage their condition/s. The plans set goals to help people manage and hopefully improve their health and wellbeing.

There are two types of CDM plans:

  • GP Management Plans (GPMP) and
  • Team Care Arrangements (TCAs).

GP Management Plans (GPMP)

A GPMP can help people with musculoskeletal conditions by providing an organised approach to their care. It’s a plan that you’ve worked out with your GP that:

  • identifies your health and care needs
  • sets out the services to be provided by your GP
  • lists any other health care and community services you may need
  • lists the actions you can take to help manage your condition.

For example, if you have osteoarthritis in your knees that’s causing you lots of pain, and you’re no longer able to comfortably play tennis or go bushwalking, you and your doctor might decide that losing some weight will improve this situation. However, rather than just agreeing that weight loss is a good idea, a GPMP is an action plan that sets out your clear aims and objectives.

Once this plan has been developed, you should receive a copy to take with you.

Team Care Arrangements (TCAs)

If you need help from other healthcare providers to achieve your goals, your GP may also suggest a TCA.

TCA’s include 5 visits per calendar year to other health care providers. These 5 visits can be to one healthcare provider or spread between several providers.

On the first of January you become eligible for 5 new visits. You’ll need to see your GP about this.

You should also receive a copy of this plan.

Eligibility

This is one of the areas that’s a little complicated, so if you think you might be eligible, it’s best to speak with your GP directly. When you call to make an appointment, let the receptionist know that you’d like to discuss a chronic disease management plan. You’ll need a longer appointment for this.

The Department of Health states that while there’s ‘no list of eligible conditions…these items are designed for patients who require a structured approach and to enable GPs to plan and coordinate the care of patients with complex conditions requiring ongoing care from a multidisciplinary care team. Your GP will determine whether a plan is appropriate for you’. (1)

Costs

Also a tricky area. If a healthcare provider (e.g. dietitian) accepts the Medicare benefit as full payment for the service, you’ll be bulk billed and there’ll be no out-of-pocket costs. However if they don’t, you’ll have to pay the difference between the fee charged and the Medicare rebate. This is often called the ‘gap’.

When you’re making an appointment, be sure to ask what your out-of-pocket costs will be. If the cost isn’t something you can afford, discuss your options with your doctor.

Reviewing your plan

Your plan will need to be reviewed regularly. These reviews allow you to see how much progress you’ve made. If you’re meeting your goals – e.g. losing weight, increasing your fitness – that’s great. If you’re not getting there or having difficulties, a review will allow you to discuss this with your GP and work on solutions or adjust your goals.

Help!

It can seem overwhelming, but your GP and the practice nurse are there to support you on this journey.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

More to explore

Reference

(1) Chronic Disease Management Patient Information, Australian Government, Department of Health, 2014.


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28/Oct/2021

There’s been a lot of talk in the media recently about boosters and third doses of the COVID-19 vaccines. And the nurses on our Help Line are certainly taking lots of calls about it! So we thought we’d answer some of your questions about this next step in the vaccination rollout.

Honestly, most of us thought that once the majority of Australians were double vaxed, it was smooth sailing ahead. That everything was sorted. Job’s done. Time to ‘get on the beers’ and return to normality. 🍻🥂

But this virus is tricky, and we’re still learning so much about it. Including how to protect ourselves from it.

Fortunately, we can look overseas for information. With Australia’s vaccine rollout months behind countries like the UK, US and Israel, we can learn a lot from their experiences and the data they’re collecting.

We know that after two doses of the vaccines, healthy people have a greatly reduced risk of developing severe COVID or ending up in hospital. Which is fantastic news. Yay for vaccines!

However, we’re seeing that some people with weakened immune systems (immunocompromised) have caught COVID, even though they’re fully vaccinated.

Although we don’t know exactly why this happens, it appears that people who are immunocompromised have a varied response to the vaccine. They do gain immunity, but it’s generally not to the same extent as the general population. And how much immunity they gain depends on their underlying health condition and the medications they’re using.

That’s why the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has recently recommended a 3rd dose of the vaccine to severely immunocompromised people so that they can reach a level of immunity that’s protective. You can check out their list of immunocompromising conditions and therapies here. The Australian Rheumatology Association has also updated their COVID-19 information to include information about third doses. And if you want to know if you need to get a 3rd dose – because the information can be a little confusing – talk with your GP or specialist about your situation.

It’s worth pointing out that the use of additional doses to increase the vaccine’s effectiveness in immunocompromised people isn’t a new thing. It happens with other vaccines, for example, the annual flu shot to boost immunity to the influenza virus. Instead of one flu shot, some people require two.

When it comes to the general population – again using overseas experiences and data – we’re seeing that about 6 months after the 2nd vax, the protection from the vaccines seems to be waning.

A booster shot may be needed if immunity to the virus does start to decrease. The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), in consultation with ATAGI, has assessed the Pfizer vaccine for safety and effectiveness as a booster. As of 27 October 2021, it was provisionally approved for use in those aged 18 and over. The first in line to get it will be those who received their vaccines firsts – way back in February 2021 – so that’s aged care residents, frontline health and quarantine workers. The government is waiting on further advice from ATAGI as to when the rest of the population will receive boosters.

Booster shots may also be required in the future as we see different variants of the virus emerge. Again, as we see with the annual flu vaccination, it’s tweaked each year to keep up with changes to the influenza virus. This may be what happens with the COVID vaccine.

At this stage, the Pfizer vaccine is the only one put forward as a booster. So what does that mean if you received a Moderna or AstraZeneca vaccine for your first two doses?

We’re not sure. Several studies are investigating this very question. It’s possible that mixing different vaccines might broaden your protection. But the research is ongoing, and it’s just too early to say. So it’s a matter of ‘watch this space’.

Finally, it’s essential to recognise that being vaccinated doesn’t stop people from getting COVID. But it significantly reduces the risk of severe disease and hospitalisation. That’s why we need to be vigilant and do all the COVID-safe things we’ve been doing since this whole thing started:

  • wash your hands
  • cover your coughs and sneezes
  • wear a mask (when required)
  • physical distance
  • check in
  • stay home when sick
  • get tested
  • and stay safe.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

More to explore


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28/Oct/2021

When you live with persistent or ongoing pain, it can sometimes feel like it’s taking over your life. And the usual things you do to manage your pain don’t seem to have the same effect.

This can significantly impact your ability to do your daily tasks, work, be social, and be active. It can also affect your sleep quality, your emotions and mental health. This can then exacerbate your pain and become a vicious cycle.

The good news is that there’s lots of support available to help you break this cycle.

Breaking the pain cycle

There is a range of different health professionals who can work with you to manage your persistent pain. You may see them on an ongoing basis, or you may visit them from time to time as needed.

Your general practitioner (GP) is central to your care and will help you access other health professionals and services. Make sure you have a doctor who knows you, at a practice that can see you when you need to be seen. Having the same doctor, rather than moving from one doctor to another, means that your care will be consistent and organised. This will lead to the best possible outcomes for you.

Physiotherapists (or physios) use a variety of techniques (e.g. exercise, massage, heat and cold) as well as education and advice to reduce pain to allow you to gradually increase your activity levels. They can also show you how to increase mobility, strength and functioning by developing an exercise program for you. Find a physio.

Exercise physiologists can help you improve your health and fitness through clinical exercise programs tailored to your specific needs and support to live a healthy lifestyle. Find an Accredited EP.

Occupational therapists (or OTs) help you learn better ways to do everyday activities such as bathing, dressing, working or driving. They can also provide information on aids and equipment to make daily activities easier. Find an OT.

Psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals can help you work through your feelings, particularly if you’re feeling anxious or depressed. They can also assist you with goal setting, prioritising activities and coping strategies.

Pharmacists can help you with information and advice about medications – both prescription and over-the-counter.

Pain specialists are doctors who’ve undergone additional training to diagnose and treat pain. They come from a variety of different medical specialties such as psychiatry, anaesthetics and general practice. They often work with a team of other health professionals to treat all aspects of your pain, from the physical, to the mental and emotional aspects

Pain management services and multidisciplinary pain clinics provide a holistic and coordinated approach to managing pain. Their programs are designed to specifically address the range of factors affecting your recovery, including:

  • physical factors
  • psychological issues, including your mood, stress or poor sleep
  • social factors including how you manage your activities at home and how you can return to work safely.

You’ll learn from health professionals such as doctors, physiotherapists, psychologists, occupational therapists and nurses how to manage your pain more effectively with the least side effects.

Talk with your doctor about whether a pain management program would be helpful for your situation. And check out the National Pain Services Directory by Pain Australia. It provides more information about the different types of pain services and a handy search function to find a service near you.

Family and friends can be a great source of support and encouragement, so keep them involved. How much or how little you tell them about your pain issues is up to you, but just knowing they’re there if you need them can be a great source of comfort.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

More to explore


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07/Oct/2021

The people in our lives bring so much colour and richness to our days. Our family and friends, work colleagues, local baristas, intimate partners, food deliverers, healthcare providers, neighbours, fellow gamers and dog walkers – all of the ordinary and intimate relationships we have are important and connect us to our world.

Apart from the warm fuzzies we get from having these people around us, healthy relationships are good for our physical and mental health. They help us feel less stressed, reduce feelings of loneliness, distract us from pain, boost our immune system and make us feel happier and more optimistic. They’re practically a tonic for all that ails!

And that’s why it’s so important that we nurture these relationships.

This is the first of two articles exploring ways we can tend to our close relationships, to ensure they remain strong and supportive. We begin with the relationship with a partner, spouse, or significant friend.

Physical vs emotional intimacy

When we think about intimate or close relationships, we often think of physical acts of intimacy – holding hands, cuddling, kissing, hugging and sex. They’re an essential element in our romantic relationships. But we also need emotional intimacy for deeper connections with those we have, or hope to have a committed relationship with.

Emotional intimacy involves each person opening up to the other, allowing their vulnerabilities to show, and sharing their deepest feelings and thoughts. To do this, each person needs to feel safe and supported to be themselves, ‘warts and all’. This level of intimacy takes time. And it requires open, honest communication and ongoing work.

“Intimacy is the capacity to be rather weird with someone
– and finding that that’s ok with them.” Alain de Botton

Emotional intimacy occurs not only within committed, romantic relationships, it can also happen within platonic relationships, for example, with your bestie, BFF, a sibling, or with someone else you have a close bond.

The following strategies are focused on nurturing romantic relationships, however most can be used for platonic relationships as well 😊.

Strategies for nurturing your relationship

Share your deep, inner thoughts, feelings, beliefs, fears, needs, pain and worries – not just the superficial stuff.
To really develop that deep connection and understanding of each other, share the things that make you ‘you’. We’re all so different and have had different experiences, challenges, traumas, victories and lifestyles. This shapes who we are, and we tend to keep much of this to ourselves.

However, sharing these things with your partner over time creates intimacy as your relationship grows and deepens. This has to be a two-way street. You both need to be open and honest about the things that matter to you, as you feel comfortable and safe to do so.

“Never idealize others. They will never live up to your expectations.
Don’t over-analyze your relationships. Stop playing games.
A growing relationship can only be nurtured by genuineness.” Leo F. Buscaglia

Share how much they mean to you.
We all like to hear how much we mean to someone – especially when it’s out of the blue. Try not to become complacent with your relationship or take your partner for granted. Tell them how much you appreciate them and how much they bring to your life. Show them how much they mean to you – buy the book they’ve been wanting, prepare a picnic full of their favourite things, give them a hug, fold the laundry, place little love notes or tokens in unexpected places. Be creative and be honest 💖

“Love is a two-way street constantly under construction.” Carroll Bryant

Share, learn and explore sexual desires so you both feel satisfied.
This adds to your emotional connection. However, sometimes our condition, pain, anxiety and the madness of life in general can impact our desire to be physically intimate. Check out our blog on sex, intimacy and musculoskeletal conditions for tips to help you get your groove back.

“Sex without love is merely healthy exercise.” Robert A. Heinlein

Share time together outside of your day-to-day routine.
Remember the excitement when you first met? The first thrilling time your hands brushed, when you couldn’t wait to see each other? Try to rekindle some of this excitement so that you get to be together as lovers, partners, friends – not as mum/dad/worker. Make the time to check in with each other, even when it feels like the world is taking over. This can be really challenging – we’re all so busy. So you may need to schedule time for this (not sexy, but often necessary). And make sure you unplug from all technology and put your phone away. It’s worth the effort. Take this time as a loving couple to talk about your day, feelings, needs, hopes and dreams, and just connect.

“A dream you dream alone is only a dream.
A dream you dream together is reality.” John Lennon

Share the difficulties, and where possible, work on solutions together.
If you have problems or difficulties that relate to your condition, job, other people etc – share them. Don’t keep them bottled up. Having someone to discuss your issues with can help bring clarity. Or at least help you feel your emotions are important and validated.

If the problems relate to your relationship or home life, this can be tougher. Especially if you both have strong feelings about the matter. In this case, it’s really important to be respectful to each other, listen, and work together to come up with a solution. And be prepared to compromise, so the solution feels fair to both of you. Remember, we’re all different, and we do and see things differently. This is a good thing (how boring would it be if everyone saw things the same way?), but it can sometimes be really frustrating. So if you become angry, take some time to breathe, reflect on the situation, and come back to it when you both feel calm.

However, sometimes it can be hard to get past an issue, and you may need external help to resolve it. See the section below on managing conflict.

“Nothing is perfect. Life is messy. Relationships are complex.
Outcomes are uncertain. People are irrational.” Hugh Mackay

Share the load.
We like to think of ourselves as superhuman at times and try to do it all without asking for help. Even when it may be needed 😣. But this isn’t sustainable. We’ve all ended up in a heap doing this.

Again, it comes down to open, honest communication. Someone who doesn’t have a musculoskeletal condition can’t fully understand what it’s like, how frustrating it can be to be fine one day and thoroughly shagged the next. If there are things you’re struggling with – all the time, or just occasionally – discuss these with your partner. Look for ways to share the load – with your partner, children, housemates, other family members, or even hiring someone to do the chore/task.

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength,
while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” Lao-Tzu

Share fun times.
Make time for having fun, being silly and finding (and celebrating) the joy in life. This can be challenging when you live with pain, the uncertainty of living through a pandemic, work stress and household craziness. But it’s so rewarding. Watch a silly movie, dance in the back garden, share funny memes during your day, go skinny dipping after dark 😍. Laughter and shared fun create another level of intimacy, as well as a twinkle to the eye and a healthy glow to the skin (especially if the water is cold 😉).

“We’re all a little weird. And life is a little weird.
And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours,
we join up with them and fall into mutually satisfying weirdness
– and call it love – true love.” Robert Fulghum

Have outside interests (and share yourself).
In case you’re starting to feel nauseated by all the saccharine togetherness 🤢, it’s also really essential that each person has independent interests. There are often things that make us really happy but are of no interest to our partner – think sports, book clubs, crafts, parents groups, community gardens, study groups, cooking classes, gaming etc. Instead of dragging your partner along, take that time for yourself. It helps you pursue the things that make you feel fulfilled, and you can share your experiences and happiness with your partner. When you both have these opportunities, life is more exciting and rewarding.

“A great relationship is about two things:
First, appreciating the similarities and second, respecting the differences.” Unknown

When it isn’t always smooth sailing: managing conflict

All of the suggestions we’ve provided require commitment, time and ongoing work. But sometimes you can work, and work hard, but arguments and conflict still arise. Especially when you’re living with the stress of unpredictable health issues, COVID-19, family commitments and all the other complicated things adulthood brings with it.

If you’re both committed to working through these issues, but feel like you can’t resolve them on your own, consider talking with someone you trust about it. This may be a close family friend or family member, or it may be a professional.

Getting help
Family Relationship Advice Line is an Australian Government service that helps families affected by relationship or separation issues. It can also refer callers to local services that provide assistance. Call 1800 050 321.

Relationships Australia provides a range of counselling services, delivered face-to-face and online. Find out more about the counselling services available on their website. Or call 1300 364 277.

Ending a relationship
If you’re not committed to resolving relationship issues and want to end it, Relationships Australia has resources to help you through this upsetting and stressful time.

Abuse or violence
It’s never OK to use power, abuse or violence against another person. If you need help, it’s available. For safety and support, call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) for confidential information, counselling and support. They operate 24 hours, 7 days a week.

Read the second instalment of this series: Nurturing relationships: Family and friends

“Maybe you don’t need the whole world to love you.
Maybe you just need one person.” Kermit the Frog

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

More to explore


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07/Oct/2021

This is the second of two articles exploring ways we can tend to our close relationships, to ensure they remain strong and supportive. The first looked at the relationship with a partner, spouse, or significant friend. You can read it here

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another,
‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one” — C.S. Lewis

How often do you see a post on social media from a friend or family member and think, ‘it’s been ages since I’ve seen/called/talked with them…’? Or going about your day, you see something that triggers a memory of a great time with someone important to you, and you can’t remember when you last spoke?

It’s so easy for life to get away from us and lose contact with our family and good friends. Finding time amidst all of our other obligations, the general busyness of life, and let’s not forget COVID 😣, can push staying in touch to the bottom of our ‘to do’ list. But this inattention and neglect can distance us from the significant people in our lives. And it’s during times like these that we need them, and they need us more than ever.

Healthy relationships are good for our physical and mental health. They help us feel less stressed, reduce feelings of loneliness, distract us from pain, boost our immune system and make us feel happier and more resilient. They provide support when our various health issues make us feel exhausted and sad. And they bolster our mood when the long days of COVID make everything seem so grey.

That’s why we need to nurture these relationships with our family and close friends.

Here are some strategies you can use:

Make them a priority.
Value your relationships and work hard to keep them strong. Tend to them as you would any living thing – with regular care and attention. Build time into your day/week/month for them, and make this time sacrosanct. How often you connect depends on the depth of the relationship; however, the important thing is to make it happen. Don’t let them fall by the wayside as if they’re unimportant.

Accept (and embrace) our differences.
We’re all different (and isn’t that amazing!), but that means we can have differences of opinions, beliefs and lifestyles that may cause friction from time to time. Accept that this is the case. These differences can challenge us to consider other viewpoints and opinions. They can lead to exciting discussions and debates. But they can also lead to conflict and anger. If this happens, take some time to breathe, reflect on the situation, and return to it when you both feel calm. This may be challenging at times, but if it’s something you can move past, or if you can agree to disagree, do so. However, if the issue isn’t something you can ignore or live with, or your relationship has changed to the point that it makes you unhappy, it may be time to re-evaluate the relationship.

Trust your peeps.
Trusting someone takes bravery and can make us feel vulnerable. But it also builds intimacy with another person. When this trust is reciprocal, you can share your deepest thoughts and fears without fear of judgement. You can ask for help when you’re in pain or feeling overwhelmed. Apart from how great it feels to know that you have someone in your corner who you can trust with your deepest and darkest, it also feels great to be on the receiving end of that trust.

Show your appreciation.
People are adaptive and become used to things very quickly. So it’s easy to start taking a person for granted when you’re so used to them being there, listening to you, providing support. We get used to these things and don’t notice them as much because they’re always there. So take notice. Tell them how much you appreciate them. Give them your full attention when they’re speaking. Thank them when they do something for you. Send them a note or a small present out of the blue to let them know that you’re thinking of them.

Schedule, schedule, schedule!
We’re always so busy, so it’s a good idea when catching up with someone important that you make a date for the next catch-up before you part ways. That way, you can both put it in your diaries, and you have a firm commitment.

Create alerts.
Again, we’re busy bees 🐝, and things can slip by without us pausing to take note. That’s why I put birthdays, anniversaries and other important dates in my calendar and create alerts for them. It might be an alert to call them on the date or one that gives me time to find a card and gift and post it to them in time.

Establish traditions and routines.
We tend to have friends and family members that we associate with specific things or activities. For example, the friend you work out with, the sister you go to galleries with, the mate you go to the cricket with, the friend who’s always up for a spontaneous adventure. Taking advantage of these traditions means that you can catch up and enjoy shared interests. Win, win!

Share your interests.
We’re all looking for recommendations for books, movies, TV shows, podcasts etc (especially during lockdowns!). Share what you’re reading, watching or listening to, and your opinions. Create a discussion group – that sounds so formal 😉 – but it could occur during happy hour, video chat, social media or a walk around the park.

Call them.
Never underestimate the power of simply picking up the phone and having a chat, even a quick one.

Connect IRL.
Endless lockdowns and border closures have made connecting in real life so much sweeter. So if you can, and it’s safe to do so, catch up with your peeps in person for a walk, picnic, coffee, bike ride…whatever works for you.

Send photos.
With a smartphone, we can easily share our lives with important people. I’m not a selfie person, but I do take pics of things I see – a sunrise, a dog taking its owner for a walk, or a fantastic meal I can’t believe I cooked. The ordinary things that mean a lot to me and the people I share them with. And in return, I get pics from their days. It provides a glimpse into the everyday of lives, especially if we can’t be there in person.

Value the quick connections.
How often do you put off a call or catch up because you don’t think you have time? Not all of our connections need to be long or deep, and meaningful. A quick call to say hello, a silly selfie, a short text, or a quick email can help sustain relationships between the longer catch-ups.

Pay attention to how you feel.
Next time you’re with your close family or friends, pay attention to how you feel when you’re with them. How’s your mood compared to how it is when you haven’t seen them in a while? Even when they drive us crazy, we usually feel happy and more content when we spend time with these people.

Learn to forgive.
People have the power to hurt us. This can make us feel angry, sad and a whole host of other emotions. But we can control how we choose to deal with the hurt and our feelings. We can stew and brood – but this only makes us feel bad. Or we can forgive the person for the pain they caused. This doesn’t mean it’s forgotten or that the offense is suddenly excused or ok. It simply means that you’re taking control of the way you feel and healing the hurt. But it’s not always easy, so for some tips read, Eight keys to forgiveness from The Greater Good Science Center.

Apologise.
On the flip side of forgiveness is knowing when you’ve hurt others and when to apologise. This can be really tough because it’s hard to acknowledge that we’ve hurt someone or done something wrong. But it’s necessary to heal a relationship. It’s also crucial that we respect the other person’s feelings and that they may not be ready to forgive immediately. Be gentle and take time.

Allow for spontaneity.
Sometimes you just need to toss your schedules and chores out the window and be spontaneous!! Call the friend who’s always up for an adventure or the one in need of some good, old-fashioned fun, and throw caution to the wind. Go on a road trip, hit the shops, have a movie marathon. Whatever works for you and brings you together 😊.

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends.
I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.” — Jane Austen

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

More to explore


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15/Sep/2021

This is the third in our series exploring the different groups of health professionals and therapists who’ll help you live well with a musculoskeletal condition.

Managing a chronic musculoskeletal condition – or multiple conditions – can be complicated. To help you get the best health outcomes and maintain (or improve) your quality of life, you’ll probably see a variety of different health professionals and therapists.

Who you see and how often will depend on your condition/s, symptoms and how they affect your life.

What is a specialist in healthcare?

A specialist is exactly what it sounds like. A person – in this case, a medical doctor – who has undergone additional training to become a ‘specialist’ or an expert in a specific area of medicine.

Specialists work in clinics and in hospitals, both in the private and public health systems. To see a specialist, you’ll need a letter of referral from your general practitioner (GP) or another specialist doctor.

As far as musculoskeletal conditions go, the most common specialist that people will see is a rheumatologist. But many other specialists help people manage their condition. Let’s explore each of them.

Whether you see any of these specialists will depend on your condition, symptoms, and their effect on your overall health and wellbeing.

Seeing a specialist

To see a specialist, you’ll need a referral letter from your GP or another specialist doctor. This will include information about your symptoms and test results.

You can visit a specialist in a clinic or a hospital. Depending on various factors such as where you live, the number of specialists available, the urgency of your situation, and if there’s a waiting list, you may see a specialist quickly, or you may have to wait.

Talk with your GP about the costs involved when discussing your referral. Medicare will cover part of the fee to see a specialist but not all of it. Specialist fees can be high, and depending on your circumstances and eligibility, this may influence whether you see a specialist at a bulk-billing hospital or in a private clinic. If you have private health insurance, this may also cover some of your costs. However, it’s essential to ask about fees and your choices before seeing a specialist.

The Better Health Channel suggests asking the following.

Does the specialist:

  • work within the public or private health system?
  • bulk-bill via the Medical Benefits Scheme (MBS)?
  • require gap payments?
  • have a payment plan?
  • accept my private health cover?

Before your first appointment

When making your appointment, ask what information or test results you need to bring with you. The specialist may already have access to all or some of this information via your health records, but it’s a good idea to double-check.

You can also be proactive and create a file containing all of your results, records, medications and other treatments. Take it with you when you visit the specialist. That way there’ll be no potential delay in your assessment and treatment if your specialist can’t access some of your information. And make sure you include your referral letter.

Write down a list of questions about the things you want to know. This may be about diagnosis, treatment options, the benefits and risks of different treatments, costs, things you can do to manage better etc. Put them in order, with the most important questions at the top of the list. That way, if you run out of time, they’ll have been answered first.

Make sure you have an up-to-date list of your meds to take with you. This can be extremely helpful if your specialist hasn’t been able to access this information through online channels. You may want to use an app to keep track of your medicines so you always have this information with you. The MedicineWise app from the National Prescribing Service is free to download. You can create a list of your medicines by scanning their barcodes, set reminders for when to take medicines, store your test results and much more.

Consider taking a family member or friend with you. Healthcare appointments can be stressful, and having an extra set of eyes and ears can help you take it all in. They can also provide emotional support before, during and after your appointment.

During your appointment

The specialist will ask you about your symptoms and examine you.

Be open and honest when answering their questions. The specialist needs all the relevant information about you and your health to have an accurate idea of what’s happening and how best to treat you. They’ll need information about your medical history, other health conditions, treatments (both conventional and complementary) and lifestyle factors (e.g., how often you exercise, if you smoke, your diet etc.).

You may have one or more visits to your specialist before they have all the information they need. They may also send you for further tests. Once they have all the necessary information, they’ll explain your condition to you and what treatment they think you should have.

If you don’t understand what they’re suggesting, or you need more information, ask the specialist to explain further. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for this. Musculoskeletal conditions and treatments are complicated, so the more you understand, the better. And don’t be afraid to ask them to write things down for you.

After your appointment

Follow the treatment plan that you and your specialist have agreed upon. If they’ve requested you have further tests or book more appointments, make sure you do this as soon as possible.

If you’ve been prescribed medication, take it as instructed. If you can’t remember, or you’re not sure how to take it, talk with your pharmacist or call your specialist.

And for information and support between visits to your healthcare team, call our national Help Line on 1800 263 265 weekdays.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

More to explore


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15/Sep/2021

Ever had a moment when you’re so enraged you feel like you’ll explode?

I was watching the news recently, and something made me furious. It flicked a switch in me, and I wanted to throw my glass at the wall. Such an OTT soap opera moment 😂. Fortunately for my wall and my glass, I didn’t follow through. But it was a close call.

Many of us are angry at the moment. We may put on a happy face, but it’s simmering just below the surface. And it only takes a tiny thing to release it, leading us to do or say something impulsive we’ll regret later.

Where’s this anger coming from?

The last 18 months have been exhausting. We’ve been living with constant stress, anxiety and frustration. And there’s no end in sight yet. This has had a significant impact on our mental health. And one of the ways this can manifest is as anger.

What’s changed?

Last year we were all in it together – sort of.

But now, it seems like it’s every person for themselves. Us against them. State vs state. Community vs community. Politicians who can’t work together, constantly fighting 😤.

We’re so over everything that we’re losing empathy and tolerance for others.

So it only takes something minor to make you lose it 😤 😡 – someone cutting you off in traffic, unsolicited text messages from MPs, another appointment/event/freedom cancelled because we’re STILL in lockdown, or just stubbing your toe against the bedside table – ARGH 😤!

And when it happens, we often take it out on those least deserving of it. Our loved ones who’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, or the retail/hospo worker just doing their job.

Apart from the negative impact our anger has on ourselves and those around us, being angry all the time, or not addressing this anger, affects our physical health. It can cause high blood pressure, headaches, anxiety, depression, insomnia and digestive issues. It also makes us unhappy, and no one wants that. So here are some tips to help you manage your anger before you have an OTT soap opera moment.

13 tips for managing anger

1.Breathe

Pause and take some calming breaths. If you can, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Slowly take a deep breath. Fill your lungs to a capacity that’s comfortable for you. Then slowly release this breath. Don’t release it in a sudden exhale, but control it so it’s slow and smooth. Continue to take slow, even breaths…in and out. You’ll feel your muscles start to relax, and your mind will begin to calm.

2. Step away from the situation or put away your phone.

Our reactions when we’re angry can be out of character, and we can regret our actions once we’ve calmed down. So if you can, physically remove yourself from the space until you calm down. And put away your phone. Text messages or phone calls made in anger are the worst. And you can’t take them back.

3. Acknowledge how you’re feeling

Don’t suck it up. It’s okay to not feel okay. When you’ve had a chance to calm down, examine why the situation/person/event made you angry. Was it a rational response? Or was it an overreaction? Think about other ways you could handle the situation if something similar occurs.

4. Write it down

This can be really cathartic. Write down how you’re feeling in a journal or on a piece of paper. This lets you get it out and then reflect on your feelings, which can help you understand why you react in a particular way. It can also help you get a better handle on your emotions.

5. Then let it go

In the end, holding on to anger only makes us and those close to us unhappy.

6. Be kind to yourself

Use simple strategies to reduce stress; try exercising, talking with a friend, meditating, making a cup of tea, doing something creative. Whatever relaxes you, do it! It’ll help you put your stress and anger behind you and make you feel more energised and positive.

7. Be kind to others

Nothing makes you feel better than being kind to others…letting someone in front of you at the checkout, holding the elevator, complementing a colleague on their work, thanking the delivery person, hugging your kids. These small acts of kindness are easy to do and go a long way to making us all feel better and less angry.

8. Create a daily routine to increase feelings of control

A regular daily routine gives you control in a time when so much is out of our control. Separate work and non-work time. Prioritise your connections with others, healthy eating, sleep and exercise. Have a work/school week routine and a weekend routine.

9. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t

At the moment, many of us can’t visit our friends and family. We can’t travel or have a meal in a restaurant. We can’t celebrate together. And that all sucks. But we can call our friends and family. We can travel through books, virtual tours, revisit past travels and plan future trips. We can send cards, presents and tokens to celebrate milestones and occasions. It’s not the same, but it is still doing something. So focus on the things you can do.

10. Agree to disagree

Don’t let your differences affect your relationships with others. We’re all feeling heightened emotions, and we’ve all got our opinions. A lot has been thrown at us in the last 18 months! But if there’s tension or anger when discussing certain viewpoints, agree to disagree, and move on.

11. Monitor your social media use and limit your news intake

Too much media can increase feelings of frustration and anger. It certainly did for me! So I now skim through the paper once a day, and instead of watching the evening news, I’m watching old episodes of Friends (it’s on all the time 😊). With this routine, I’m in control. I’m aware of what’s happening in the world, I’m avoiding the most sensational stuff, and I’m enjoying spending quality time with old friends 😉. I’m also limiting my time on socials and spending the time doing other things that are more enjoyable and relaxing.

12. Be careful with drugs and alcohol

While it might seem like an easy way to unwind when you’re stressed or angry, drugs and alcohol won’t solve the issues that make you angry. So just be careful here. It’s an easy habit to fall into and a hard habit to break.

13. Seek help from a professional if your anger becomes overwhelming or feels unmanageable

Talk to your doctor about how you’re feeling and ask them for help.

Anger is an important emotion, but if you start to feel it more and more, it can be detrimental to your health and wellbeing. So next time you start to get worked up, try these strategies to get you through. It’ll take practice, but it’s worth the effort.

For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

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15/Sep/2021

Guest blog written by: Polly Bongiorno and Mathew Richardson

Have you heard people talking about myotherapy but don’t know what it is?

You’re not alone. Myotherapy is a relatively new treatment method for pain which has been rapidly growing in popularity in recent years.

What is myotherapy?

Myotherapy is a health care profession that focuses on assessing, treating and managing pain associated with musculoskeletal conditions.

Myotherapists are known for being hands-on with their treatments, and one of their great strengths is their soft tissue skills.

The treatment skills of a myotherapist can be classified broadly as either ‘active’ or ‘passive’.

Passive treatments are those that are ‘done to you’, providing short-term relief of pain to restore preferred movements. These can be incredibly helpful when working to change protective muscle spasms, movement patterns, fears and stress.

Active treatments are longer lasting, and involve you changing behaviours that will lead to long-term health benefits. These include exercise, education, lifestyle modifications and exploring the many different contributors to your pain.

In essence, myotherapy helps people in pain move better and live their best life. A myotherapist will foster a relationship of respect, care and trust with you to form a unique plan to get you back to doing the things you love.

So, what sets myotherapy apart from the rest?

Myotherapy treatment sessions are often longer than those of other allied health providers. This gives the therapist time to develop and implement a comprehensive, individualised plan for care and recovery and still have ample time for strong hands-on therapy and exercise rehabilitation. It also allows time to nurture the relationship with you.

Myotherapists are uniquely placed to offer a wide range of personalised treatments that can help to reduce pain and get you moving again. Myotherapists understand that no two people are the same, and so no two people should be treated the same when it comes to pain.

What does a typical session with a myotherapist look like?

One of the greatest benefits of a myotherapy session is longer treatment time. Time that is essential to ensuring your myotherapist will listen to you and your personal pain story. The myotherapist will ask you lots of questions to get a complete picture of your medical history and to understand your expectations and treatment goals.

They’ll listen carefully to understand the nature of your problem and its impact on your life. This will include all aspects affected by your pain. These can be:

  • physical – e.g., work, exercise, lifestyle
  • psychological – e.g., anxiety, stress, beliefs
  • social – e.g., access to health care, support system, family relationships.

The myotherapist will then assess your body – muscles, tendons, nerves, ligaments, joints – and movements, to rule out serious conditions that may require referral to another healthcare professional, before moving ahead with treatment.

They’ll use a range of interventions, tailored to you and your goals. This may include soft tissue therapy to calm an over-protective nervous system, as well as exploring lifestyle and stress reduction strategies, exercise and movement interventions. They’ll also help you find ways of getting back to doing the things in life, that pain may have disrupted or affected.

Finally, they’ll help you make sense of why you hurt, and what to expect on your journey of recovery. Understanding what’s happening to you and why, can be a powerful pain reliever.

How is myotherapy different from physio or osteo?

By definition there isn’t a lot of difference between musculoskeletal health professionals. Myotherapists use many of the same orthopaedic assessment techniques as physiotherapists and osteopaths, and many of the same treatment techniques. Apart from minor differences in approach, the differences mainly lie in the scope of practice, rather than the quality of treatment.

For example myotherapists commonly treat general musculoskeletal pain and movement dysfunction, whereas physiotherapists also extend their treatment to cardiovascular and serious neurological pathologies.

Accessing a myotherapist

You don’t need a letter of referral from your doctor to see a myotherapist.

They typically work in settings such as private clinics, sporting clubs or community health services.

Myotherapists may work closely with other allied health professionals, general practitioners and specialists to get the best outcomes for people living with pain, regardless of the complexity of their problems.

Cost

The cost to see a myotherapist may vary, so ask about costs when you’re making enquiries about booking an appointment. You may be able to claim your treatment through your private health insurance. Check with your health fund to find out if myotherapy is covered, and if so, how much of the treatment is covered and how many sessions you can claim.

In summary

Myotherapy treatment aims to help you become confident that you can return to moving your body in ways that best support your lifestyle and what you value. It’s all about you.

Consider myotherapy the next time you’re in pain. Myotherapists are health professionals with a deep understanding of the human body and can help you on your journey to wellness and vitality. If you’re in pain and want to try myotherapy, contact your local myotherapist or visit www.myotherapy.org.au to experience the difference.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

More to explore


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26/Aug/2021

This is the second in our series exploring the different groups of health professionals and therapists who’ll help you live well with a musculoskeletal condition.

Managing a chronic musculoskeletal condition – or multiple conditions – can be complicated. To help you get the best health outcomes and maintain (or improve) your quality of life, you’ll probably see a variety of different health professionals and therapists.

Who you see and how often will depend on your condition/s, symptoms and how they affect your life.

Mental and emotional support professionals

Being diagnosed with a musculoskeletal condition can be overwhelming. You may feel a range of emotions such as fear, anxiety, stress, loss, worry and anger.

And living with a condition that causes ongoing pain and fatigue, and has the potential to change the way your body moves and functions can cause you to feel an array of emotions too.

If you feel these ups and downs, you’re not alone. Many people living with musculoskeletal conditions find that their emotional and mental health is affected from time to time. In fact, anxiety and depression are more common in people with musculoskeletal conditions than in the general population.

It’s important to recognise signs of these conditions and seek help as early as possible. Together with your healthcare team, you can develop a treatment plan that fits your needs physically, emotionally and mentally.

Your support team

Depending on your needs and whether you’ve been diagnosed with a mental health condition such as anxiety or depression, or you’re seeking support to help manage your emotions, you may see one (or more) of the following professionals:

Your general practitioner (GP) – is usually the first person you see when you have a health issue. As well as helping you manage your musculoskeletal condition, they coordinate your care and help you access other health professionals and services. If you require specific support for your mental health, they’ll work with you to create a mental health treatment plan. This plan entitles you to Medicare rebates for certain mental health professionals and care via the Better Access initiative.

A psychologist – can help you work through your feelings, particularly if you’re feeling anxious, stressed or depressed. They can also help you set goals and work through any problems that may be preventing you from achieving your goals.

A psychiatrist – is a medical doctor who’s undergone further study to specialise in diagnosing and treating mental illness. They tend to treat severe and complex illnesses. They’re able to prescribe medication, such as anti-depressants, if appropriate.

A mental health nurse – is a registered nurse who’s undertaken additional training to care for people with mental health issues. They work in the community and hospital settings to support people in managing their mental health and treatment.

A mental health occupational therapist (OT) – OTs help people learn better ways to do everyday occupations (or activities). Those working in mental health help people lessen the impact their condition has on their quality of life and their ability to do their everyday activities.

An accredited mental health social worker – specialises in assessing, treating, and preventing mental health conditions. They help people manage their condition and its impact on their family, friends, work, and education.

A counsellor – is someone you can talk through your problems with. They can help you find clarity and solutions. A trained counsellor has usually spent three or more years studying counselling; however, there’s no requirement in Australia that counsellors have any qualifications or experience.

Wow, that’s a lot of support! How do you choose who to see?

Several factors will influence your decision:

Your mental health issues/condition. It can be challenging to know what to do or where to go when you’re struggling with mental health issues. This is where your GP comes in. They’re trained to help people with their mental health issues. By talking with you about your situation, they’ll be able to refer you to the appropriate specialist to get the care you need. They can also assess whether you’re eligible for a mental health treatment plan.

Your history. Have you seen a mental health professional before? Do you have a good relationship with them? Have you experienced good outcomes from your sessions with them? If so, you may decide to go back to them. If not, discuss your options with your GP.

Cost. If you’re able to access subsidised treatment via the Better Access initiative, you’ll be able to see a mental health professional at a reduced cost. However, health professionals set their own fees, so be sure to ask about out-of-pocket costs when you’re booking your appointment. If these costs are an issue for you, even with Medicare rebates, talk with your GP.

Access. If you live in a rural or remote area, you may not be able to see a mental health professional in person. In this case, you may be able to access them via telehealth. Telehealth enables you to consult with your health professional over the phone or through a videoconferencing app (e.g. Zoom, FaceTime, WhatsApp) on your smartphone, tablet or computer. You can choose phone or video consultations, depending on the technology you have available, and how comfortable you are using it.

Treatments

There’s no ‘one size fits all’ when treating mental and emotional health issues. Treatment will be tailored to your unique situation and the goals you have. But treatment will commonly include:

Lifestyle factors – regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, getting enough good quality sleep, managing your stress and limiting your use of alcohol and drugs are practical things you can do to improve your physical, emotional and mental health.

Psychological therapies – also called psychotherapy or talk therapies – explore the feelings, thoughts and behaviours that are distressing you, and work towards changing them. It can be used by people with mental health conditions and people who want to understand themselves better.* There are many different forms of psychological therapies, including:

  • cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – this helps people learn to identify and change negative or unhelpful thoughts that have a harmful effect on behaviour and emotions, and replace them with more objective, realistic thoughts. People learn practical coping strategies such as goal setting and problem-solving that they can use in the current situation and in the future.
  • mindfulness-based cognitive therapy — combines cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness strategies.
  • acceptance and commitment therapy – focuses on acceptance to deal with negative thoughts, feelings, symptoms, or circumstances. It also encourages a commitment to positive, healthy attitudes.

Medication. For some conditions, such as moderate to severe depression, you may be prescribed anti-depressant medication. This will work alongside treatments such as lifestyle changes and psychological therapies. Find out more about anti-depressant medications.

Other support is available

  • Your family and/or close friends can be a great source of support and understanding.
  • Peer support groups, or people in similar situations, can also be a valuable resource. Talking with someone who really understands what you’re going through and has lived experience and practical info is priceless. Groups meet in person and online. For specific mental health groups, check out this list by the Black Dog Institute. https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/resources-support/support-groups/
  • Mental health organisations provide a considerable amount of information and support to help you manage your mental and emotional health. See the list below for details of these groups.
  • Online therapy. There’s also a lot of information online that you can access whenever and wherever you want. Healthdirect has some information to help you find out more about eTherapy, including links to useful sites.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

More to explore

Mental health organisations and resources

Reference

* Psychotherapy, healthdirect, September 2019.




Musculoskeletal Australia (or MSK) is the consumer organisation working with, and advocating on behalf of, people with arthritis, osteoporosis, back pain, gout and over 150 other musculoskeletal conditions.

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