Content warning: Please note this article contains the topic of mental health disorders which can be distressing to some.
Anyone at NAB who has met Bianca ‘B’ Paine knows the vibrant and friendly colleague she is.
Five years ago, however, that bubbly persona was masking a personal struggle with her mental health.
“I remember clearly a day in 2017, when I sat slouched behind my desk, feeling simultaneously overwhelmed by everything on my plate and too depressed do anything about it,” Bianca said. “I’d been struggling with my mental health for a number of years at that point, and always held these struggles close to my chest.”
“I remember my Head Of walking past my desk and checking in: ‘Hey B, how are you?’ I shot back a forced smile and my default response, ‘Not bad thanks Lucas, you?’”
“He didn’t answer the question I’d thrown back, instead pausing to ask, ‘And how are you, really?’”
Lucas asking the question gave Bianca permission to be candid in sharing how she was feeling.
For almost five years, Bianca had struggled to navigate the complexities of her mental health. She explored diagnoses from anxiety to depression, even chronic fatigue syndrome, but nothing quite fit.
It wasn’t until seeing a specialist at the Black Dog Institute in 2019 that she was ultimately diagnosed with Type II Bipolar Disorder.
“For me, this manifests as two-to-three-month hypomanic episodes where I have increased energy, inflated confidence, decreased inhibition and difficulty sleeping,” she said. “This is followed by three-to-four-month blocks of depression where I can feel overwhelming apathy, hopelessness, an absence of motivation and extreme fatigue.”
It was an extremely challenging time, but Bianca had a “rock solid” support network – both at home and at work – who helped her through it.
And although being diagnosed with a mental illness felt confronting at first, it has been life-changing for Bianca and her family.
“I’ve found medication that works for me (after some trial and error) and have been in a great place ever since – almost two and a half years now!”
After sharing her mental health experience previously, people often reached out sharing similar struggles.
“People feel inspired to open up about their own challenges,” she said. “It’s happened a few times when I’ve shared in live group settings.”
When sharing her story with NAB colleagues recently, the motivation was to help normalise talking about mental health so that people feel as comfortable talking about their mental health as they do their physical health and fitness.
And not just on days like R U OK Day?, but every day.
“People with physical illnesses typically don’t feel like they need to hide them or feel ashamed for taking medication, so why is this often the case for those with mental illnesses?” she said.
“I think it comes back to a lack of understanding. Despite best intentions, people don’t necessarily understand the whole picture. They might hear the word ‘anxiety’ or ‘bipolar’ and let their preconceptions or the media view take over, leading them to make assumptions about the person who disclosed this.”
Bianca said there are many educational resources available that can support people to gain increased understanding and awareness about different mental illnesses that can help make conversations with others easier.
“These can help you understand that mental health in general is a continuum,” she said. “It isn’t as black and white as ‘healthy or not’; it’s about the intensity and duration of what you’re experiencing.”
“Even though I’m far more stable now, I still have things I feel anxious about, or days where I feel flat. But, thanks to treatment, these symptoms don’t happen in that real disordered, long-term pattern anymore.”
“My experience and conversation with my People Leader at the time just brought to light how much a conversation can change your life.”
This Monday 10 October is World Mental Health Day and October is World Mental Health Month. NAB is signed up as a workplace in the Black Dog Institute’s One Foot Forward for Mental Health.
If you or someone you know needs support, please contact:
- SANE Australia Helpline: 1800 18 SANE (7263)
- Beyond Blue service line: 1300 22 46 36
- Black Dog Institute: blackdoginstitute.com.au
- headspace: 1800 650 850
- Lifeline on 13 11 14
- Mensline on 1300 78 99 78