Monique Moate is one of the writers for Psychreg. In this interview, she shares her passion for mental health and provides insightful responses to pressing questions within this field. Monique also opens up about her personal interests, providing a well-rounded glimpse into her life.
1. What inspired you to pursue a career in writing and editing, particularly in the field of mental health awareness and destigmatisation?
First, I wanted to say thank you for asking to interview me, for your thoughtful questions, and for giving me a space to share my thoughts. I ended up with a lot to write, so I hope it’s not too long or inaccessible!
I’ve always loved writing since I was a little kid. I studied for a postgraduate certificate in editing and digital publishing to improve my skills. And because I find the web and digital spaces to be dynamic and exciting, constantly creating new opportunities. So many more people can be heard, unlike at any time before in history. There’s far less gatekeeping, compared with traditional print publishing. That helps in terms of mental illness destigmatisation.
My childhood dream was to become a novelist. But lately, I’ve been thinking that fiction is primarily an escape from reality – and all its very real social problems. Of course, fiction is important. It helps people relax, engages their imagination, and lets them explore others’ lives and ideas.
Fiction helps you escape from your problems to someone else’s. Psychologically, we all need some kind of escape from our typical selves, I guess – and people enjoy many different escape routes! Importantly, when done well, fiction also raises people’s empathy for those who are different from them, for example.
But I mostly read nonfiction. It’s what I’ve written and published. Words and real stories have power, and if I can, I want to help people through my writing. Especially people who’ve been stigmatised, marginalised, and devalued. Because of my lived experience with mental health issues, I particularly enjoy researching, writing, and thinking about these topics.
2. Can you share your experience living with mental health conditions and how it has shaped your perspective on mental health?
I’ve lived with mental illnesses for around 20 years. When I was younger, there was far less awareness, empathy, and discussion surrounding them. I remember what it was like to be judged and bullied. Not just about mental health, but other things, such as race, ethnicity, personality, and sex. The intersection of these things.
At different times, I’ve been diagnosed with anxiety and depression. And also, borderline and avoidant PDs, back when I was in hospital at 23 or so. That was over a decade ago. I know these conditions are heavily stigmatised and elicit so much prejudice and discrimination. Which is why I discuss them openly now. For people with them, I want to share that things can and do get better with time. Even if it’s just your self-awareness and self-acceptance. For example, drinking can trigger BPD symptoms, which is one reason I quit.
There are diverging opinions on “personality disorders”. Should the term be changed? Is BPD truly a “personality disorder” or should it be reclassified, e.g., as a mood disorder, a schizophrenia-spectrum disorder, a trauma-related disorder, and so on?
Personally, I hate the term “personality disorder”. Yes, some individuals with them can be toxic. But many people with “personality disorders” are not. Many are decent people, who have just been unfortunate. For whatever reasons, stemming back to early childhood, they learned to adapt, survive, and cope in the ways they did. Also, remember that people without PDs or mental illnesses can very well be toxic, too.
I haven’t met a perfect person. I have, however, met plenty of people who thought they were perfect and beyond criticism.
Getting a diagnosis hopefully helps you to understand yourself and have more self-compassion. Finally, things make sense. But they can also lead to self-hatred, shame, treatment avoidance, stigma, self-stigma, etc. Even health provider stigma. Sort of ironic.
People will blame you, as though you somehow chose to be that way, you know? So, my experiences have led me to really try to spread empathy and understanding. We all know what people can be like. It’s much easier to just blame and judge the individual.
3. Your recent article focuses on climate anxiety in China, India, and Japan. How do you think mental health intersects with environmental sustainability, and what actions can individuals take to address climate anxiety?
There’s been a rise in climate anxiety, especially in younger people. I think climate change contributes to people’s anxieties because it is such a diffuse and ever-present threat, and it is impossible to control as one person.
It’s similar to other kinds of anxiety. With anxiety, ask yourself what specifically you are scared about, and why.
For example, with social phobia, you’re scared of being judged negatively. Why? Because we are tribal creatures, and in the past, being cast out from your tribe would likely lead to your death. That was a very real threat. On top of that, nobody can control what other people think, believe, or do. So, when around others, you feel this uneasy sense of amorphous danger that you can’t do anything about.
Climate anxiety is similar in some ways. The environmental crisis threatens human and non-human life. And as with other anxiety provokers, the threat is amorphous, diffuse, and impossible for yourself to control. I remember reading somewhere that all mental health conditions, like anxiety, stem from the fear of death. Annihilation. Sometimes people’s anxieties, in the modern context, can be seen as kind of irrational. However, climate change does pose a very real, obvious existential threat to everyone and all life.
But what can you actually do about it? Just like you can’t control other people, or their opinions or actions, it can feel like you can’t do much about climate change.
I guess just focus on what you can do. Don’t worry too much about other people, because at the end of the day, you can’t control them. And it’s not your responsibility to do that. For instance, I’ve recently become a vegetarian again. One of the greatest threats to biodiversity is agricultural land conversion, and much of that is for livestock. Eating a vegetarian diet helps.
If you’ve got intense climate anxieties, it’s best to speak with a professional or someone else who cares about sustainability. Also, don’t blame yourself. Don’t put the weight of the world on your own shoulders, as one person.
Corporations will try to shift the blame onto individuals, like the idea of the carbon footprint. They really couldn’t give a flying f*ck, except if it results in more profits. Or makes them look good, resulting in more profits. There is one extremely well-known tech corporation I’m thinking of in particular, which I used to be a vendor for, but I won’t name them (i.e., I signed an NDA).
Although terrible, the experience ultimately helped me to get in touch with my values. Identifying and living in alignment with your core values are essential for your overall well-being. So, that’s another suggestion for your mental health. Most people don’t even realise what their values are, let alone how to align with them. Doing so won’t prevent you from ever feeling depressed, anxious, or self-critical, but it certainly helps.
My point is, to help your climate anxieties, please don’t blame yourself for what is a much larger issue or expect yourself to solve the world’s problems. Just do what you can in your daily life.
4. You have a background in Asian studies and anthropology. How has this influenced your approach to writing and editing on topics related to mental health and social equity?
I’m biracial, born and raised in Australia, and have always seen things through a sort of racialised viewpoint. That includes my writing. For example, many of the most-cited, influential works, including those on psychology and mental health, have been written by people from European backgrounds. And who gets to choose what makes up the “literary canon”? Who wrote the style guides? English is a global language now; there are world Englishes.
I’m glad that societies are becoming aware of the need to diversify their representations and literature.
One reason I chose anthropology was that it focuses on the everyday person, the little guy. Ideally, it expands your mindset, beyond your deeply entrenched cultural context, attitudes, and assumptions. Beyond your stereotypes about others. Personally speaking, my background is Filipina, Chinese, various UK countries, Irish, as well as Australian, so I guess I grew up with that kind of mindset.
Anthropology, hopefully, increases your empathy for differences in the human experience. But lets you appreciate the things we have in common. I’m not just talking about sociocultural anthro, which is what I studied, but also biological anthropology, linguistics, archaeology, etc.
In terms of mental health and social equity, I try to be sensitive regarding the words I write publicly and to different viewpoints. That sensitivity I feel often comes from lived experience. You know how it hurts, so you try your best to be sensitive when you can. Of course, nobody’s perfect, and we all make mistakes. I have made many – especially when drinking!
The mass media plays a significant part in promoting stigma. In an ideal world, journalists and filmmakers – particularly those with large audiences, for the love of god – would recognise their ethical responsibility to represent these sensitive topics tactfully and accurately.
Actually, I recently interviewed my friend Zoey Ka, and we discussed topics related to this question. She’s an Asian Australian multicultural mental health advocate. And a lived experience support worker. Maybe it’s some kind of synchronicity that you asked to interview me the same week!
For example, we talked about intersectionality. That a person’s characteristics, identities, roles, and position in society can lead to unique kinds of marginalisation and stigma. Not only do you have to deal with mental illnesses, and those stereotypes, but also the stereotypes surrounding your ethnicity, race, or sex, for example. Like, what assumptions do people make about Chinese women? As Zoey brought up.
There are also cultural differences in attitudes about mental health. Some cultures have more shame surrounding them.
Honestly, I think the way many modern people live, in industrialised societies, is extremely unusual when you look at human history. We’re supposed to be raised in a big tribe that looks out for each other. With many people who you know from birth and trust. Who you have deep, unbreakable attachments with. (Unlike the superficial relationships, including with so many strangers, that we’re forced to constantly deal with in modern societies.)
So, in terms of mental health, if your biological parents are unable to raise you well, for whatever reason, other tribe members can step in. It’s like that African proverb (well, people say it’s an African proverb), “It takes a village to raise a child.” The isolated nuclear family is quite abnormal. I think structures within modern societies – capitalistic competition and exploitation, urban stress, isolation, cultural disconnection, etc. – have probably contributed to the global rise of mental illnesses.
Not to say cultures were ideal or unproblematic before. They definitely weren’t! Anyway, some societies still place a lot of value on extended family. I think it’s good, overall.
Also, cultural contexts and language are undoubtedly powerful influences in shaping how we perceive mental illness. And in determining what significance particular behaviours, rituals, and people have in society. We just have to step outside of the world’s Eurocentric lens for a bit.
For instance, shamans used to and still do hold therapeutic, transformational roles in some communities. But their individual methods are effective because they have the cultural context, ritualistic significance, and societal validation supporting them.
I want to add a trigger warning here. But as one example, what in Westernised, medicalised contexts is called “self-harm”, a 100% entirely negative thing, in particular cultures at particular times, could be viewed as scarification that has ritualistic significance and meaning, such as in coming-of-age rituals. I’m definitely not trying to advocate it! I’m just trying to illustrate how culture shapes our perceptions of mental illness and its symptoms.
5. In your article on video journaling for mental health, you mention the importance of self-reflection and self-expression. How do you see technology playing a role in supporting mental health, and what are some potential risks associated with it?
I think the internet has truly helped a lot of people with mental disorders. Especially the rarer and most stigmatised ones. You can freely access so many resources, including support groups, peers, open-access research, all kinds of media. Whereas people once felt isolated and ashamed, in pre-internet times, they now can connect 24/7 with people from around the world who share their struggles. You can remain somewhat anonymous. There’s also telehealth and online therapy. And e-prescriptions.
With the Internet of Things (IoT), we’re always connected. Literally all day every day. In many ways, it’s good. Tech innovations, like ever-evolving apps, keep ongoing track of factors that can affect our mental health, like sleep, exercise, mood, etc. Support is there whenever you need it. There’s so much potential. We’re fortunate to have these options.
But I sometimes think of this cute sticker book I have, with the cover that says: “Offline is the new luxury.” It’s interesting to think about!
In terms of social media, and just the internet’s social side in general, it depends on what you do with it. It can help you connect with peers. Or just the whole mental health arena. The internet’s opened up so many avenues to constructively share your thoughts and life. Creative expression is therapeutic, whether it’s private or public.
But many of us know the numerous, well-discussed downsides of social media. It can lead to a preoccupation with online validation, with likes, views, subscribers, visitors, and that. It can encourage superficial “friendships”. Many people are inauthentic or sensationalistic online, too – especially, if they’re trying to promote or sell us something. And people post a lot of stuff on the socials. A lot of stuff! Sometimes, among this endless influx of info and updates, random things can trigger us.
A risk with writing online about your mental health is that communication is imperfect, people are imperfect. There’s so much potential to be misinterpreted and reacted to negatively online. Particularly, when there are no nonverbals to assist communication. So, we invented emojis! Obviously, negative interactions can impact mental health when you’re discussing sensitive topics. The internet also makes it easy for your mistakes, and moments of weakness, to be recorded and disseminated.
So many people now are worried about online privacy, too. I mean, does it even exist?
For those with anxiety or paranoid tendencies, the IoT can create this unsettling feeling that virtually everything you do – with apps, browsers, your phone, any smart device, in public, or even just at home or in the car (with Google, Alexa, and Siri always listening) – is constantly monitored, logged, and stashed away. Somewhere.
Another amorphous, diffuse, ever-present threat? VPNs help in some respects. But I guess it doesn’t matter if you’re not doing anything dodgy.
Overall, I think technological innovations can benefit mental health. But some people find that the downsides of social media are just not worth it. Personally, I have a few lurker accounts on social media to keep up with stuff.
6. What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with mental health conditions but feels hesitant to seek help due to stigma or other barriers?
First, know that there are millions of others out there who understand. You might never meet them, but they are definitely out there. There are billions of us now. So, even though depression, or less common mental illnesses, etc. can make you feel isolated, and though society may shame you as an individual, there are many people out there who get it, and who won’t judge you. The internet can be a great way to connect with them.
Learn about self-stigma, too. I wasn’t even aware of that concept until not that long ago.
Often, we unconsciously internalise society’s dominant views. When you notice self-stigmatising thoughts, try to just curiously observe and question them. Where did this thought originate from? Considering the evidence from across your entire life, is the thought actually true, or just one of the junk thoughts that we all have?
Health provider stigma is real, too, more so for some conditions. I’ve experienced it. I guess it’s important to remember that we can’t control other people, including those who hold discriminatory opinions. As much as we wish someone would have empathy towards us, or be nice to us, sometimes that’s just not the case, and will never be.
But even if you have a negative experience with a certain individual, keep trying different therapists. I know that some people have more privilege in this regard. There are so many genuinely supportive, caring therapists out there.
And naturally, we just gel better with particular people. Try to find someone who fits your personality and values, not just your health condition. Like, if you’re a highly sensitive person, or you’re sensitive about particular aspects of your identity or experiences, you may prefer a therapist who is the same.
Also, consider alternatives to psychologists and psychiatrists.
If you’re concerned about stigma and prejudice, lived experience support workers and peer support can be very validating. When I was sectioned in hospital last year, two different inpatients said that one of the good things about being in there is that everyone knows what it’s like. I didn’t feel judged, or like people were expecting me to be a certain way.
When you’re speaking with a psychiatrist, psychologist, or doctor, there’s a power imbalance. That’s another reason peers and lived experience support can be great for you. But psychologists and psychiatrists definitely have their place, too. I know some people dislike meds, but medication and TMS do genuinely assist many individuals.
Community, cultural, and religious groups can also help. It depends on how supportive they are towards mental health.
And try alternative therapies, like art therapy, eco-therapy, or physical, body-focused ones that help heal trauma in the body. Floatation tanks, if you have them in your area, are therapeutic and don’t involve others at all. And wake therapy has alleviated depressive symptoms in significant percentages of study participants. These are just a few examples of alternatives to talk therapy.
As Zoey mentioned, people from multicultural communities may find traditional therapy routes inaccessible, stigmatising, or traumatising. This is due to language or cultural barriers or shame, etc. Sometimes people don’t necessarily even want to talk about their experiences but process them in other ways.
In terms of other structural barriers, such as lack of funding, poverty, and discrimination, the internet can be a good alternative. It provides a connection to peers, support, and resources. If you don’t have access to the internet, you wouldn’t be reading this, so I guess I don’t need to discuss that.
7. In your opinion, what are some of the most pressing issues related to mental health and social equity that need to be addressed today, and how can individuals contribute to making a positive change?
In my interview with Zoey, we discussed how there are not enough therapists who are people of colour. Racism impacts so many areas of life and certainly takes a toll on mental health. We talked about how, although many white therapists are great and very culturally sensitive, it would be fantastic to see more diversity in therapists and peer support workers.
So, if you’re a person of colour, or from another minority group, and you’re interested in pursuing a career in mental health, please do consider it! And if you’re in the field already, please try to diversify your culture and viewpoints. Educate yourself about intersectionality, cultural diversity, and power dynamics.
Another improvement I’d like to see is in workplace mental health, particularly in team environments.
I’m freelancing, so I’m fortunate that I don’t need to worry about this anymore. But I know many people don’t feel comfortable with, or sincerely supported, openly discussing their mental health at work. They’re scared of the stigma and discrimination; they’re scared of losing their jobs.
There are so many issues revolving around workplaces and employee mental illness. For instance, bullying and power dynamics, toxic team environments, uncaring managers, stigma and discrimination, long hours, low remuneration, and the struggles of working mothers – and just women in general – and people of colour. These work-related aspects exacerbate mental illness.
One observation I particularly hate is how people are extremely careful about what they write, or with anything that is recorded. But in casual, unrecorded interactions, they feel free to treat you however they want. Why? Because there’s no evidence that can be used against them, or so they think. It disgusts me.
Currently, I’m volunteering with an Australian non-profit called The United Project. One of the co-founders had his former career end due to his mental health. They do much-needed work to create psychologically safe workplace team environments, where people feel genuinely supported discussing mental health. They also aim to implement technology to proactively identify psychosocial well-being risks. By taking workplace mental wellness seriously, benefits are reaped by both employees and employers.
And, likewise, there are so many consequences of not facilitating these spaces: suicide, exacerbated symptoms, decreased productivity, distrust and resentment, more sick leave, high turnover and associated recruitment costs, a negative reputation, OH&S violations, workers’ compensation lawsuits, and so on.
So, for many reasons, employers should try to cultivate safe and really supportive workplaces. Where everyone can discuss these things, without prejudice and discrimination. I know certain work environments, such as corporate ones, are not exactly known for celebrating authenticity and vulnerability. But psychologically safe workplaces are becoming a legal requirement in Australia, actually.
Zoey suggested that having a really good flexibility policy makes a lot of difference, too. And I think it helps if bosses and senior management are comfortable showing vulnerability, and admitting to imperfection and their own challenges. It creates trust.
There are many other issues I could raise, but those two are at the forefront for me right now.
8. What can readers expect to see from you in the future in terms of writing and advocacy work? Are there any particular topics or issues that you are particularly passionate about exploring?
I never really thought of myself as an advocate until my talk with Zoey. I asked what advice she’d give to someone interested in starting out in mental health advocacy. Her reply was that “mental health advocacy” is such a loaded term. That we often think it means advocating on a national level, with the commissioner, discussing policy and systemic changes, or working in some sort of professional capacity.
She clarified that just speaking (or writing) about mental health and your experiences, with your friends, family, and the community, is also a form of advocacy. There are diverse ways to be an advocate, even if you are solely an advocate for yourself.
I’m grateful to Psychreg for giving me a platform to discuss mental health, my lived experiences, and psychology in general. In many cases, outlets only accept submissions from professionals, such as doctors, psychologists, social workers, and so on. As a writer and editor, I truly appreciate how your site retains an author’s voice and attitudes, without filtering or censoring them to make them more “palatable”.
In the future, I hope to continue writing to destigmatise mental illnesses. Especially, those that elicit a lot of prejudice, such as personality disorders, psychosis-related disorders, and substance use disorders.
It would be fantastic to interview individuals with lived experience of a wide range of conditions. The more we talk about our experiences, the less alone people feel. But as Zoey and I discussed, we hope that nobody feels pressured to share if they would rather not. That’s completely fine and understandable, too.
Workplace mental health is another area I’m passionate about. And multicultural mental health and intersectionality. Also, I love thinking about social and evolutionary psychology. It’s such a diverse field. I considered studying psychology back in the day, but the statistics side scared me! Definitely more of a qualitative than a quantitative person.
If you read this far, thank you for that! If you’re interested, my talk with Zoey is here and here. She works for the Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia and is a part of the Finding North team.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.
The articles we publish on Psychreg are here to educate and inform. They’re not meant to take the place of expert advice. So if you’re looking for professional help, don’t delay or ignore it because of what you’ve read here. Check our full disclaimer.