Deakin Wellbeing Ambassador Akand Chilukuri is a fierce advocate for mental health awareness. As we focus on mental health for Mind Matters week (Monday 3–Friday 7 August), Akand shares his background, his personal journey with depression and anxiety, and why he’s determined to get young people talking about this issue.
Growing up mostly in India, Akand moved to Australia as a teenager. His recovery from a range of mental health challenges has shaped his character, making him strong, resilient, empathetic and passionate. He wants all Deakin students to know that suffering in silence will only increase the burden, and that help and support is available.
A year into my bachelor degree I began experiencing serious mental health issues
‘Feeling an overwhelming sense of responsibility to perform well at uni and in life took a toll on my mind and body. I had graduated high school earlier than my peers with good grades, a list of extracurricular activities and proud Indian parents. I only needed a ‘Doctor’ in front of my name to complete the Indian package.
‘But uni, especially in a new environment, was just something I wasn’t prepared for, or able to even think of failing at. With that mentality, things started to fall apart. Small things like not finding friends, getting lost in the big city, having a hard time with certain subjects, not understanding what any Aussies would say – little by little, things started to pile up. My insecurities took hold and I could not ask the lecturers for help. I started to lose connection with past relationships and having no one to talk to made it all so much worse. I found myself crying every night from the stress, it caused nightmares, and I showed signs of severe depression, anxiety and low mood.
‘My mental health journey started with a routine health check-up at the Deakin Medical Centre. A lovely nurse asked me how I was doing, which made me look at my overall wellbeing. I opened up about my difficulties and she listened to me for almost an hour. Talking about it made me feel better – my worries and hardships felt acknowledged and so less scary. The nurse suggested I speak with a Deakin counsellor.
Seeking support felt scary but was important in my journey to recover
‘It was initially very frightening – I come from a conservative background where the term “mental” is associated with severe psychological illness. I had to think deeply about my prejudices, as well as justify my pain to my family.
‘Will a counsellor solve all your worries with a swish of a magic wand? No, but they give you time to reflect, think and care for yourself. This is the first step in moving forward. If things are overwhelming, you can also try a phone helpline service – they will listen and understand.
‘Being offered medication felt overwhelming and scary. My doctor outlined the side effects and prescribed me a low dosage initially, which made me feel more comfortable.
‘Growing up in India as queer was extremely challenging. I hated myself for so long not knowing why, only to realise it was my parents living as part of myself condemning me and shaming me for living as who I am. Although I still face challenges that come from my insecurities and self-hate, I strive to find a path filled with self-love and acceptance as I grow in life.’
A major part of healing has been knowing it’s not going to be smooth and it won’t happen overnight
‘Mental illness is a result of poor coping mechanisms and continued emotional dysregulation. Taking this apart and practising new habits takes effort and time.
‘During COVID-19, reaching out for support certainly felt much more difficult. I felt guilty for feeling anxious while everyone was having a hard time. This constant comparison took a major toll as I became exhausted supressing my emotions. Eventually, I recognised the cycle and reached out to headspace for support.
‘Don’t downplay and suppress your emotions in an attempt to respect others. This ends up in a toxic loop of ignoring your own need for care.’
Tips and strategies from Akand
Advice for students who may be battling similar issues
‘Start small and simply start. The key to improving your mood starts with being aware of what you’re feeling. Being mindful of your thoughts and emotions lets you attend to what’s most important in life – you.
‘Writing in a diary really helps keep your mental health in check. If you feel overwhelmed with your goals, break them down into manageable steps. Be realistic but also kind. Don’t expect new habits to flourish while old ones live on. Focus on changing your way of living rather than quick fixes or fads. Remind yourself – even if you feel undeserving, you are loved and you have value.’
Early warning signs or symptoms to look out for
‘As you start to be more aware of your thoughts and emotions, be mindful of when they snowball or you catastrophise. During difficult times, you can end up thinking about the worst-case scenario. This endless worry has a major impact on your day-to-day mood.
‘A behavioural shift that comes with poor mental health is seclusion and self-alienation. If you find yourself walking away from relationships and people, seek out a familiar face. It’s important to feel loved and share the love with others.
‘Quality of sleep and appetite are affected by poor mental health and easily overlooked. Maintain a healthy sleep schedule with eight to nine hours of quality sleep. Regardless of your appetite, have three meals a day. While it’s easy to dismiss these habits, they are the building blocks of your day and essential to balancing mood.’
How to support friends or family who are dealing with mental illness
‘It’s important to first make your friend or loved one feel heard and supported. This simply means listening to them. Avoid trying to fix their issues or relate to their situation – this means you’re not prioritising the person but rather their circumstances. It can be emotionally exhausting at times, so simply spend time together rather than having deep emotional conversations.
Why it’s so important for people to talk openly about these issues
‘Communicating your own hardships and struggles not only helps others better manage their own mental state but also provides a very valuable connection to people in the same situation. This helps to break the stigma around mental health and provides a positive perspective of self-love and compassion.’
Recommended support services and coping strategies
In times where things are difficult but not extreme, do one thing that cheers you up in your own way. It might be making a dish you loved as a kid, watching a favorite movie, listening to music or taking a walk. Be aware of yourself and your needs, and approach yourself with kindness and compassion.’
- View the full Mind Matters program to see the range of activities on offer throughout the week.
- Please reach out for help if you need support or would like to talk to someone. You can access a range of services, both here at Deakin and in the community.