Caring for others with empathy

For many of us, we have passing interactions daily, or to get in touch with a friend or loved one, they’re only a few key presses away. Despite this...

For many of us, we have passing interactions daily, or to get in touch with a friend or loved one, they’re only a few key presses away. Despite this, a simple truth can transform the experiences of the people we interact with and leave a mark on those around us: caring for others with empathy.

The person you’re in the elevator with might become a long-time friend, a potential business partner, or even a connection that could change your career.

Credit: Henri Mathieu-Saint-Laurent | Pexels

If you share, I will listen. If you listen, I will share.

Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience suggests that we will remember only 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, and 90% of what we do. In other words, whether you converse with your peers, employer, co-workers, or spouse for 10 minutes, they are likely to only retain less than half of what you’re saying. So, how can we make sure these interactions are as meaningful and memorable as possible?

According to Marshal Rosenberg, PhD psychologist and founder of Nonviolent Communication, empathic listening to other people’s needs, and honesty in communicating our needs to others are two key elements of successful and compassionate communication.

Empathic listening goes beyond simply hearing words – but also involves making a genuine effort to connect with another person emotionally. In Michael Sorensen’s book I Hear You: The Surprisingly Simple Skill Behind Extraordinary Relationships, he speaks on how truly good listeners do more than just listen.

“They listen, seek to understand, and then validate. That third point is the secret sauce—the magic ingredient,” says Michael.

This is the essence of empathic listening, which can involve rephrasing what someone has said to understand further, acknowledging what they must feel, and asking open-ended questions.

Active listening may not feel natural to all of us, although it is a skill we can all use to grow. Regardless of who you’re interacting with, when a person feels heard and valued, this builds trust and can be crucial to steering clear of misunderstandings.

Becoming the Best Version of Yourself

Research shows that gratitude and empathy are closely linked to each other.

When we allow ourselves to remain pessimistic, we can inadvertently project those anxieties onto those around us. This destructive behaviour has the potential to derail any relationship. However, we can dismantle these behaviours.

Renowned psychologist and best-selling author Dan Ariely introduces the concept of ‘self-signaling’ in his book, The Honest Truth About Dishonesty. According to this idea, our behavior defines us, rather than how we define ourselves, determining our behavior.

When we consistently display acts of generosity, we naturally become more generous. Regularly expressing gratitude to others ingrains it within us, and we eventually begin to genuinely feel it.

In saying that, it is important that we not only show gratitude to others, but also to acknowledge our own small wins and accomplishments. Once our cup overflows with gratitude, we can continue to share it with others and exhibit greater empathy towards others.

Credit: Fauxels | Unsplash

The Gift of Growth

Taking the time to reflect on our life experiences offers profound benefits. It allows us to organise our thoughts, process our emotions, consciously respond to them, and discover new avenues of mindful communication.

The methods I have shared in this piece have not only transformed my relationships, but also shaped my perception of self. You can start implementing them in your own life immediately, witnessing the positive impact they can have.

Now, I encourage you to take out a piece of paper and write a letter. Address it to yourself, a family member, or even a stranger. Approach it with compassion and vulnerability, for this simple act has the potential to profoundly touch someone’s heart.

Credit: Priscilla Du Preez | Unsplash

“I might be crazy”: Mental health over uni burnout

Your university career can wait, units can be re-taken but you are irreplaceable!...

Trigger/content warning: Topics surrounding mental illness and suicide are discussed throughout this anecdote. See below for mental health and wellbeing services available for WSU students.

You know that song that goes:

“I remember when,

I remember, I remember,

when I lost my mind?

There was something,

So special about that place”

(Song: Crazy, Gnarls Barkley)

Because I have been thinking a lot about it of late. Because I can tell you it has taken on a whole new meaning within my head since the end of the last year. 2020 was one hell of a new decade to enter and with the re-introduction of the masks this May. Needless to say – last year is still a bleeding wound that we are still trying to heal.

It is honestly something that I have struggled with, while the world caught the virus and we all wanted to jump off Zoom and get on the beers. For the last year, I learned about how terrible I was at recovering, and truly how sick I had been making myself over the first few years of my degree. I, unfortunately, had to learn this the hard way and from the bed of an extra fun hospital ward, which takes your shoelaces upon entry.

Illustration: Hayley Elford. I drew this image while in hospital, reflecting the challenges that stood in the way of my goals. Blue = mental health, green = Tourette Syndrome and red = university.

Towards June of last year, my mental health took an unexpected turn as it spiralled. The social isolation, mixed with the wrong medication for my body had combined with the overarching backlash I had been facing with the university over my existence as a neurodivergent noisemaker. With my Tourette’s Syndrome, my tics have created an extra challenge of proving my capabilities as a teacher, and worthiness of the same education and placement as my peers. Over the years, I have advocated for myself, pushing at personal limitation by trying to educate others about Tourette Syndrome and tics. I participated in social events, student clubs, studied full time as well as volunteered outside of the university, running a support group and community for others with Tourette’s. In the process, I created a version of myself that was ill and unable to see a light out.

For many students, I have been told when faced with a similar situation, a person would stop, take a break and take the much-needed time to recover. For me, I took a 10-day stay in a psych ward and choose to keep working towards my path of teaching. I would call student wellbeing services to inform them that I would not be able to complete my assignments, due to the limited access to devices in psych wards. At the same time, I would be working on my assignments using the random bit of paper I could annoy the nurses for, and some random crayons I had found left by other patients. This was my first admission to the psych ward – but it would not be my last.

After getting out of the hospital, the first thing I would do is jump straight away back into uni, pushing myself until I reached a second breaking point. This time around, I tried to take a hold of my life and emailed the university, explaining that my absence was due to the stress of university life, and facing continuous discrimination for my tics.

Once again, I had found myself in the mental health crisis that I had never expected …except this time around – I found myself in a new psych ward and stayed there for a month. Like the time before, I would exit the ward to jump both feet back into my university work with a passion and anger to follow my dreams of becoming a teacher. History repeated itself, as I followed the same spiralling pathway that leads back to the psych ward, again, and again, believing that the next time would be different… that I would not burnout again.

I have managed to stay out now for 4 months. I will not lie and tell you that walking the mental health journey has been easy or that I will not go back again – but I do want to share my experience. I want students in all bodies and minds to know they are not alone. I want students to understand that they should not have to work until they are burnt out to feel worthy of being able to study, and that they need to be just as understanding about their mental health as they would be of the physical health. I want to share this so I can prevent others from experiencing the unnecessary expectations that I put on myself and urge my peers, family, and friends yet to be made …please remember that you matter too. Your university career can wait, units can be re-taken but you are irreplaceable!

I may be crazy, but remember – you are still valid, and it is okay to admit that you are not okay.


If you have experienced distress from the content in this piece, or you are struggling with mental illness, suicide ideation or any other factors negatively impacting your ability to cope, consider getting in touch with the following service:

Counselling @ Western Sydney Uni 1300 668 370 (option 4 then option 1)

Disability Services @ Western Sydney Uni 1300 668 370 (option 4 then option 1) or disability@westernsydney.edu.au

Lifeline 13 11 14

Headspace 1800 650 890

Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636

NSW Mental Health Line 1800 011 511





I read it so you don’t have to: how the FLY handbook can help broke uni students

Some books have the power to change lives - this is one of them....

Illustration by Sarah Cupitt

Some books have the power to change lives – this is one of them.

Once leaving the safety net of high school, you’re on your own. Whether you remain living at home with your parents or not, the only person in control of your future is yourself. University students are notoriously known to be broke, and adulting with its finances can inevitably begin to creep up on you with little financial literacy. After moving out of home at 18, I thought I’d save you guys the hassle of reading the 300+ page paperback by Marlies & Jai Hobbs and see if it’s worth your time, and of course, chat with the authors themselves.

“Much of FLY and the contents came about from our personal life and business experiences. Jai and I came from different backgrounds, careers and upbringings, we married young in our early 20’s, and as we approached our mid-thirties – we both felt there was plenty we wished we had learnt in our high schooling years about financial literacy and life skills. These could have seen us avoid many costly mistakes and stressful situations. Instead, we learnt things along the way, often through trial and error. Fortunately for us, Jai always had a passion for finance and has worked in the finance industry for over 17 years, and his knowledge helped us immensely throughout our journey.”

The book incorporates a range of essential topics: earning money, tax, budgeting, tertiary study, credit record, significant purchases, property, investments, and more. I especially admire the guide because it runs through the basics and explains their importance, and branches into the niche of finance topics such as degree fee structures, micro-investing, and how to make a will. And if you want to plan and protect your financial future – it runs through financial hardship, how to start your own business, and setting lifelong financial goals.

Half of all Australians struggle with financial literacy.

“No matter what career you end up in, everyone needs a basic knowledge in financial literacy to ensure they make the most of opportunities, avoid costly pitfalls and set themselves up for their best possible future.”

“I studied accounting at high school and went on to include two years of Commerce as part of my law degree. Jai has been a mortgage broker since he was 19. Despite our financial educations and extensive experience in our careers and businesses, neither of us felt we received a well-rounded financial education at the optimal time in our [high school] life to help us with life’s important financial decisions and milestones.”

But isn’t all this information online?

Look, finance tips and tricks are all over the internet – it’s also hidden behind paid subscriptions and buried in pricey self-help books, scattered knowledge. After graduating high school, I went into a frantic hunt of searching up every individual finance topic and worst-case scenario I could come across. Not to mention reading about renting rights, living expenses, content insurance, youth allowance: EVERYTHING. I vividly remember the sleepless nights staring at the screen, copying and pasting any tips or resources I could find into a 50+ page word doc that ideally would make sure I didn’t screw up.

“During our brainstorming sessions in the early stages of FLY, we tracked back over our journeys and agreed on a logical sequence of financial milestones and helpful information that we felt should be covered in FLY. We wanted it to be comprehensive and all-encompassing, a one-stop reference guide in financial literacy. The information was a compilation of knowledge and research from Jai, myself and editor Cassandra Charlesworth, brought together in one credible and heavily referenced financial literacy handbook.”

There is so much potential for this guide to help young adults. So much more than maths in high school, learning how to manage a mobile contract and buying your first car. All the online research and stacks of notes I created barely even scraped the surface.

“We can’t define it any better, and we hope FLY is the perfect handbook to deliver this set of skills and knowledge to allow our youth to make informed and effective decisions with all of their financial resources, at a time in their life when it will make the biggest impact on their futures.”

Seven exclusive tips from Marlies herself!

  1. Consciously take responsibility for the future you
  2. Prioritise your financial literacy education to be empowered and seize opportunities and avoid costly mistakes.
  3. 50/30/20 rule: Spend – 50% on needs, 30% on wants, and save 20%
  4. Understand compound interest – how it can work for and against you
  5. Avoid credit traps that could jeopardise your future borrowing capacity/goals
  6. Limit personally borrowing money for depreciating assets: save and pay cash where possible to avoid hefty interest
  7. Don’t procrastinate with starting to invest: don’t overthink it, educate yourself, and start small. Whatever you do, just START!

To be successful, you need to want and embrace it.

Knowledge alone isn’t enough to improve your financial health; what’s important is what you can do with that knowledge – and the sooner you start using it, the better off you’ll be. FLY- Financially Literate Youth is the perfect handbook for every young person who wants to be armed with the financial knowledge and confidence to set themselves up for success as they chart the course of their life.


Marouf Alemeddine: “You don’t realise what you have until you lose it”

WSU university student, Marouf, shares his insights to challenges he faces when transferring degrees, and the importance of putting yourself first. ...

Marouf Alemeddine has decided to change degrees after his first year of university. He explains the reasons behind transferring from Medicine to Teaching, and what inspired him to follow his dreams. Interviewed by W’SUP editor, Dania Roumieh, Marouf shares the challenges he faced after losing his grandmother, emphasising the importance of prioritising yourself and your mental health as a student.


Why did you decide to change your degree?

“Many things … on top of COVID-19 changed my perspective on what I want from life – my grandma got sick and passed away. I realised that I wanted to take on a career path that not only gave me a better direction, but also gave me a quality of life, and very rewarding.

Marouf Alemeddine


What made you want to transfer from Medicine to Teaching?

“As rewarding as medicine can be, and as great of a professional it is in the real world – I felt that I had to find my true passion … I feel that helping students is my passion, and that teaching goes beyond the classroom…


it’s not a matter of what content you teach or getting your HSC, it’s about developing long-term relationships with your students. I still remember my teacher from high school and till today, he’s honestly my biggest inspiration when it comes to teaching. Because without him even realising what he’s done for me – he’s a role model for me.”


Since changing degrees, how are you finding studying considering all the obstacles you’ve faced, in particular with COVID-19?

“When everything transitioned online because of COVID – I was dreading it. I used to enjoy engaging in conversations with my classmates, and I found that interacting on zoom calls wasn’t the same. I found it much harder to adapt and I still don’t feel like I’ve completely adapted…


On top of that, with my grandmother passing, I made everything harder. I realised I needed to take a break impulse and see that I needed to mentally recover. I was mentally and physically drained and I couldn’t keep up. It’s important to take care of your mental health.”


How have you managed to maintain your wellbeing and yourself since?

“I put my studies on hold for a second and I began to kind of appreciate everything that was around me. I think that really helped me, just being grateful for what I have, because as cliché as it sounds – you don’t realise what you have until you lose it…


After losing my grandmother, I didn’t want to make the same mistakes of putting my studies first and my family second. There were so many times that she was healthy, and for instance, I wouldn’t go to that family barbeque on a Sunday because I had worked, or I was studying…


I never really sat down and thought to myself: wow, this could be the last time we’re all here together. You begin to really appreciate what you do have, and I don’t want to make those same mistakes again…


After a while, I started to go out and enjoy life more often. I enjoyed the free time I have with family and made the most of it before returning back to university. I started to enjoy the small things like going to pick my sisters up with my mum, or going to cafes, or fishing with my friends. I’m constantly reflecting on my life and can’t afford to make the same mistake of sacrificing my mental health. I gave myself that free time to think about the company around me, and that’s what really helped me get back on track. It’s a work in progress but it will always be a work in progress”.


Marouf’s words of advice:
You have to prioritise yourself. Be selfish. Put yourself first, because I found that I was constantly putting myself second. So, if somebody needed something, I dropped everything I was doing and helped them … even though it was hard, I wanted to help them and that it’s a good thing. But you have to always put yourself first”



Why a psychologist encourages you to go on social media during COVID-19

Connecting with friends online is now more important than ever. ...

While self-isolation is vital for flattening the COVID-19 curve, the lack of social interactions can have devastating consequences on our wellbeing and mental health.


Social media connections. Photo: Shayma Abdellatif

The uncertainty that clouds our lives is causing stress and anxiety for almost everyone, however, Dr Harley Watson says that social media offers an antidote to relief some of this anxiety, and ensure our mental wellbeing is maintained.

“The biggest thing is to remember that you’re not alone in this. Everyone else is experiencing this too,” she says.

Dr Harley Watson is a clinical psychologist and the CEO of Open Parachute, an online school health program that raises awareness about mental health among teenagers and aims to reduce bullying in school.

Clinical psychologist and CEO of Open Parachute, Dr Harley Watson











Social media is the reality of this generation, and instead of denying that fact, Dr Watson said that we need to find ways to take advantage of what this reality offers. The key to interacting online is whether the experience is having a positive or a negative outcome on one’s wellbeing. Having a network of support, especially for young people, where they can have intimate conversations about their emotions and struggles, is now more important than ever.

“Reaching out online and staying connected to their friends and using social media to connect with them is really important for their mental health right now,” says Dr Watson.

Being online often may also mean being exposed to content that lowers self-esteem and confidence, which only adds to the problem. In order to avoid this, Dr Watson advises social media users to interact with friends in small private networks instead of sharing personal feelings and content publicly.

“When we share something with the whole world, we lose that personal feedback and personal interaction, and we open ourselves to any type of response including online bullying,” she says.


When asked about online challenges that appeared in the past months, Dr Watson says that if participating in those public challenges helps young people cope with this crisis, then that’s fine. Creating a sense community support and knowing that everyone is going through similar struggles is equally important. However, she says that every person needs to constantly reflect on any online interaction, and use their judgment to determine whether that’s beneficial or counter-productive.

     “Ultimately, we want the online world to connect us not separate us,” she says.

In a Snapchat survey, the majority of Snapchatters, 66 percent, said that communicating with friends and family online have helped them cope with the situation, and allowed them to still enjoy some quality time despite the COVID-19 restrictions. More than 71 percent said they have become more aware about how to stay safe, through the platform, since the beginning of the crisis.

Many social media platforms are playing an increasing role in proving information about ways to stay safe during COVID-19. In a press release, General Manager for Snap Inc. ANZ, Kathryn Carter, said that Snapchat is collaborating with local and international health experts to increase awareness about health among its users.

“Content on our Discover platform is curated and moderated, and we work closely with only a select set of partners, including some of the most trusted news organisations around the world, to develop fact-based content for our community,” says Ms Carter.

In partnership with the World Health Organisation (WHO), Snapchat launched a series of filters and Bitmojis with information about hygiene and self-isolation, as well as links to local mental health support services.


If you need mental health support services, don’t hesitate to contact any of the following:


Why young and beautiful people get flu shots

Your friend gets the flu Lauren* looks like a university student you know.She wears her long hair in a ponytail and carries a backpack to class. But s...
Your friend gets the flu

Lauren* looks like a university student you know.She wears her long hair in a ponytail and carries a backpack to class. But she’s not like everyone else. One wrong move could put her in hospital.

Her eyes survey the lecture theatre carefully. She sees some new friends sitting near the front, but one of them is holding a tissue. She makes her way to the back of the class. No one saw her. The lecture starts. Phew! She’s safe for another day.

Lauren has been fighting an immune condition all her life. A simple cold or flu can make her sick for months or even send or her hospital. She doesn’t want her condition to hold her back, though. So she has decided to go to university anyway.

Thankfully, there are some simple things you can all do to help Lauren, and others at high risk of flu infection.

Who is at risk of flu?

Generally speaking, young adults are not at high risk from flu. However, various medical conditions can affect a person’s immunity and increase their flu risk at any age, even in young adults. These include Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and Lyme disease, to name just a few. Many of these conditions will not be obvious to a casual observer, so you may not know your new classmate or friend has one of these high risk conditions.

If university or TAFE students catch influenza during examination times or when major assignments are due, it can have a major impact.

People living in confined spaces, such as dormitories can also be at higher risk of contracting influenza. The Centers for Disease Control Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices encourages students and other people living in dormitories to be immunised.

In the broader community, young children and elderly adults are at highest risk of contracting influenza. This is because young children have not yet developed strong immune systems, and elderly adults can experience weakening of their immune systems with age.

Your flu jab could save your friend

You can help protect both yourself and the people around you by getting immunised. People with immune conditions, like Lauren, are not able to be immunised themselves. They count on the people around them to be immunised and provide protection via “herd immunity.”

Herd immunity is the protection that we gain from being surrounded by people who are immune to a disease. If the people around us, or our “herd” has been immunised, they are much less likely to get sick and spread those illnesses to us. For herd immunity to work, however, approximately 95 per cent of the “herd” needs to be vaccinated. This is why it is so important for healthy people to be vaccinated.

Dr Graham Jones, director of higher degree research and senior lecturer in human molecular biology at Western Sydney University, explains that: “Being immunised helps the community. If enough people are immunised, those most at risk – older people, young infants and people with reduced immunity – will be better protected. So being immunised every year is good for you and for the people around you.”

The following image from the National Institutes of Health (USA) explains herd immunity.

Herd immunity, as illustrated by the National Institutes of Health (USA)
When should you get vaccinated?

The best time to get vaccinated is June or July. Dr Jones explains that: “Historically, the peak time for the flu season is during August, but in some years cases of flu can already be on the increase in June. Immunisation primes your immune system to make antibodies that will fight the flu virus.”

Many workplaces provide free flu vaccinations for employees. Otherwise, the cost is usually approximately $20 from your doctor or pharmacist.

Are vaccinations dangerous?

The short answer is “No.” The perception that immunisations could be dangerous began due to an article published in a medical journal called The Lancet in 1998. It has since been revealed that the researchers responsible for this paper falsified their data and the paper has since been retracted.

Dr Jones points out that “large population-based studies have not found a link between vaccines and serious illness.”

Minor symptoms following vaccination such as a sore arm, redness and localised swelling are common and expected. These are indicators that your body is recognising the vaccine and starting to its work to build your immunity. “Serious adverse reactions to a vaccine are rare, at around 3.4 cases per million vaccinations,” said Dr Jones.

Of course, doctors and immunisation nurses are vigilant for even the slightest risk. It is for this reason that they will take a brief medical history before administering a vaccine. It is also why you will be asked to wait 15 minutes after vaccination before leaving the surgery.

Dr Jones advises: “If you have been feeling unwell, or have allergies, or other serious or chronic illnesses, you do need to inform your doctor or nurse prior to being immunised. It is important that you are informed about immunisation, so never hesitate to discuss any questions you may have with your doctor.”

Do flu vaccines work?

Immunisation is unquestionably one of the great successes of public health, significantly reducing infant mortality and keeping people healthier throughout their lives,” notes Dr Jones.

However, there are two important points to remember about flu vaccines: Firstly, the strains (or types) of flu virus circulating change from one flu season to the next. And secondly, your body takes approximately two weeks to develop immunity after you have a flu shot. Each year a new flu vaccine is manufactured to best protect against that year’s particular strains of flu.

“This means it is important to have a flu shot every year, and to have your flu shot early enough to allow your immune system to make antibodies,” says Dr Jones.

The 2017 flu season was the worst in Australia since 2009. More than 700 deaths in Australia were attributed to flu-related illnesses, and many more hospitalizations and days off work.

“While having a flu shot doesn’t mean you won’t be infected by the flu virus, it does mean that you are more likely to have much milder and shorter-lived symptoms.”

How to stop germs from spreading

If you do catch the flu, or if those around you catch it, there are some simple tricks you can use to prevent the germs from spreading. These include: 1) Coughing into a tissue and then throw the tissue away, 2) Coughing into your elbow like Dracula or The Count, 3) Washing your hands regularly and especially after coughing, 4) Not touching your face with your hands, and 5) Staying home if you’re really sick – ask a friend for their notes or watch the lecture online.

It’s also important to keep well in general. A balanced diet with ample iron, zinc and vitamin C will give your body the nutrients it needs to build immunity and fight infection. Getting enough sleep is also important for staying well.

*Editor’s note: None of the photos with this story show Lauren. In fact, we don’t know if any of the people in these photos have the flu or get vaccinated.

Author: Lois MacCullagh