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Mental Health Does Not Discriminate





No matter who you are or where you come from, mental health does not discriminate. No one is an exception. It impacts lives across all ages, backgrounds, and walks of life. Mental Health could impact you, your friend, your son, your daughter, your wife, your husband, your partner, your parents, or any other significant person in your life.


43% of Australians aged 16-85 years have experienced a mental illness at some time in their life. Additionally, in Australia, half of all adult mental health challenges emerge before the age of 14 and more than 50% of children experiencing mental health challenges are not receiving professional help. The truth is that no one is immune to the complexities of the human mind. 


We have come far in respect to destigmatising mental health as not too long ago, there was significant stigma around mental health. People who experienced mental ill-health were thought of as ‘attention seeking’, ‘crazy’, or ‘weak’. Or, that what that person was experiencing is ‘all in their head’ - that it isn't real. As a result of this there were significant barriers for those seeking support within the mental health system due to perceived fears or judgements. Sadly, individuals with mental health were also feared and excluded from the community. Since, there has been a significant improvement in shifting societies' attitudes toward mental health. This is due to a lot of work being done to destigmatise mental health including improving mental health literacy, education around misconceptions, increased advocacy and public awareness campaigns like R U OK? day, Mental Health Month, and World Suicide Prevention Day. More and more people are speaking about their mental health, reaching out to health professionals for support, and taking care of their mental wellness. It is estimated that over 1 million Australians seek support from Lifeline per year, and 2.9 million Australians accessed 14 million Medicare subsidised mental health services between 2021-2022. Additionally, over 10,000 people each month reach out for support through the Black Dog Institute’s online clinic. We have seen workplaces acknowledging mental health as something to be taken seriously. We have seen movements to support people seeking out support and awareness campaigns. We have seen more compassion, understanding, support, and awareness around mental health and rightfully so - it deserves our attention and space!


However, when it comes to complex mental health diagnoses, like schizophrenia, bipolar, C-PTSD, etc - we see a significant lack of awareness and understanding. These varying challenges come under the umbrella of Mental Health, yet are often viewed differently and still have significant stigma associated with it. This comes down to a lack of education and understanding, and the language that is often used when describing these individuals has not progressed in the way that other mental health literacy has. It’s important to reflect on how language and words can create further barriers for those who need to seek the support they deserve. The language used within the media plays a significant role in portraying individuals with complex mental health. Not only is this language doing these individuals and the wider work that mental health professionals do injustice, but it inevitably impacts individuals seeking out the help they need. It also creates a misinformed generalisation around what someone with mental health may do, or may experience. The reality is that these inaccurate portrayals only further stigmatise and stereotype this population. The importance of language cannot be underestimated. It shapes the entire narrative. 


It is essential that we strive to educate ourselves and deepen our understanding. To strive for accurate representations that reflect the diverse experiences of those living with mental ill-health instead of stigmatising and creating a barrier for the people who most need our compassion, empathy, and humility. ‘SANE’ is an incredible organisation that acknowledges the stigma around mental health within the media. Their ‘StigmaWatch’ program monitors and responds to reports of inaccurate or inappropriate stigmatising media portrayals of mental ill-health and suicide. They recognise that despite the recent advances in awareness around mental health, stigma toward people with mental ill-health is highly prevalent in Australia and often reinforced by the media. We encourage you to report any media coverage that doesn’t sit right with you and that you find stigmatises mental health. StigmaWatch will investigate the issue and contact the media outlet involved. In doing this, you are contributing to breaking the stigma and advocating for those who may have been portrayed inaccurately. 


In striving to educate and deepen our understanding it's important to also advocate for the necessary funding required for individuals with mental ill-health to access the appropriate services. This was highlighted in an article by a psychiatrist and mental health researcher from the Black Dog Institute, who urged that our focus needs to shift from general awareness campaigns toward addressing our under-funded mental health care system. Currently, mental ill-health is the leading cause of long-term disability in Australia - yet we have inadequate funding and research for mental health care in comparison to less prevalent physical health issues. In a recent addition of The Project, Cameron, a Peer Ambassador from SANE.org who has lived with a diagnosis of Schizophrenia for 23 years, spoke about the serious issue we have with our complex mental health system - the cost of complex psychiatry that is often required for complex mental ill-health is a significant barrier, as well as the long waiting list for these services. We believe that adequate funding and services for mental health are necessary nationwide to ensure we do not allow things like social inequality, unemployment, and poverty to remain as barriers for individuals with complex mental health. These individuals need and deserve support. This is something that we would love to hear more of from media outlets who have the ability to advocate on a larger scale.


Mental health does not discriminate based on age, race, or religion. It does not matter how much money you earn, where you live, or what you do for work. No one is immune to mental health. It is important we educate and speak out against media services who inaccurately portray mental-ill health and suicide, and deal with the key issues around mental health which includes tackling the causes because whilst no one is immune to mental health, there are steps that we can take to minimise the impact!


Extra resources and references can be found linked below:


StigmaWatch


Research and Statistics





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