Discriminating attitudes towards people with a mental illness have decreased over the past decade, but many Australians still believe people with depression are dangerous, ”weak-willed” and have themselves to blame for their condition.
Beyondblue’s depression monitor, a survey of about 3000 Australians conducted every two to three years, has found that while awareness campaigns seem to be reducing stigma, a significant number of Australians do not understand depression and anxiety.
The most recent survey, from 2012, showed one in four respondents thought people with severe depression were a danger to others and that they ”should pull themselves together”, and about one in 10 said people with severe depression had themselves to blame or were ”weak-willed”.
While most Australians say they or someone they know has experienced depression at some point in their life, only one-third of respondents said they would be willing to have someone with depression marry into their family.
While all of these results were an improvement from the 2004 survey, beyondblue chief executive Kate Carnell said they showed more work needed to be done to educate Australians about mental illness.
”Huge inroads have already been made, but it is alarming that one in four people still think people with depression are dangerous to others. This feeds into discriminatory attitudes and the stigma associated with depression, which often stops people getting the help they need,” she said.
More than 2 million Australians have a form of anxiety and about 1 million people are living with depression.
Ms Carnell said that after the successful ”Man Therapy” campaign, beyondblue would target workplaces as stress claims were costing billions of dollars a year.
She said despite many successful people being at high risk of depression and anxiety, many businesses did not have a culture that encouraged people to get help.
”We need people to be able to put up their hand early and say I’m struggling. We don’t want them to wait until they’ve crashed and burned,” she said.
Andre Obradovic, 48, said he was glad he sought help soon after being hit with depression and anxiety ”out of the blue” about a year ago.
After working in various executive roles and high-risk jobs, Mr Obradovic said he found himself struggling with insomnia and stress.
”Fortunately, I had the insight to realise I was not well. I didn’t sit there and say ‘I need to pull myself together.’ I went and saw my GP, who I’d known for 14 years, and I was referred to a psychologist for help and built a get-well plan.”
Mr Obradovic said he hoped more people would see depression for the indiscriminate illness it is.
”The more people talk to their friends and family about it, the more people will realise that this is just like any physical illness … you need to go to a doctor, just like you would if you had a broken arm.”
This article first appeared on SMH on 24 March, 2014.