We humans are a relational lot. We define ourselves by what we glean from the society around us. The often unspoken, gut-feel responses to those we encounter in our daily lives. On the basis of these encounters we experience love, joy, respect, empowerment, acknowledgement, justification, validation and begin to understand what role we are to play in the world. This can be a wonderful thing, seeing the good and the not so good of ourselves in others.
At the same time, this relational dynamic can also be the source of enormous pressure, isolation, vilification, disregard, belittlement and more often then not lead to a negative and disempowering understanding of self.
In the context of mental illness and psychiatric disability, this form of stigma or discrimination only serves to exacerbate the symptoms of the condition they are vilified for and leads to further self-deprecation and negative mental health and socioeconomic issues. Comments made by others out of malicious disregard, ignorance or simply misinformation, intentionally or otherwise, ostracize those who are different or thought to be ‘less then’ in some way.
This is where the value of information and education aimed at the reduction of stigma becomes so important. Programs that directly target the perceptions of the community and serve to inform the general public about what does and does not constitute mental illness have been extremely beneficial.
Publicly funded national campaigns in countries around the world have contributed significantly to reducing stigma and discrimination. The Time To Change initiative in the U.K., for example, has been running nationally since 2007 and has received global recognition. Its effectiveness has been documented and resulted in additional public funds to maintain and expand the initiative.
Once people in the community are made aware of what constitutes mental illness and psychiatric disability, once they can name it, acknowledge it and feel part of an increased understanding of the world around them they are more likely to release the prejudices and judgments that were the basis of their original stigma. Why? Because education and information reduces the fear and confusion that once underpinned their opinions. Some up-skilling on language, strategies and awareness can go a long way to reducing stigma and encouraging help-seeking behaviours in those with a mental illness. One need only look at the significantly enhanced focus on men’s mental health in recent years to see an example of this happening right under our noses.
These principles served as the catalyst for News In Mind – a website dedicated to mental health news.
Operating for the past four years, News In Mind publishes the latest news, information, research findings and funding or policy developments in the field of mental health. Drawing on mainstream news articles from across Australia and the world, the site serves to up skill therapists, carers, community workers, those experiencing mental illness and the general community.
The statistics of those experiencing a mental illness in Australia are heading towards 1 in 4 – twenty-five percent of the country. This figure makes it almost impossible for you not to know someone living with a mental illness – and your attitude towards them matters. So does your knowledge and awareness of mental health broadly.
This past week has been Mental Health Week 2014. Thousands of events and programs have been run across the country aimed at reducing stigma, stimulating dialogue and encouraging help-seeking behaviours. The ABC’s Mental As… initiative is a fantastic example of the positive role all forms of media can play in informing community opinions and encouraging open debate within society as a whole.
News In Mind has run a weeklong series of articles from a range of experts in the field of mental health. We have also contributed to a number of important events, including a breakfast in Brisbane with Queensland Health Minister, The Hon. Lawrence Springborg MP, aimed at community sector engagement with government at this time of considerable reform.
News In Mind is still, to a degree, in its infancy. We still have a way to go if we are to achieve the goal we set ourselves when we created the platform – a truly national online news service dedicated to all things mental health, with a strategic focus on stigma reduction, early intervention and prevention. A central repository for all things mental health in Australia, with the readership and credibility needed to sustainably influence the manner in which this country engages with those who live with a mental illness.
With plans in place for future enhancements and additional functions on the site, News In Mind will continue to be a valuable resource for each and every Australian interested in a fair go for their brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, children, colleagues and friends who live daily with the many, often unnecessary, challenges of mental illness.
We look forward to travelling this journey with you.
Daniel and Kylie Hobbs are Co-Founders and Managing Editors of News In Mind